Are these good or bad business cards?

clothes peg business card

“Wow! I’ve never seen anything like it!”

Well, where business cards are concerned, there’s normally a very good reason for that.

One idea might, on the surface, seem to be innovative and unique, but sometimes the designer forgets about functionality, and where the card is going to end up.

The image above, showing a design for Eduard Cehovin, is a wooden clothes peg with the contact details printed on. Yes, it’s a novel idea, and some people would think it great if used for a dry cleaner, or laundry service etc., although there’s no functionality. No-one will carry a clothes peg around, nor can they file it or keep it in a business card holder.

cress business card

Here’s a business card that sprouts vegetation when watered, by Jamie Wieck. It was designed to be kept on your table, but I’m curious, would you really leave a bunch of cress growing on your desktop? Besides, where do you think the card will go when the cress dies?

rubber business card

rubber business card

This rubber business card, created by Chris Hirsch for personal trainer Poul Nielsen, is another unique idea, but without very much functionality. Poul only had 10 of the items made, but last I heard was planning for a reprint, with his tagline on the reverse. Notice how you have to use both hands to read the telephone number? That makes it a two person job to give Poul a call.

In saying all this, these designs prompt people to talk about them. They generate interest. If they were more subtle in appearance I wouldn’t have written this blog post. So are there different functions to a business card? Is a business card used for more than just conveying information?

So what’s the purpose of these designs? Are they supposed to be discarded soon after you receive them or has the designer missed the point? Should conventions be challenged where cards are concerned?

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48 comments

  1. I personally think that Biz cards are mostly about initial impact and then practicallity. Your points are very valid and come the crunch I would throw out the plant-card and never call the personal trainer, but I would remember them and blog about them (which I too have done somewhere along the line). Which in theory means that their cards worked and they received their due attention.

  2. I agree with Nic. I’d say the function of these designs is impact not filability. It’s so easy to file a business card and forget it; I doubt you’d forget these. Also, there are many ways we keep our contact details, electronically or otherwise that make a business card redundant once the info has been transferred. I’m very lo-tec and love my Moleskin address book but load’s of people use those blinkin’ Gooseberrys (or whatever they’re called).

  3. Hi Nic, Richard,

    Very good points. The cards have made an impact, and received their attention. Just by writing this blog post I have advertised each card owner.

  4. Exactly my point!!

  5. I agree to everyone here. All the business cards are quite creative, thus it creates a good impression or brouhaha but still it garners attention which is quite important.

  6. Interesting cards. I can see the reasoning behind them – novelty creates impact. Yes, things like this may initially catch my eye; but the impracticality of the cards means they won’t be held on to for long.

    I think the cress card looks good, and would be better without all the actual cress inside it.

  7. Igor G.

    The last two are quite clever, the first one is not at all. There is a difference between novelty and creativity.

    The water cress card is about ideas, growth, creation and fits perfectly with who it is representing, although in slightly cerebral way, which isn’t bad.

    The card for the personal trainer is absolutely wonderful and anyone can get it right away, it is in fact not cerebral in the slightest and that fits perfectly with who it represents.

    The first card is novel in the way that a crappy NYC souvenier is novell, it is what it is and unless I am missing some sort of ethereal link between it and the name on the card is just a gimmick.

  8. For me I think they are all very clever. The personal trainer business card really fits the business but it has no functionality and you have to use 2 hands just to see the phone number as David said. All 3 cards would be something I would keep though just because they are unique.

  9. All about creating buzz – If someone handed out a clothes peg in a meeting they’d be laughed at, but send them to some of your larger contacts, especially those who have a blog….

  10. David

    I stil think Moo cards are a fantastic thing. moo.com
    tiny (half-size) cards in a matt laminate finish which you supply the images for…. brilliant concept.

    Rebecca

  11. Chase,

    What’s ‘brouhaha’? Is that Dutch for something funky?

    Damien,

    I also think the cress card looks half decent. I wonder if the seeds fall out if you’re not careful how you hand it to someone.

    Igor,

    I’m really not sure if there was an idea behind the first example. Perhaps it tied in to an exhibition in some way, but I agree that it’s not at all great ‘as is’.

    Smojo,

    I’d keep them too, well, maybe not the first one. I’ve quite a collection of business cards and they come in handy when designing.

    Chris,

    I think you’re right. My guess is that each person who owns the above examples has a separate, more standard card that they’d hand out more readily.

    Rebecca,

    For the price, I’ve heard good things about Moo cards. I’ve never used the service myself, and prefer to use a more unusual paper stock for my cards. Thanks very much for the email by the way.

  12. Business cards have three purposes: make an impression, leave the contact details and get people to contact you later.

    All of the above cards are successful at the first two, but not so much with the third purpose. However if they’re given away at the right place and the right time to the right person, then they have more chances to seal the deal than other ordinary cards.

  13. I think it goes without saying that conventions definitely need to be challenged, regardless of what you’re doing. But designers need to challenge these conventions for functional reasons, not for the sake of challenging conventions. These business cards are great because they certainly stick in your head and you may happen to remember them the moment you have a need for some services (or a clothes pin). But like you mentioned, their novelty is lost the moment you try put it in your business card holder.. or attempt to independently call the number on the personal trainer card.

    I think the key here is that designers need to innovate but still conform enough with the rest that it doesn’t create an inconvenience for the card holder. Be different, but within common standards. Be singled out, but not left behind.

    I received a credit card business card once – very cool clear, thick plastic with contact details printed on it as if it were a credit card (raised plastic lettering and all). It definitely stuck out in my stack of business cards (considering it’s about 10x thicker), and I often show it off to people when I have it handy. However I feel sympathy for the guy distributing the cards as I’m sure it costs him quite a few pennies for each card he dispenses. That makes for some very selective networking!

  14. Seems to me like it depends on who your audience is. Some card collector at a convention is probably not going to like a couple of these designs…or the odd sized cards. They will just cause them to stumble a bit when trying to organize them with the other 100s of cards he’s already collected.

    On the other hand, if you’re giving these as one offs, then the gimmick is good. But, then you run the risk of being judged by your gimmick. I’ve seend collateral that was meant as a joke, that totally changed my view of a corporation negatively, I’d say.

    I’ve got a convention I’m going to later this year for repossession companies, and my understanding of these companies is that they’re not so much worried about looking pretty, but more about getting the job done. No frills type stuff.

    My current business card may not be the best tool for these companies. I’ll be working mostly with men who drive tow trucks, and my card has a pretty flower on it.

    jorge

  15. I think if a b. card is designed a certain way that fits the service or person that it’s for, then it’s ok to be unique and maybe impractical at the same time. Like mentioned before me, the uniqueness of the card gets your attention, and in this day and age most people keep their contacts filed on a computer, cell phone, or something of the likes. But because the b. card is so unique and different, people might save it anyway after they have filed the contact info digitally.

  16. I think if they have something to do with the business, thats good otherwise its just stupid and silly imo.

    I do like the ideas and reckon they could be very useful if implemented right.
    Like the elastic card should still be readable when not stretched.
    Peg should have been a clothes/ washing business
    sprout card should be for a garden business

  17. Vivien,

    I wonder how much importance should be placed upon each purpose. I know there’s quite a bit of overlap. For instance, if you make an impression, you’re more likely to be contacted. Perhaps they have an equal measure.

    Verne,

    Be different, but with common standards.

    Nicely put. I’d go with that.

    Jorge,

    It’d be great to see that collateral that negatively changed your thoughts on a company. Sure, we’ve all seen poorly designed business cards, but I think you’re talking about something different.

    Good luck with those truckers and your flowery business card, haha.

    PG,

    It’s true, many people do store their contacts digitally, rather than in card holders or address books. I’m one of those odd people with a mainly print-based background who likes to feel paper and card stock. Here’s where someone writes a blog post called, “What your business card stock says about you”.

    Jermayn,

    Would it be good if the rubber card could be read when in its normal state? That might negate the purpose, although I understand why you said it. Legibility is key where business cards are concerned.

  18. Wow ! that was really eye popping!! But I think that such creatitivity contradicts utility. Afterall business cards are not meant to be showpieces which gather dust on a shelf !! But if one has a big pocket to spend then targeted cards can be really good.

  19. I think the answer to your title’s question lies in “what we expect a business to accomplish”.
    Design-/concept-wise, I think they’re great–novel too. I think there is more room for these kinds of cards, simply because the business card has to a large extent lost its currency. In this wired age, the business CARD seems somewhat antiquated. For creatives, these cards are great–they convey creativity and they are informative (contact details, etc).

    However, I don’t think these would go down too well in Japan.

  20. that fitness trainer one is HARDCORE!!!! GENIUS!!!

  21. I think these business cards creative enough to generate good memories from clientele. I think being different in any industry is a plus… beause how many mortgage agents have really awesome business cards? I believe if they did… customers would be less inclined to toss them.

  22. Speaking as someone who does not have any sort of functional business-card-saving file made of vinyl or leather and little plastic sleeves, I’d say if I was moved to visit the person’s web site before I clipepd the clothespin to my husband’s ear, or watched the sprouts grow before I hurled the drippy card into the trash, it’d be more attention than I paid to most people’s cards.

    It’s different if it someone like my realtor or my vet or pediatrician who already has my attention and needs me to be able to contact him/her. For that kind of thing, magnet cards work best for me.

  23. David,

    I also store and keep any unique or interesting b. cards for inspirational reference. Like a lot of designers I’m a pack rat for printed material that catches my eye. For instance, I save well designed hang tags from clothes as well. Sometimes it’s good to have a box of inspirational things/objects that can spawn fresh ideas when you’re having a mental block.

  24. hey! I think these business cards are creative. Though it lacks functionality, I certainly believe because it is different and special it creates the feeling of people to treasure it. That’s why they keep it. Isn’t it the point of business cards and by looking at these people remember them vividly. These ideas are one of the most beautiful ideas I’ve ever seen.

  25. Well it is actually English for uproar or confused disturbance.

  26. Thanks for all the great comments. I’m pretty swamped at the mo, so sorry I can’t reply individually.

    I will, however, apologise to Chase for my lack of knowledge where the English language is concerned. I learned a new word today – brouhaha. Thanks Chase.

  27. A friend of mine was involved in the set up of Moo which allows users of Facebook, Flickr etc to design and get printed their own business cards. They don’t all have to be the same design and they are a slightly different size than normal so they stand out that little bit more, without being overly gimmicky.

  28. Those are all pretty cool! and very unique. I think they would grab your attention right away, and you’d go around showing people these cool business ‘cards’. BUT, I think the novelty would wear off quickly. Also, where would you put them? You can’t just carry around a clothes pin in your wallet all the time! lol.

  29. Hi David,

    Funnily enough a while ago I did some research on the business cards I’d accumulated (over 400 of them) and the results make interesting reading. For example you’d be surprised that I found people didn’t give a landline.

    To see the results check my blog here.

  30. Sean,

    Where would you put them indeed. These are definitely short-term cards. Used for that initial ‘ooooo’ factor.

    Jim,

    Thanks for the info. I’m one of those people who don’t give my landline. Instead I show my mobile, because I’ve moved office on a few occasions, and my mobile remains the same, whereas my landline changes. It saves an expense, and is more personal in my opinion.

  31. David,

    That’s a good point, although you can generally transfer your phone number with you when you move.

    It’s certainly the one thing I’ve noticed that people seem to comment on at networking groups I’ve been to.

    Jim

  32. Funny you should mention that, Jim.

    I recently moved home here in Edinburgh, and even though both residences are served by the same telephone company (Virgin), they couldn’t transfer my landline number – whether I paid them or not!

    I thought that very strange, because as you rightly state, numbers are normally transferable.

  33. brklynkdesignlab

    Call me old-fashioned (and all these comments have valid points) but I’m with David. That’s how I was taught in school (back in the days) and now that I’m in a position to constantly network and hand out business cards, I am aware what kind of people will hold onto my cards and where they will be stored. Most often, people who are in position to give you a job are not necessarily who save funky cards for inspiration. (Although, I have seen staffing firm people decorating their cubes with cute and colorful cards…but very few) I think it’s actually the impression you are making “in person” and that’s what you’re going to be remembered the most. And when your card gets passed around, the first impression you made will move around with it too. Even after your card gets handed out, you have to keep calling… Ah, wouldn’t life be ideal if we can just design/work and not worry about the rest!

    Besides, I’m a poor designer and I ain’t got no money for those fancy cards! I just have to make the best with what I have to represent who I am, with plain ole white paper, simple design and cool colors…in bulk discount! What I sometimes do is create a cute stationary in a package with my business card when I’m sending in my work via mail. Sort of like a self-promo packaging. Who knows if they get opened at all however. (Sorry, I’m so cynical! This city sure has its way to turn a girl sour…) Enough with my essay here…

  34. Hi Jayme,

    There’s a lot to be said for the “plain ole white paper, simple design and cool colors.”

    The impression you make in person is definitely more important than your business card. If you’re an arse, no-one’s going to keep your card, even if it is novel.

    Cheers for leaving your thoughts.

  35. I thought I’d posted a comment here, but I guess it vanished cine I don’t see it? I think these are all creative examples of calling cards. The thing is, since people tend to lose cards, the most effective business promotions are often on re-useable items; like pens, calendars and other paraphrenalia with your contact details very clearly marked. The idea of clothes pins above is a functional idea and easier to see than the elastic calling card insignia.

  36. Hi Liara,

    Sorry your comment didn’t appear. My only guess is that it was caught up in my spam folder.

    The clothes pegs are certainly more functional than the other examples, but you have to wonder how many city slickers use them. I take your point though.

  37. Those are all good ideas for a tradeshow but like many people have posted they wouldn’t work all that well for being able to store them for future reference .

    out of these 3 I would have to say that the ‘personal trainer’ card was the most clever and the most directed towards the client and it reflects the business dead-on, if a little more thought was put into the actual content sizing and what should be visable while being stretched the card would be a complete success.

  38. Carolyn

    Hi, thanks for that, seems impossible to find a company that can produce these…at leats in england.
    best, C.

  39. I think Cehovin Eduard’s “business card design” is not a business card :)
    it’s a merchandise :)

  40. To preface: it’s easy to be a critic. With that said, here is my two cents:

    The paper clip is more of a premium incentive, e.g. pens, key chains, etc.
    The sprouting card is not very practical, unless you’re a fertilizer/seed company.
    The rubber band is clever yet not easily discernible at first glance.

    Like any good critic, I suggest all fellow critics take a look at my work:
    http://www.whatsthebigidea.com/business-card-design

  41. Hello David,

    Thanks for linking to your portfolio. Quite the diverse range of projects you have.

    All the best.

  42. Hi David,

    I really liked your piece on the business cards. And your business card stands out – It looks very sharp.

    I was wondering if you could recommend a good quality printer to me(off-set and digital)?

    Thanks a lot

  43. Hi Vanessa, I recommend Splash Print, who printed my business cards. You’ll find their details here.

  44. These are awesome ideas. The clothes pin and the sprout envelope are the most unique. It really shows they went the extra mile or twelve to impress.

  45. i looove how you have to use 2 hands to view the phone number on the rubber card. It would be so annoying you’d be telling everyone about it :)

  46. I think whatever the business card design is you should be able to put it in your pocket or wallet. Your design might be different and attention getting but if it’s not practical, that will be a disadvantage.

  47. interesting ideas but overall a good design is not just memorable but useful……when the design gets lost in the process if isn’t effective

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