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The Origins of the Business Card: Lessons in Choosing the Right Card

Patrick Batemen, the protagonist in Bret Easton Eills novel, American Psycho, is driven into a quiet rage when he notices his colleagues business card. Bateman is angered because it’s better than his.

In the movie based on the book–Bateman ogles his co-workers cards with a queasy jealously.  “Look at that subtle off-white coloring.” Bateman obverses obsessively, “The tasteful thickness of it. Oh my God, it even has a watermark!”

From the perspective of the novelist the scene illustrates how the banal intrinsic of consumerism effect people’s social standing, their view of themselves, and their view of the world.

From the perspective of someone who has ever had a business card the scene is eerily familiar.

Business cards express their owner’s personality, style, and status. As The Smart Set’s Greg Beato writes, business cards, then known as name cards, visiting cards, or trade cards, were used “in 15th-century China [and] in 17th century Europe.” In other words, business cards were essentially the original Facebook / Linkedin profile.

Today, business cards are still as popular and necessary as ever.

Choosing the best business card isn’t a science yet. Currently, there is a cold war between two opposing business card camps. Some believe in flashy, ostentatious, cards–they maintain that they will attract attention and respect. Others champion the subtle, simple, business card–arguing that a no-frills approach will speak to the owner’s down-to-business style. There is no middle ground.

The divide in business card theory makes it impossible to lay out firm, do-or-die rules.

It is easier, regardless of what camp you’re in, to think of a few things you definitively shouldn’t do.

Writing a list would be pretty easy–but it might not leave a lasting impression.

It would be better if you watched this video. Let’s call it: What Your Business Card Should Never Look Like.

If your card doesn’t look like his pop-up book than I can safely say you’re card is fine.

Picture Credit: Riptheskull



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Whether you want BLG to deliver a complete leadership academy across your organization, focus on a key group, or supplement an ongoing program, the primary goal of any of our programs will be business impact.

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