Biz Features

There Is No Excuse For Bad Business Cards

by . May 9th, 2012

An Online Printer’s Insights on Terrible Business Card Design

We make print materials, so this whole thing might seem purely self-serving (Ed note: it is) but this is pretty frustrating for me at a fundamental level. Personally, I think harmony in design –good aesthetics- is non-negotiable (and before you say anything, we’re working on a new design for this blog).

Appearances matter- and perhaps this holds a lot truer for new businesses. But frankly, it’s surprising- not to mention a bit depressing- how little thought a lot of new (and old!) entrepreneurs put into their business cards.

Bad business cards 01 - Big Al's Aquarium
Big Al’s might be the best  at what they do, but you wouldn’t know it. It’s unfortunate, really. An ugly business card (or brochure, flyer, or whatever) will barely cost you more than a decent one.  Nobody wants to leave the wrong impression but the general cluelessness many entrepreneurs and managers of small businesses have is barely offset by their enthusiasm.

Watch infotainer extraordinaire Joel Bauer explain the extreme side of my point:

We don’t endorse this guy, but he brings up good points. Your business card, and your other prints for that matter must do at least two things and do them well: help you stand out, and help you sell whatever it is you have to offer.

If you think appearances are secondary to the actual quality of your products or services – think again. Appearances totally change how a product or service is enjoyed. The Coca-Cola Company has learned just how much appearances matter- the hard way.

Each and every single time it’s changed the packaging on its products, it has received complaints on the taste changing, even when they do not in fact change the contents. But the most dramatic spike in complaints (apart from the New Coke incident) happened when Coca-Cola recently changed the colors on its Coke Classic cans to raise funding for polar bears.  Coca-Cola did something they’d never done in their entire history: change the key color on the cans from red into another color- white.


Source: Associated Press
Now this was a mistake for an obvious reason. The cans could easily be confused with the ones for Diet Coke, which had a similar color scheme. But many customers insisted that the taste of Coke in the new cans was different- less “bitey”, “more-watered down”- you get the idea. And remember- only the packaging was changed.

Louis Cheskin’s groundbreaking study on sensation transference proves that we do place a lot more value on appearance that we might suspect. Know why margarine’s yellow? Manufacturers started dyeing it yellow (margarine is naturally colorless, or white) because it frankly looks disgusting without it. We see thousands of examples in our day to day lives, and we barely notice it.

On business cards- everything -from the color scheme, to the weight and texture of your card stock, the amount of negative space, down to the font combination matters.   For example:

Bad business cards 02 - TKS  Authentic African Products

There’s nothing too bad about this card, it does what it’s supposed to do- but not very well. It tries to do so much in a small space -and it looks cheesy. Avoiding cheesy takes knowledge as well as effort. The crease also shows it’s probably made from inferior stock. Overall, we’re sure they could have done so much better for the price they probably paid.

Appearances matter because they are integral to the product. If I might be allowed some hyperbole: If your logos and print materials look like they were put together by a six-year old, the people will treat you like one.

We’re not saying you should spend $4 a card like Joel Bauer does. That’s just ridiculous. But in a way, he’s right. You’ve got to make an impression.

So do your homework, ditch the clipart and comic sans and find out what really works. Keep it simple and straight to the point. If you don’t have a professional graphic designer, find one.  And if they have experience listen to them.


Arthur Piccio manages YouTheEntrepreneur and has managed content for major players in the online printing industry. He was previously BizSugar's contributor of the week. His work has appeared multiple times on The New York Times' You're the Boss Small Business Blog. He enjoys guitar maintenance and reading up on history and psychology in his spare time.