I had the dubious pleasure of scanning in my backlog of business cards this past weekend and realized that I was spending an inordinate amount of time editing some cards. Now, I have used a CardScan for years to scan in business cards. I use the Executive model which scans in color and has the ability to selectively upload and synchronize with my Outlook contacts. This has saved me a lot of time and effort, since I find it hard to read some of the business cards and typing the data slow and prone to error. I have also noticed that a lot of businesses equip their receptionists with card scanners as well. New apps now allow smart phones to scan cards using their camera. I have not tested these apps to see how accurate they are, but cannot imaging them being more accurate that the CardScan, which has been improving its product for years.
With that all said, I have found that there are several practices which result in card format that, while they may be aesthetically pleasing, are not practical from a reading or scanning perspective. Therefore, I have come up with several suggestions for improving the readability and scanability of business cards (to protect the guilty, I am not providing examples of cards that do not scan):
1. Put all relevant information on the front of the card. Using both sides of the card ensures that some information will be lost. If you want to use the back of the card, I suggest that you use it to explain what your company has to offer and not use it for critical information, such as address, phone numbers, and the like.
2. Think about your color scheme. Scanners work best with contrast. I have provided a copy of my business card above. While it has color, the contrast works well and the information scans perfectly. Do not use strong background colors unless you contrast the print. Also, do not use colorful background patterns that will confuse the scanner. Keep it simple and pleasant.
3. Put your company name in text. Many cards rely on a graphic logo to communicate the company name. These do not scan well and result in many errors. On top of the poor scanning, sometimes it is difficult to decipher from the logo the correct company name. It is a good practice to repeat your official company name in text to augment the graphic logo.
4. Think about font style and size. Avoid script fonts and italics. These do not scan well, especially in smaller font sizes. You should also consider how easy the card is to read. I get too many cards that have very large company names, but the rest of the information is tiny and difficult to read. Keep in mind that the card is really used to communicate a personal relationship, not a sterile business interaction. We want to remember the person, not the company, which we probably already know.
5. Avoid the “|” in the text. Place your information vertically, not horizontally using the “|” as a separator. Invariably, the scanner cannot depict the meaning and messes up the interpretation. There are some other characters to avoid, such as “~”. In fact, avoid any characters that are not necessary to transmit information.
6. Don’t cram too much data onto the card. Keep the card simple. It is not necessary to provide every bit of information on the card. Important information includes, person’s name, title, and primary contact information (phone, cell, e-mail is sufficient). Of course, the card will also include the company name and may include an address. Additional phone numbers, alternative addresses, multiple e-mails, certifications, etc. can clutter up a card, so leave them off.
7. Use the common sense test. Look at your card and see if you can pull off the relevant information quickly and without trying too hard. If you cannot, then you need to redesign the card. In the end the best test is to scan your card design and see how well it translates. You may be surprised.
I know that many of us do not have the luxury of designing our own cards and must rely on the format selected by your marketing group. They are pushing the ‘company brand’, not the personal communications, which I believe is a big mistake. We build our business on personal relationships, not corporate relations, so let’s design business cards that emphasize the personal nature of our business.
I have a large stack of cards and can quickly show which ones work well and which ones do not. However, I do not want to embarrass any of my colleagues, so I am not including them. If you have a question about your card, please feel free to sent it to me and I will give you my opinion.
Did I forget anything? If there is some business card feature that drives you batty, send me a comment below or an e-mail and I will update my list.