Usable Business Card Research/Design

One of my favorite side projects was the design of my business card, which was initially spurred by a course assignment at the University of Michigan School of InformationSI 520: Graphic Design. I decided that rather than simply designing a conventional card, I would approach the business card as a UX problem, understand the ideal use of business cards by real users, and then design a card that would uniquely serve those needs. I only had about one week to design the cards, so I tried to keep the research and design process as simple and focused as possible. Even cursory research (and personal experience) showed me that the primary goal of the business card was to be informative, memorable, and ideally actually kept by the recipient of the card. Therefore, I researched the habits of those who were most effective at retaining and later using business cards, as well as the cognitive influences on impressions of people and on retaining objects and information.

I sought out students and instructors at my school who had experience with dealing with large volumes of business cards, and interviewed them (and in some lucky cases, saw their stocks of collected cards). It was immediately clear that the only people who managed to handle large quantities of cards were those who annotated cards immediately upon receiving them. The most common (and commonly shared) annotations were where the meeting took place, some sign of level of interest or importance for later contact, and the general impression of the card giver. Annotations were often done on the backs of cards as well. In addition, a great deal of research has already been done showing that when people manipulate or annotate small objects, they have a better chance of retaining them. It quickly became clear to me that a proper usable business card user experience would (a) support the actions of annotators and (b) help train non-annotators on the benefits of annotating their cards.

As such, I designed my business card with an easily filled form on the back side, and a relatively simple, informative front. I chose a vertical alignment as it best supported the back form section, and I added an indicating arrow to the front to signal the flipping of the card. I rotated part of the text on the front of the card to a horizontal position to encourage further manipulation of the card, and I added a small text section prompting the card flipping in a personable and non-commanding first person tone.

While designing the card’s back, I made sure to not simply allow the card’s user to indicate a priority for contact, as that would show and instruct that there would be a reason to not contact me. Instead, I created a series of checkboxes which were intentionally lighthearted and positive, with a few main serious contact reasons included. In this way, users who did not have a serious business related need to contact me would still see me as a positive social connection and keep the card. Similarly, I added a checkbox section for impressions, which were all clearly overwrought and overly positive, which was both humorous and, as research has shown, a priming mechanism to encourage a positive opinion. Also, as I am a generally light-hearted and non-serious person (which comes across quickly in person), this helped show and represent my personality and sociability, which further associated me to the card and improve recall for the user.

All in all, I was very pleased with the card and the extremely positive reception it received whenever I used it. I was extremely flattered when it was published on Lifehacker as an example of an interactive business card to help people remember you. I hope to continue to design unique interactive business cards in the future, using further user research, iterative design, and user testing.