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Corporate Design: Why business cards are serious business

Rich Purdon
08/02/13 - RichP

When designing a public appearance for your business, the first thing that comes to mind for many is the front-of-house display – websites, shop windows or the reception area at company headquarters. But what’s really the introduction most people have to your work? Where do you actually meet clients and associates for the first time? Clichéd though it is, a huge amount of business is still done in bars, on the golf course and in other sports clubs. Seminars and expos are another major location for that first point of contact, and all of these places usually end with the grand old tradition: an exchange of business cards.

We can, of course, Bluetooth our contacts and input numbers and address into our phones, but at least half the time the Bluetooth won’t sync, there’s no WiFi signal or that classic flat battery leaves a blank screen on a smartphone. Instead a number gets written on a scrap of paper or the back of a hand and hopefully can still be found when you get back to the office. Most of us still carry the analogue alternative simply because it works. Everything you need is there, name, company, address, phone, email – and if you want to incorporate technology and QR code is easy enough to add. Besides, for all its historic roots, the humble business card can still have cachet. It’s not glowing, flashing or beeping at you, as the Mercedes advert says, it doesn’t need to shout to make itself heard.

American Psycho: Business cards to make your rivals sweat

OK, so possibly you don’t need a watermark on your business card, but this memorable scene does have an underlying truth – we do tend to make judgments about people from the standard of their business cards. If the colours are faded from low quality printing, the type isn’t straight or runs too close to the edge it implies a great deal about that person’s approach to business.

Sloppy, disorganized and literally prone to cutting corners. But professionally designed and printed business cards are the ones we put in our wallet or purse for safekeeping. It’s partially a primal instinct, to want the things that look good, and also more evolved as a sign of respect – if someone has taken the time and to present themselves in a professional manner, then it’s equally polite to receive them in kind. In Japan it’s quite a formal ceremony where the card is presented with both hands, never thrown or slid across a table, starting with the most senior member of the meeting and not forgetting to take business cards from everyone present – even the most junior. You never know who will be controlling the budget or even running the company in ten years time.

Additional rules include leaving the business card on the table for the duration of the meeting and even offering the card at a higher or lower level depending on the status of the person receiving it, but the point is that in Japan, and quite often elsewhere in the world, business cards are serious business. Just as your website will keep the brand consistency of your company by using the same colours and logos, your stationery should reflect this too.

As well as business cards, company letterheads for invoicing and correspondence can be another indicator of how professional an organisation is. Even a sole trader can create a strong impression with a well-designed company logo, business card and corporate stationery, despite working from home or coworking in a shared office. Whilst we wouldn’t recommend going as far as Patrick Bateman when it comes to focusing on appearances, there is definitely a great deal of weight carried by first appearances when it comes to business. It just remains down to you as a business to decide whether you want other companies opening their wallets.  

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