Best Practice: Contextual Business Cards

Business card for Dustin Maciag of HundredEyes

image source:

In this age of electronic identification, paper stock business cards may seem a little passé, but they’re still the most common mode of contact exchange as far as I can see.  But they need not be “dumb”: even lowly paper media can be enhanced with smart elements, such as 2D (matrix) barcodes and, some day, electronic ink.  

I’ve been designing and printing my own cards for years now, usually because I only need a handful at any given time.  But it occurred to me that I was not taking full advantage of this habit when I was once handed a card with printing on both sides.  My new contact had merely thought to add a large logo on the back side, and I realized that this was real estate I had completely ignored by thinking too traditionally.

The face of the card is the default location for contact information, of course, so other than graphics, catch phrases or the like, what can the back be used for?

Context is Everything

I’ve seen some place their photo on the back side, and that’s a great idea.  It adds to the connection between card presenter and recipient, and aids in recognition and recollection.  But that can go a step further.  When you hand out cards at specific events, you want the new contact to leave with something that helps him remember where he met you and why he should care.  Including content relevant to the event itself is the key.  I’ve taken to adding text like “You met me at:” followed by graphics designed for the event.  Such design elements are easy to find at the event website or, failing that, via a web search on relevant images.  Here are examples of some I’ve done for Maemo and MeeGo activities as well as a visit to South by Southwest earlier this year:

my typical business card face

my typical business card face

card back for south by southwest 2011

card back for South by Southwest 2011

card back for MeeGo Network DFW

card back for MeeGo Network DFW

card back for MeeGo Conference Spring 2011

card back for MeeGo Conference Spring 2011

When I first passed out cards like this, I was amazed at the response.  The consensus has been unanimous: this is a useful addition to business cards handed out at such occasions.

Going Further

Some of the most compelling cards I’ve seen incorporate aspects of the presenter’s business, usually in the design elements.  If you are challenged in this area, enlisting the aid of a gifted graphics designer might be worth the expense.  To keep cost down, try to find a student or newly-minted professional who could use the exposure and allow them to include a “designed by” tag on the card.  Hiring someone with expertise in card design would be particularly helpful, since there is a special talent in getting an idea across in such a small format (I admit to still being an amateur here).

When I was planning this article I had only my own examples in mind to share.  But then twitter friend and business card fan Charlene Jaszewski of TheRedHeadSaid fame pointed me toward ILoveBusinessCards.  Wow!  My own advice is for anyone stuck on card ideas to spend some time browsing the images there for inspiration.  I especially love the vintage passport and hand-stamped versions.  Unusual shapes can be quick eyeball grabbers, too, especially if the shape magnifies the card motif.

Other Suggestions

Charlene also advises using non-gloss card stock (at least on one side) so that the cards make a good writing surface for notes.  Including reasonable white space will help there, too.  Cluttered cards tend to be a no-go anyway.

And while printing contact info on unique form factors like drink coasters is a great attention-getter, I would only recommend going above the usual sizes and shapes in very specific cases.  You want your cards to slide easily into pockets and of course card holders.

The Future

I suspect we’ll continue to see increased use of mobile devices as a means to quickly share personal and business data, mainly via bluetooth and near-field communication (NFC).  Apps that use close contact or “bumping” to facilitate such transfers are rapidly gaining in popularity.

But I doubt we’ll ever witness the complete death of the paper business card.  Exciting developments like electronic ink promise to bridge the modern and traditional, adding intelligence and dynamics to an otherwise conventional format.  And even without going that far, simple customizations as I’ve shared here can go a long way toward grabbing the immediate attention of your audience or customer.  Keep the lessons of this article in mind when you prepare for your next conference or presentation and you’ll strengthen the connection between you and your new contacts.


6 responses to “Best Practice: Contextual Business Cards

  1. I made this skinny card for me the other day

    I was a bit inspired by all cool designs in these pages you linked 🙂 the front pic of me is to make you think of signal processing and pattern recognition. On the back I put a cool looking and colorful image taken from a research experiment I am working on, it has been helpful to explain it to people I talk to!

  2. Pingback: The Best Business Card

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