Are Business Cards Dead? The UX of an Analog Ritual

by Rick Byrne

In Japan, there’s a whole ritual to handing over business cards. When the cards are exchanged, they are handed over simultaneously by both people with all the details facing the receiver, accompanied by each person bowing at a 45° angle. The card’s details are then politely and respectfully studied by both people. It is considered inappropriate to write on a business card, treat it casually, fold it or just quickly put it in your pocket. This ritual is a far cry from how we treat business cards in the West.

Many of us, when starting a new job, rush to get business cards printed… yet most of those cards often remain unused and sit idly in a desk drawer at work. But in today’s digital age, this very analog greeting ritual remains important: a small carbon-based surface with contact details printed on it is exchanged by people who meet in a professional context for the first time. This small tactile object is meant to distill an entire career or personality into just a few square inches to be looked at with just a brief glance.

Yet somehow the ritual still remains to validate us in our role.

But this analog process of creating business cards has also been digitized with the rise of on-demand printing — freeing them up to be anything you want them to be. And by taking a modernist approach of the business card medium, it could focus on what cannot be done by other media. Thus business cards can add more theatre to that in-person experience — something that can’t be replicated by an online process.

San Francisco based design firm Hatch focuses a lot on printed packaging, so naturally their business cards had to reflect the same quality. Six printing processes later they devised a card that is both very tactile and memorable. From the egg carton stock to the embossed area for logo/contact details you can guess immediately what this company specializes in.

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“…there really isn’t a person that we hand these to that doesn’t react in some way, turn them over, study it a bit more than the usual card, etc. The conversation usually comes up about the substrate, the fact that we’re Hatch, the material is egg carton, people seem to appreciate the attention to detail, the concept. Once again all things that are reflections of us as an agency. Hopefully, since it is a unique card, it’s something someone hangs on to whether they work with us or not, possibly something they’ll stumble upon again later on and think of us.” – Joel Templin, one of the Hatch’s founders

Not satisfied with that as an achievement, Hatch also designed even more unique business cards for JAQK cellars, their wine label, which are nickel plated metal poker chips. Joel went on to say, “They seem to get the same response every time we hand them out. First the person we hand them to is taken [aback] or comments how cool they are, then they ask if they can keep it, which of course is a yes as it is our business card… followed by a ‘thank you!’ They actually say thank you for giving them a business card… How many times does that happen when you hand someone your card, right?”

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Less expensive and equally able to match the potential for an added experience, Rhode Island-based printer, Moo.com, prints up to 50 different pieces of artwork in a single print run. This means it will be a long time before you run out of options to personalize your cards.

What would you put on your cards to make them unique to you?

Well, I chose selfies and let me tell you, I’m no Kim Kardashian. People would need a very compelling reason to look at pictures of me. Well, one day, while in the local library, I looked across the street at a local theater. I had a eureka moment: I could use multiple outfits from the costume shop underneath the theater to create 10 different personas for a new set of cards. It goes without saying that whatever feeling a business card instills in the recipient it should be matched by how you are in person. Since I think I have a good sense of humor (who doesn’t) I thought this card concept definitely reflected me more than the previous cards.

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I developed characters on the fly and tried on different costumes and props. With 3,000 costumes to choose from this process a child’s dream come true. Soon I was standing there in front of a mirror dressed as an Explorer, a Pirate, a Soviet guard, a Mummy, a Knight, a Viking, a Priest, a Bandit, a Sailor and a Pilot. I decided to call this motley bunch The Gentlemen Adventurers.

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On the surface this may seem like an over-the-top way to stand out in a busy job market. It demonstrates a capacity to rethink something simple that is often taken for granted. Now the commonplace business card greeting ritual has an unexpected bit of theater for anyone I meet. It also says a lot about who I am as a person and what I can do as a designer.

For the full story of how this set of business cards was created, click here.

Read more from Rick Byrne at byrnecommunications.com.

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