Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

There was a time when company executives would travel with leather-bound business card holders and have a Rolodex placed aesthetically on their desk. As professional networking sites are proliferating, card holders and Rolodexes are becoming passé.

Business cards though are not going out of fashion anytime soon—they continue to evolve with the times. It is now no longer just a small rectangular piece of paper with your contact information printed on it. It is a tool for personal branding. A business card that is well designed, innovatively thought-of can be a conversation starter and make a great first impression.

We look at ways to bring your business card up to date.

Conversation starter

A well-designed business card can help break the ice with strangers and business associates. Take, for example, Ching Yee Wong, the head of communications at photo-sharing application Instagram. Her business cards are square, to reflect the popular shape of Instagram photos, and are printed with photos from her own Instagram handle.

“These cards are brilliant conversation starters and never fail to put a smile on someone’s face or trigger a question around the image. I pick a handful of personal moments and try to match them to the people I hand it out to. For example, travel photos to those who could use a holiday,” says Wong on email

Think different

An innovatively designed business card can help convey the work ethos of the company you represent. Rituparna Chakraborty, co-founder and executive vice-president at staffing firm TeamLease Services, uses a simple business card in the traditional rectangle shape. However, if you look closely, you will notice numerous dotted lines on the card. It is her name, embossed in Braille. Everyone at TeamLease has such visiting cards.

These Braille-enabled visiting cards are an initiative of the non-governmental organization Esha, which supports young people with visual disability.

“For me it started as a personal intent to spread the word (about Esha’s intiative). However, once I started giving out these cards, I realized they are great ice-breakers in any new conversation. It caught people’s imagination and triggered their curiosity. In many cases it led to my acquaintances adopting Braille for their cards as well,” says Chakraborty.

Esha formats cards for companies in Braille without actually reprinting them. Nidhi Arora, founder of Esha, says, “You are sensitive and inclusive, without being flashy about it and more importantly, you (and your business) are serious about a commitment to fair employment practices and inclusive communication.”

But innovation can sometimes be hard to include in a visiting card. For example, a few years ago, the trend was to have business cards with a machine-readable QR Code. Users could scan this code to get additional information about the card owner. However, according to Manasee Jog, design faculty at the Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Bengaluru, “Cards with QR codes aren’t economically viable for the client who owns the code. This is because there is only a niche market that will be using it.”

Jog also recommends avoiding business cards with your picture on it. “Putting a photograph in a business card, which is anyway 3.5×2 inches in size, will make the photo lose any detail that you want people to see, and hence it is redundant. Use a good font instead. The world of typography has so many interesting fonts today to match everyone’s personality or profession,” she adds.

Brand connect

Create a card that people will remember, and also shares the philosophy of your organization.

Jaipur-based Tomato & Co. creates visiting cards from seed paper and has used this format for clients such as Hindustan Unilever, PepsiCo, Zomato and Asian Paints. These biodegradable eco-papers are embedded with seeds, which can be planted to grow basil or tomato saplings. According to Kritika Parwal, founder of Tomato & Co., this makes it a great conversation starter too.

“People remember it because it stands out from the rest. Also, it says more about you being environmentally conscious than just talking about it. One of our clients owns an organic dog food brand and a card which doesn’t harm the environment only makes her company values stand out stronger,” says Parwal.

Sometimes innovation can also be used to give out more information than can fit on a card. German stunt-car and race-car driver Ronny Wechselberger uses a USB visiting card. It is the same size as that of a regular visiting card, but with a little USB stick that flips out. According to Wechselberger, who regularly updates the information on the USB, very often as a racer, he needs people, especially potential sponsors, to go through detailed PowerPoint presentations, which give his career statistics and the like. Sometimes, the USB also includes videos.

In an email interview, Wechselberger says, “I’ve realized that it’s always easier to feed information to people, because people don’t always have the time to actually hunt for information. Simpler to provide them with all the information that they need in one simple step.”

Innovative steps aside, do keep in mind that a business card first and foremost must contain all the relevant information it is expected to provide. “A business card is good when it does two things: furbishes all relevant information in a correct hierarchy, is written in a comprehensible manner and, more importantly, facilitates a good recall,” says Shekhar Badve, founder director at Lokusdesigns, a Mumbai-based design consultancy.

Jog says a business card should have the basic principles of design in place. “It must be legible; have a simple layout with enough white space/breathing room; good visual hierarchy; one must make good use of both sides of the card; use the right kind of paper; too much colour will kill it, as will too many fonts,” she adds. If a card fails on these parametres, it has lost its USP

Strike a balance between utility and innovation, and you can make a lasting impression.

Think outside the box

The business card has found new ways to be used by companies

Heard of cards with conductive ink? It’s a special kind of ink that conducts electricity. To access someone’s contact details, simply place the card on your smartphone. This technology has been developed by Ireland-based TouchBase Technologies. Last year, menswear brand Arrow launched the Arrow Smart Shirt that has an inbuilt chip in the cuff. This can be programmed by downloading the Arrow mobile app on a near field communication (NFC) enabled smartphone. All you have to do is tap the card on your cuff, and the details will be saved on your phone.

Then there are cards which reflect the business you are in—from chocolate wrappers that fold out to show the contact details of the owner to cards that can be rolled or folded like a mat to showcase your yoga business.

Business card etiquette

Just handing over a business card will not do the job

Give and receive cards with your right hand. Also, hand the card in a way that the person receiving it does not have to turn it to read it.
Always make a comment about a card when you receive it. Note the logo, the business name or some other piece of information. This places value on the card.

Keep your business cards up to date. It is substandard business etiquette to hand out cards on which you have crossed out an old phone number and scribbled the new one in.

Do not fumble at the time of handing out a card. The person who has to go through every pocket or every nook and cranny of a briefcase to find those business cards, loses credibility immediately.


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