Designer Sarah Salaverria has tips to breath new life into one of the oldest forms of marketing. Here she offers her best tips for designing business cards that look professional, modern, and memorable.
Business cards have been around for a long time, originating as “visiting cards” or “calling cards” that would be handed to the footmen of aristocrats to announce the arrival of guests. They haven’t changed much in 300 years, but with the design options available they needn't feel old-fashioned and stuffy.
Sarah Salaverria’s business cards are anything but old-fashioned, and they’re definitely not stuffy. As a graphic designer for small to mid-sized businesses, she understands that a business card that looks fresh and modern, while translating the most important elements of her clients’ brands, can really help those clients stand out…
- In conferences, where you may have 30 seconds max to make an impression.
- At business networking events, where cards are often passed around to everyone (in and around awkward ice-breaker exercises)
- In notes, letters or packages sent to clients and customers
- With thank-you gifts to business associates
And let’s not forget social events where the most popular question is: “So, what do you do?”
“Let me give you my card!”
Some people say business cards are an artefact from a time gone by. But in truth, they can be a huge advantage in networking—if you know how to use them. Susan Tate, copywriter, says her mother is a pro at using business cards… everywhere.
“My mother has a pet food and supplements business (paws4health), and she’s constantly giving out business cards - dog walks, vet office, grocery store, movie theatre, pretty much everywhere. She also includes business cards in every order. I was at a networking workshop the other day where the facilitator said that she thought business cards were dead. But then she went on to say that she does collect them. My feeling is that they are not dead - we just have to find a way to make them more functional/memorable/usable.”
Susan’s mother is onto something. Statistics show that business cards, when passed out liberally and frequently, do increase sales. It’s a numbers game: the more you hand out, the greater the chance that your card will find the pocket of someone who needs you.
But the greater impact of your business card is how it contributes to the impression you make.
A survey conducted by Statistic Brain Research Institute found that 72% of people judge a company by the quality of its business card (and 39% said they wouldn’t do business with someone carrying a ‘cheap looking’ card).
Giving polish and that sense of quality to business cards and other collateral is where Sarah Salaverria’s work at Digital Decorist comes in.
How to design a stand-out business card
“My husband is a (very chatty) plumber and talks to different people every day. Conversation often turns to my food & drink copywriting business and, as so many people end up asking for more details, he now has a stack of my cards in his van. I keep some of his cards with mine too, and at networking events, I often hand out both together. Everyone needs a good plumber, right?” - Annica Wainwright, 2Forks
With clients looking specifically for business card design, Sarah Salaverria says, usually, they already have existing graphics and their basic branding work done. From there, the challenge becomes how to best apply the brand to the card—and how to make it fresh and stand out.
“The way to catch someone’s attention is to make sure your voice is loud. Which goes back to the basics of design. The shape of the card, how you use colors - don’t be afraid to be loud and bold, or crisp and clean. But commit.”
Two of Sarah’s favorite stand-out features are card shape and texture.
“That’s a huge trend right now—using squares, circles, ‘mini-cards,’ or changing the material of the card can make it more modern, like using plastic or metal, or the way you apply texture. Embossing or engraving text has come back recently.”
It’s relatively easy to have cards printed in different shapes and textures with your custom branding from several card companies online. (Canva offers card printing and delivery with one click.)
Canva’s custom business card templates make customizing your design easy. Get the look with these templates: Black and Gold Diamond Pattern Las Vegas Business Card and Pink Floral Interior Design Business Card.
When it comes to the actual design that goes on the card, Sarah says it’s important to “focus on the visual.”
“Less is more regarding text with business cards. The cards that stand out to me have a really interesting graphic, or an interesting pattern, or a bold color. What do you really need people to know? Name, website and contact info. Really, that’s it.”
However, if her clients aren’t quite confident that their branding is on target, that has to be addressed before business card design. In that case, she says it’s important to at least have an updated logo. Sarah warns, “you don’t want to put a bad logo on a business card!”
Sarah says the logo on your business card is “a tool to show off your style and be an alert to what you do. And that’s all tied into strong branding. If your branding is strong, one look at your card should tell them a lot about you.”
Showing off your style is key to making an impression in a limited amount of time. When choosing a graphic, color scheme or font to represent your brand, Sarah says “start with the box your style fits most in: modern, vintage, fantasy, classic. Then you can add onto that, and think about your industry - what do you like and not like about your competitors’ branding? You always want to make sure you stand out against your competition.”
5 Design elements to include so your business card looks like a pro designed it
“I was part of a networking group and the way we used them was to connect people. For example, we meet and you tell me you’d like to connect with a publicist who specializes in non profits. I say, ‘Oh my friend Sandra does that. I can introduce you.’ So I write on my business card ‘Connect with Sandra N.’ That way, when you get home and look through a pile of cards, you don’t have to scratch your head trying to remember who everyone was. It’s on the card. ‘Oh ya, Karine said she would introduce me to Sandra the publicist.’ And when you email me it’s not a generic ‘Nice to meet you at the event,’ it’s ‘Nice to meet you at the event. You kindly offered to introduce me to your friend…’ Helps both of us.” - Karine Bengualid, Brought to You by the Letter K
Sarah Salaverria is passionate about helping business owners learn some simple design lessons that can help them do projects themselves - in fact, she’s working on a Design Crash course, specifically for small business DIYers (check her group page for updates). She says just knowing a few tricks to polish your presentation can make a big difference.
To give business cards that professional designer touch, Sarah says to keep these design elements in mind.
- Placement. Placement is huge - where you put your name on the card. Go bold! Make it big, in an awesome font that takes up the majority of the card.
- Color. Color is incredibly important in communicating what you do, and how you want people to feel about you. You want colors that stand out, but also tell your story. Read up on how to use the psychology of color before making your choice - or, if your brand is trendy, look at the colors used in home stores like West Elm (or even Target!).
- One unique feature. Choose one unique feature to make your card stand out, whether that’s the shape of the card, or the texture, or a big, loud design.
- Font. Designers are very picky about fonts (in fact, the font you choose can be a red flag that screams “amateur!”). I have a few fonts I’m loving right now (many of which can be found on DaFont for free or cheap). Handwritten-style typefaces are a big trend right now - I like Infinite Stroke for names and headers, Bellerose Light, Bringshoot, Lemon Tuesday and Lemonade.
They’re a bit vintage, but read modern. Also keep in mind that serif fonts read traditional (and old-fashioned) while sans-serif fonts skew more modern. And stay away from Arial (and any other font you find in Microsoft Word) for branding purposes. Those are great for writing resumes, but not to use on your logo or business card!
- Simplicity. Keep text to a minimum and only cover the absolute ‘need-to-knows’: Name, website, phone number. Your business card has one job - to help people remember you. Don’t ask it to do all of your other marketing for you.
And what business card design does Sarah use herself? She uses her original pattern which she designed for her brand (you can see it on her website), with a unique shape - round.