What makes a good business card?

Business card design

What makes a business card effective? Is it originality? Legibility? Simplicity?

Perhaps it’s how your card prompts the recipient into contacting you. A clean, uncluttered design shows that you care about appearance and immediately sends out a professional vibe.

First and foremost, your card must clearly show your contact details. That’s the priority. Even a poorly designed card must allow people to contact the owner. Kind of a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many cards hide the contact info behind some over-indulged colour scheme or illegible type.

Size deserves a mention. If your card doesn’t fit into a holder or wallet it won’t be kept close-by.

What about a gimmick? Here’s an original idea that doesn’t use card stock.

Stretchy business card

It belongs to Poul Nielsen, a certified personal trainer and fitness consultant in Toronto, Canada. Just reading his name is a light workout in itself! Poul seems like a top bloke, so it’s a shame his personal trainer website isn’t quite as unique.

You want your contact details to be obvious without any catch, so I’m split about Poul’s card. Sure, it’s original, and works excellently for the industry, but it doesn’t make the information apparent at first glance. What happens if the prospective client is missing a thumb, or arm? Of course he could always hand this card out personally and have a back-up for such occurences.

How much should conventions be challenged, and does it depend on the industry?

Take a funeral director for instance. I tried to think of a profession where you want to be subtle in your sales pitch. Being subtle doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice good design for a ‘plain Jane’ finish.

A funeral director wants to sell his/her most expensive headstone or coffin. Why not print the card with a subtle marble or oak-effect behind the text? Gloss laminate the substrate for a smooth finish perhaps?

Mark Boulton was recently asked, “What makes a good business card?” He wasn’t sure, but his readers make some interesting points in the comment thread.

Update: December 2011
Comments on Mark’s post have since been removed.

One commenter, Zach Inglis, thinks your business card should be, “Clean, crisp, readable, rememberable.” He makes a good summary, even though I’m sure he meant ‘memorable’.

I came across a post about cartoons on business cards. For me, this one depends on the message of the cartoon and the industry being designed for. There were some nice examples, and I’ve shown a few below.

Cartoon on business card

Cartoon on business card

Cartoon on business card

Cartoon on business card

Cartoon on business card

I’ve also written a little about the process behind my personal business card.

Terry Tolleson believes that a business card should (at the very least) contain three elements (in order of importance):

  1. Contact information
  2. Company name
  3. Visual identifier for the company (a logo for instance)

“Regardless how flashy or clever your card is, if contact information is not readily available, or quickly processed, the card failed. What does it matter if someone remembered some neat trick the card does or how nice it looked if they find a hint of difficulty acquiring your information from it.”
— TERRY TOLLESON

I agree, which is why I have reservations about Poul Nielsen’s card.

For more business card inspiration, have a look at my blog category on business cards.

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58 Comments

  1. “Never begin… (top right) – that’s a lot better.

    Now, if only the search box was up there as well (just pulling your leg).

  2. I’ll get there David, eventually. Thanks for dropping in.

  3. I think it depends on the person. I like simplicity. Someone at my old job gave me their business card because I loved the simplicity and how it is just absolutely gorgeous even though its plain jane, just the colours left an impression of her good taste *she was an interior designer*

  4. I agree Amanda, it should definitely reflect the individual with a message about you. For me, the best cards are simple.

  5. This is timely. I was just thinking about making a card.

  6. First time commenting. I really dig your blog… saw your link from LogoPond. But yea… I think business cards can be designed as complex or as simple as you want them, just make sure the contact info is readily there and easy to read. I’m actually in the process of designing a new version for my stationary so this was a good read.

  7. Beth, would love to see the result.

    PG, thanks for visiting. I checked your portfolio — some excellent work there! Similar to Beth, I’d love to see your finished identity.

  8. David,

    Here’s the link to my business card. This is for the videography company run by my wife and myself. We don’t consider ourself designers in the sense that you are, but we do design videos for people. Let me know what you think. BTW we designed the site as well.

    http://www.adoraproductions.com/media/adora_card.gif

  9. Brance, thanks a lot for showing us your business card. :)

    Taking a look at your card the first thing that struck me was the margin use on the contact info side. To give you an idea of how to make better use of margins I spent a minute rearranging your own contact elements.

    I hope you don’t mind.

  10. I personally like a business card you can keep with other business cards. The Poul card is “cute” and the concept fits with his profession but I can’t put it in my rolodex or a wallet. Well, I’m sure I could but it wouldn’t be quite as easy as a standard business card.

    Nice work PG!

  11. Brance

    David,

    Thanks! I can see the difference now that you point it out to me.

    Like I said, I’m not really a designer, but I enjoy good design and I’ve started reading a lot of design blogs, such as yours, so I can learn more.

    Thanks for taking the time to help!

  12. Zach Inglis

    That’s exactly what I meant David, thanks for updating me.

  13. Interesting idea David!

    Here is another interesting way to make money with your business cards that you may not have thought of!

    For me, I ended turning it into a revenue stream, because I knew there had to be a way to take advantage of the millions of business cards out there. It’s a strong concept to generate leads. Here it is…worth a quick look freecard.com

    Dean

  14. It’s real good to go through your website. I am just designing a logo and business card for my college portfolio. Even I like the clean finish of the card but the most important is the contact info which should be delivered rightly and I agree with you on that.

  15. Dean, Riddhi,

    Thanks for your comments, and good luck with your business card endeavours.

  16. Business cards will be different for the different audiences it is intended for. Also, how much information that is on the card depends on how much your customers know about your service. I turned my business card into a compact brochure to tell people HOW useful my services could be.

  17. Hi Johnny,

    Do you have an example of your card online? I’d like to have a look.

  18. Hi David,

    I’ve just been to your website and I really am amazed at how much information you have on your site because I’m just learning to do this in my class.

  19. Any thoughts on the pros & cons of having a photo on a business card?

  20. Hello cora,

    Glad to be of any help possible. Good luck with your class.

    Sara,

    Pro: People remember what you look like.
    Con: People remember what you look like.

    If you’re good-looking, or have a nice smile, fantastic. If you’re a minger, probably best to leave the photo off.

  21. The business cards! A world of communication!

    I think that we must have 2 type of business cards.
    One for work, for business: with name company, and all data of our company and our. An elegant and sober business card,
    Another business card for our free time, with name and telephon number. In this case we can make a business card original, and particular. Without limits!
    For our privacy is better, so.
    This is one of my business cards:
    http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3286/2969175768_86fb569a04.jpg

  22. I hope business is good, Daniela. Thanks for dropping by again.

  23. I agree with Terry Tolleson but think that visual identity does not necessarily have to be a logo or branding but something that evokes an emotional response (such as memorability) so on that front I think the Poul Nielsen card is succesful.

    anyway, a bit late to this post (seen via your tweet) but thought I would discuss how i approached my business card.

    I was struggling for ideas when producing business card for my freelance web work. I’d been reading a lot about Victorian print work and it struck me that a business card carries the same issues as Victorian print in the aims to grab attention, cramming as much information in to as small a space as possible and – sometimes – working with a very limited range of colours.

    With that in mind I had a go at taking this ethos to create something that was visually arresting and concisely summised what it was that the business did (who, what, where).

    The result:

    (not sure if HTML carries thought, if not viewable at http://www.flickr.com/photos/cole007/2629384056/)

    Would appreciate your thoughts but personally am quite happy with the result – now to carry over this idea into the website itself…

  24. Interesting artwork Cole!
    I think it could be very beautiful and original also printed on frosted PVC! What do you think? This is my collection, please take a look at my photos and tell me what you think! I think it could be a touch of originality.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/biglietti_da_visita
    But I have a question:
    in USA is used “rolodex”: this is a recent comment “but I can’t put it in my rolodex”.
    Ok, I need to know: rolodex have standard size? It’s possible that I print plastic business cards adaptable( as size and format) at rolodex? Here in Italy where I was working is not used “rolodex”, and I don’t know this thing but I want deepen it. A lot of people in USA use rolodex? Sorry for my english! Thanks!

  25. Thanks for visiting, cole, and for offering your own card for viewing. Yep, image code doesn’t work for guest comments, which is a shame, but I can add your card here in my own comment:

    I like it, and think your website will look great when you carry the design across. Is that happening anytime soon?

    agaped,

    When plastic cards are well-designed, they can really stand out. Thanks for sharing your Flickr link.

  26. Donna Fishman

    David,
    You have inspired me. For a solid week I have studied your website.

    I am an independent court reporter in Atlanta, Georgia. I do not work in the courts. My job is take down depositions at law firms and doctor’s offices and businesses.

    The legal field is conservative. Could you take a look at my logo and make any suggestions with regard to the logo and font?

    My transcript covers are a stock green, so I was thinking of sticking with a green and black combo. My intent of the logo is for my business card, a design on stationary and a 2 to 3 inch square, rectangle or round sticker to place on small packages, ie, cookies, golf balls, etc.

    Oh, boy. I do not know how to attach it so you can view it.

    If you have a suggestion, I would greatly appreciate your critique.

    Regards and thank you for sharing your generous knowledge.

    By the way, among others, Moskito is amazing.

    Donna

  27. Hi Donna,

    I’m very glad you found information of use here. Feel free to email me a .jpg or .pdf showing your logo design. My address is on my contact page. Bye for now.

  28. Hi David,

    Just came across this post via some other business card tip-type posts.
    I’m glad I did. It’s always nice to see other people’s cards and gain inspiration and tips for one’s own cards.

    Speaking of which, I would like your opinion on my card, seeing as you’r somewhat of an authority on the subject.

    http://www.matchboxmedia.co.za/matchbox%20bcard.jpg

    I look forward to your comments!

    Matt

  29. Hi Matt,

    I’ve shown your card in the comment thread, here:

    I can see what you’re trying to achieve with the text as matches, but for me, the forced tracking is hindering legibility. At first, the white ‘match tips’ appeared as broken egg shells, until I looked at the rest of the design.

    I think your services list would be more effective as a left-justified menu, without the ‘sulphur’ effect. Some breathing space in the margins may also improve the layout.

    All the best with it.

  30. Hi David,
    i feel thats a very conservative approach to design. I feel there ought to be magic or RECALL value to the logo and card.
    In your case you made one edge of the card resemble the curve of your logo. Hence enabling the recall of ‘the guy whose card has a curve …like his logo’.

    I believe the first 2 points (contact info, company name) are taken for granted. Making them legible/finable is partof the communication. But the main focus opught to be RECALL. The one that stands out in a deck of cards.

    Something you preserve and retrieve when u need to find him.
    ‘Poul Nielsen makes you stretch/workout’.

    that works.

  31. Peter Armstrong

    Greetings, David –
    I enjoyed and was enlightened by reading the comments and insights regarding business cards. I’ve been tasked to discover the pros (more info space?) and cons (too much info space?) of folded business cards. Thoughts?

    Appreciatively,
    Peter

  32. It depends on the client, Peter, but as a general rule of thumb I don’t think you can have too much space. As long as the reader can see the contact info without difficulty then you’re on the right lines.

  33. Viet Nguyen

    Hello, I was wondering if you know of a website that does business cards like the first one you have on the page. I am starting up a photography business and my logo is a shutter, and I wanted to have the shutter part cut out of the card. Could you help me?

  34. Most printers should be able to help you, Viet. Ask them about custom die cuts, and show them an image of the card you like.

  35. Ruth Fromstein

    hi david,
    i sure appreciate all the great information. i am a graphic design student, graduating in may, so i am in the process of creating my personal identity, designing my own business cards and logo. i’ll let you know what i come up with.
    ruth

  36. Good luck with the final stages of your course, Ruth. I hope you get the result you’re looking for.

  37. Hello David, great post and feedback. I too am a graphic designer for a large print company and have created scores of business cards and print marketing materials for large companies. I agree with you David, the contact information along with your name should be easily readable, i also agree with Pudi that your card should have recall value. I also believe that including a short message on your business card about what your company does is essential since company names and/or logos on occasion are not very informative about the company or what it does. When people receive your business card they immediately think how can this person or their services help me, if they can not figure out what you do it has failed. Think about it like this: what if someone else gave somebody your card, or someone is reviewing your card at a later time from when they originally received it, if they can’t remember what you do or figure it out, you probably won’t get contacted back.

    Having a lot of experience in this field, i hope you don’t mind if i give my opinion David. In regards to Peter Armstrong Pros of a fold over business card:

    – they are great especially if you sell products because its large enough to include photos on there like a mini brochure.
    – with the extra space you can have a note section, appointment booking space, quote fields, etc. (Just remember if you are going to want to write on your cards remember to have them uncoated or a matte finish, you will not be able to write on UV Gloss cards)
    – It will stand out

    Cons of a fold over business card:

    – They are thicker than a normal business card so people might not want to store them in their wallets since they take up more space.
    – Also if your business card is a dark color and you have it is UV glossed you might see cracking on the folded part.

    Hope that helps Peter or anybody else considering fold over business cards.

    There is also another method for getting people to keep your business card handy create something on the card that a person can use, for instance a tip chart, calendar, etc.

    Hope that helps. :) Great site/portfolio David, Cheers!

  38. Mikie, thank you.
    An interesting explanation for normal people (people that needs a business card).
    I think the same. A business cards is an important image of you or your company, and it must “speak” about you! Is not a steril paper, is a message!
    First of all: eye catching!
    To inform
    To remind
    Obviously, for me is very important also material, because also the different materials are a “message”, material says something of you. Evolution, style, essence.
    Thanks for this great portfolio and thanks to people that add info!

  39. Ruth Fromstein

    I enjoyed Mikie’s comments on business cards. I have another question to throw out to those more experienced designers…how do you feel about unconventional sized cards? For example, i am currently designing cards for a photographer who primarily photographs rock bands. i wanted to design a card that wasn’t a traditional size, but was concerned if it would be well received. your thoughts?
    Ruth

  40. Your welcome Daniela. Ruth i would think about your target audience, if your target is rock bands i would consider maybe straying away from the standard and how about going with a sticker business card? Bands always have stickers on their guitar cases and equipment that way your clients (the photographer) info will always be around them. You can even tell your client to encourage his clients to stick it on their equipment.

    Now if the bands he photographs are much more known and he is dealing with primarily agents you might want to consider something in the standard size, but maybe you can do a die-cut of a guitar something cool like that but i would try to keep the size relatively standard.

  41. Does the font of the company name have to be the same as the font of the information on the rest of the card? Or can it be somewhat iconic?

  42. It doesn’t Eli, but I recommend using no more than two different fonts. Too many variations will just look a mess.

  43. Hi David,

    Congratulations on the site by the way, a superb source of info that has kept me amused for hours so far! I have recently started freelancing and this kind of info is truly invaluable to folk like me!!

    A question I have….. I am currently preparing a business card, along with brand for a therapist that requires a booking/appointment area. This is the first time I have attempted to do this and was wondering if you have any ideas/relevant links/inspiration/help to offer on how to handle a booking form within a business card? I cannot include the example I have but will email to you and any feedback would be greatly appreciated! I seem to be struggling to get enough info to meet my clients requirements at the same time as keeping simple, which is my aim from design point of view.

    Cheers

  44. Hi Sam, thanks for taking a little time to browse my archives. I’ve never created a business card that includes a booking form, and I don’t understand the goal. Do you want someone to hand the business card back with their details filled in? If so, wouldn’t you need a separate card for the customer to keep?

    You asked for my thoughts on the logo, too. Consider an effective logo being simple enough for a viewer to redraw fairly accurately after just a glimpse. Do you think yours would succeed in that regard?

    All the best.

  45. Hello,

    I just happened upon your site after doing some research into whether or not I have an effective business card. I really enjoyed your insight on the matter and would love to know your thoughts on my card. If it’s crap or anything less than spot on, I’d love to hear your suggestions on how to improve it and really make it pop.

    http://hphotos-sjc1.fbcdn.net/hs618.snc3/32509_1459166245540_1424910622_31247070_5514984_n.jpg

    Any direction will be very much appreciated.

    All my best and with much respect,

    Dave Flynn

  46. Hi Dave, few pointers/questions:

    Use no more than two different fonts. Do you need to show a photo? What if you get tired of the one you picked? Your own domain name/email address will look a lot more professional (as opposed to Yahoo).

    Hope that helps a little.

  47. Olivia Ariferiani

    Hi, David, I just found your blog from Google and I really love it. I learn a lot of things from your blog. Anyway, I really want to know your thoughts about my business card (if you don’t mind).
    http://mocciadesign.wordpress.com/2010/06/18/moccias-business-card/

    Sincerely,
    Olivia Ariferiani

  48. David, my business card is about to go to press. I talked to the printer and am waiting for their quote because I intend to have silver foil blocking on my logo, my name “Tin”. Can I show you my business card before it goes to press. Or maybe I can’t wait :) Hope to hear back from you soon.

  49. Excuse the delayed reply, Olivia. I paid a visit. Looks fresh. Can’t see if there’s any contact info on there, but I hope it’s working well for you.

    Tin, feel free.

  50. Hi David,
    Here is my business card design, because I will have a silver foil, so I make a mockup in photoshop. Thanks so much for your time. This is the link to where I post it. http://bit.ly/8XZcto

  51. Seems fine to me, Tin, although the byline on the reverse looks a little too close to your logo. I’d increase the spacing.

  52. Hi David,
    Great article on business cards, today more than ever it is important to stand out. My stretchy cards are still very popular and are a great conversation piece. Plus they are great for strengthening one’s thumbs and fingers!
    Poul Nielsen

  53. Thanks David, I would make that change. Another thing I was thinking is to throw away the logo on the front too and push the contact info to the top because the foil on the other side will slightly leave a reverse mark on the front.

  54. Need to order the stretchy business cards cant find them,can you please help me.A phone number or whatever information you can provide please.

  55. GREAT post as I’m working on my own cards…and I suck as a client. I’ve changed my own voice about 6x already and I just really started on the refining process. I like simplicity but am afraid that if it’s too “simple” I’ll lose work since I’m branding myself as an artist. Great post though.
    *back to the lab*

  56. eLISE

    Final cartoon business card doh! moment:
    Should read “She was neither…..NOR a waitress.”
    Wish I could draw like that though!

  57. Hi David,

    I just found your website today because I wanted to get ideas to design my first business card as a certified fitness coach and your blog was the first thing that popped up. Your work has been nothing short of helpful — thank you for all your wonderful insight.

    – Anthony

  58. Great to know, Anthony. Good luck with your card design and business.

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