Is the business card swap really dead, or can we revive the ritual?

In Japan there’s a whole ritual around the art of handing over business cards. In case your next work trip takes you back East, know the protocol: cards are exchanged by both people simultaneously with all the pertinent details facing the receiver, a move that’s accompanied by a 45-degree bow. Both parties then politely study the card’s details. It’s considered inappropriate to write on a business card, treat it casually, fold it, or put it in your pocket without giving it a proper read—a far cry from how we treat business cards out West.

Not that many of us are exchanging business cards these days. Still, there’s something about the physicality of the cards themselves, to say nothing of the ritual of handing them around (whatever version you choose) that’s empowering and somehow validating. When starting a new job, most of us can’t wait to get our business cards printed, even though yet most of them will remain unused and sit idly in a desk drawer. But that paper-to-paper exchange by people who meet in a professional context for the first time is no less important.

San Francisco design firm Hatch creates a lot of print projects, so naturally their business cards needed to reflect the same level of quality they put into client work. Their card is both tactile and memorable; embossed on egg-carton stock, you can tell immediately what their specialty is.

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According to founder Joel Templin, “There really isn’t a person we hand these to that doesn’t react in some way, turn them over, or study it a bit more than a typical business card. The conversation usually comes around to the choice of egg carton and the fact that we’re called Hatch; people seem to appreciate the concept and attention to detail. Hopefully, since it is a unique card, it’s something someone hangs on to whether they work with us or not.”

rick-byrne-business-cards-aigaHatch designed even more unique business cards for their winery, JAQK cellars, (which they co-own with two Napa Valley vintners): nickel-plated metal poker chips. Templin confirmed “they get the same response every time we hand them out. First the person we hand them to is taken back or comments on how cool they are, then they ask if they can keep it, which of course is a yes— it’s our business card. They actually thank us... how many times does that happen when you hand someone your card?”

I recently turned to Rhode Island printer Moo.com, as they can print up to 50 different images on the back of your cards in a single run. While I’m no Kim Kardashian, I went the selfie route anyway with different “personas” that reflect my sense of humor, which I’d hope to convey to a potential connection anyhow, business card or not.

On the surface, posing as an explorer, a pirate, a Soviet guard, a mummy, a knight, a Viking, a priest, a bandit, a sailor, and a pilot may seem like an over-the-top attempt to stand out in a busy job market, but I think it demonstrates a capacity to rethink a transaction that’s often taken for granted. Now my commonplace business card ritual has an unexpected bit of theater, and says a lot about who I am as a person and what I can do as a designer.

About the Author: Over the years I've worked in San Francisco, London and Dublin for companies like the BBC, CBS Interactive and Unity 3d. At this stage in my career I've gained enough experience to know when a concept has been pushed far enough or more importantly, not far enough. In starting new projects I love the mental exercise of trying to find new ways of looking at things. By looking into any problem deeply enough I feel it will eventually start to create it’s own unique solution. I believe this is the inspirational source for creating something innovative in a world flooded with images. I also love creating logos as they boil down the enormity of a product, service or institution into it's most minimal form. I think I'm quite good at them but judge for yourself: https://www.behance.net/rickbyrne My main portfolio: byrnecommunications.com My thoughts: designcareer.wordpress.com My career: linkedin.com/in/rickbyrne