What’s 3 ½ x 2 inches, been around the block a few times, and on it’s way out the door?
It’s the traditional business card — a small memento, reminder, and reference device that comes from a physical meeting.
People have an emotional attachment to their business card collections. I was astonished to learn that one of my then-young employees, now a VP at a tech firm, spent his high school years emailing CEOs asking them to send him a business card. Collecting them was his hobby. Then there’s Suzann Lanoue of Honolulu (Suzann.com). She became hooked when she was ten years old and found one on the streets of Tijuana. Now she marshals a vast collection. I long took personal pride in my own multiple shopping bags full of business cards. My ego loved looking at the people I’d met. In a Marie Kondo moment back in the day, I got one of those early card scanners and employed a few interns to scan the collection. But even afterward, my kids enjoyed “playing business” and building a literal house of cards with the remnants. If you’re suddenly feeling like you were overly focused on collecting Pogs or HotWheels and missed the business card thing, you can always buy someone else’s collection on eBay.
Business cards did not get their start in business. Historians believe that they have roots in visiting cards used by aristocrats in 15th-century China. By the 1600s such calling cards found a place in European society. They became so common that most well-to-do homes had dishes specifically to hold them. Shortly thereafter, businesses began to share “trade cards” reminding people where to find them and what services they offered. In 1922 Emily Post, the doyenne of etiquette, wrote a tome about their proper size, paper weight and printing specifications. In Japan, the Meishi, (Japanese word for business card) is accompanied by an elaborate ritual.
Today the variations for creative business cards are endless–differentsizes, paper weights, perhaps gold leafed foiled, with a photo, etc. Some standouts are edible ones like those featured on Design Swan, made of everything from cookies, to meat (no joke!), to peanuts (sure to be popular for passing out to gluten-free vegans with allergies). The CBD crowd can find hemp-based cards on Etsy. There are jigsaw puzzle business cards which you can give to people who you’d rather never meet again, I presume. Zazzle has enough business card themes to keep you indecisive for years. Not going gently into that good night, companies like Vistaprint will print QR codes on your business cards so you can keep up with modern times. Some of the most truly creative business cards of all times can be found here. Trust me, they’re worth a look.
The Dead Business Card Society
But for all this, along with so many habits that changed during the pandemic, the death of the business card appears inevitable. Three top reasons:
Hygiene: The last thing we want to do now is pass around potentially germ-filled cardboard papers that have been in our purses, wallets or even weirder places. And it’s not just the card you’re touching, since handing it over often involves some hand contact as well. Some of the cards I’ve been given over the years have been used as toothpicks, for all I know. Contactless everything has become an obsession, and that includes business cards.
Baggage and Clutter: They don’t weigh much, but a stack of cards is just one more thing to lug on your trip home, find a place for when you arrive, and more importantly act on. Who wants that bother and fuss? What should you do instead?