You are a card

Derek Green Friday, May 16, 2014

I've been working on several business cards recently - including a redesigned, more luxurious one for [gawr-juhs] - which will hopefully be in production very soon! I suddenly realised that I didn't really know much about the history of business cards, what their original purpose and function were, and what a modern business card should include. 

There are several excellent, and often amusing, blogposts around which detail the full history of business cards - so I'll only summarise what I discovered:

  • – Visiting Cards (Visite Biletes) originated in 17th century France.

  • – Originally the size and shape of visiting cards were the same as playing cards.

  • – Information was hand-written on cards and they were used to herald the arrival of members of the aristocracy to a town or a house.

  • – Trade Cards made an appearance in 17th century England.

  • – These were generally produced using woodcut or letterpress techniques, but were later produced using copperplate engraving.

  • – The content of the cards consisted of some form of advertising and often a map – as formal street numbering hadn't been introduced.

  • – By the 18th and 19th century Calling or 'Social' Cards had become an essential item for any middle class lady or gentleman.

  • – As a matter of etiquette people placed their social cards in a silver card tray that was presented to them at the front door. The card would then be delivered to the lady of the house to provide her with a first impression of the caller.

  • – In the USA, Trade Cards and Social Cards were viewed quite differently. Trade Cards left with a servant often implied that someone had called to collect a bill.

  • – Business Cards are considered to be an essential modern marketing tool.

  • – Content should include the card holder's name, their title, and their company, together with contact information such as address, telephone, email and website URL.

  • – Today business cards are produced using a variety of different techniques - screen, litho, digital printing etc. and often incorporate special finishes like foil-blocking, die-cuts or UV varnishes to make them individual.

Due to the explosion of social media sites there is tendency for current business cards to be full of third-party icons and links. My personal preference is for business cards to be as simple as possible. My advice is to only include the methods of communication that you use regularly and that you're happy for people to contact you through. For example, although I have a Skype account I would never put it on my business card as I never use it.

Similarly be wary about filling a business card up with too much supplementary information. We must all put ourselves in the place of the user from time to time. Ask yourself "What are they looking for from your business card?" Usually it's your name, your phone number, an email address or a website URL. None of us want to lose a prospective client because we've over-crowded our business cards with a promotional offer or endorsement which hides our important contact details.

If you want to promote a special deal or include a range of customer quotes then consider a larger marketing piece - an A6 postcard for example - which will provide you will more printed real estate and which are just as cost-effective to produce these days as business cards. 

I'm so taken with the anitquated business card etiquette that I'm off to purchase a silver card tray. If you happen to be calling in at [g]hq in the near future then please have your business card ready to present… 

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