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I'm getting fairly close to graduation and thinking that I might make some business cards for when I go to internship fairs and the like. Is there a canonical reference for their design and content?

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    Good question, but I think it could have a better title, specifying that you're looking for design/content standards. I originall thought it was about a global listing of people's business cards ... – C. Ross Aug 4 '12 at 21:06
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Modern business cards really have no formal canon anymore - I've seen a range from simple and tasteful to multicolor polka dot with pastel text that made my eyes bleed.

What you'll probably be creating are personal / contact cards (referring to you as a person/applicant) so there won't be any company/title information on them, but the "rules" are pretty much the same.

Wikipedia has an article on some business card conventions, but it's rather sparse.
Scobleizer also has some tips which I generally agree with.


Some things I personally look for in a business card:

Clean layout
Tell me the company, the person (and their title/qualifications), and relevant contact info (email, phone, fax, web, postal address).
As a general rule don't put your cell phone number on your card - you can always write it in later.

The back of your card should be blank. If you absolutely must put something on the back of the card put it in a corner or make it unobtrusive enough that I can still write notes on the card.


Legibility
Use a font I can read if I'm sitting at my desk, without having to pick up the card.
Use colors that are easy to read (Black or a dark color on white or a very light color).
If your card has graphics, make sure they don't interfere with legibility!


Size
Standard business card size, please, or else I don't want it.
(You'd be surprised how many people's cards are bigger/smaller than standard. It doesn't make you stand out, it makes me hate you and your odd card!)


Composition
Good heavy cardstock. White. UNLAMINATED, ESPECIALLY ON THE BACK for the love of kittens please don't hand me a shiny glossy card that I can't write notes on!
If you absolutely must have a laminated card, laminate the front ONLY.
If I can't jot notes on the back of the card I will hate you.
If you can't jot down your cell number on the back of the card for that special recruiter to call you you'll hate yourself.


I happen to have two cards from UL on my desk which are pretty nice in my opinion (though one of them commits the unforgivable sin of having a graphic back that you can't write on - it's dark red).

I've also included a redacted version of my personal contact card which I hand out when I'm not acting in connection with my employer. It's a bare-minimum card designed for me to write additional information on, and I have the printing done by a shop on heavy (100#) business card stock

UL CardsPersonal Contact Card

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Keep in mind that some people will scan the cards into a database. The simpler the construct the better. Strange colors and graphics frustrate the OCR software.

If you only have cell phone, put it on the card. Don't put contact info that will be useless after graduation. So no college email address, or college phone number.

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    Good point about cases where your cell is your only phone. The advice in my answer about not including your cell phone number is more about not putting your personal cell number on a business card your employer gives you to be handed to clients (otherwise your cell will ring at all hours and you'll have no semblance of a work-life balance) – voretaq7 Apr 13 '12 at 21:19
  • Better yet, get a google voice number and keep it for life! – Affable Geek Apr 14 '12 at 0:34
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I think you want to be relatively conservative in the design of your personal cards for most professions. The exception is for people who will be working in the arts. My cards for my day job are very vanilla, the cards I give to gallery owners are a mini-portfolio of my art (see moo.com, if you want to do this) and that way they can pick one they really like to remember me by and I always have a portfolio with me that fits easily in my purse.

And proofread, prooofread, proofread. They can't call you if the phone number is wrong.

  • +1 for tailoring your card to the audience - especially if you have distinct/diverse audiences. Bear in mind what @mhoran_psprep said about OCR though - It's not as big a concern if you're handing your creative stand-out card to a gallery owner, but if you give it to the head recruiter at IBM and it doesn't scan I doubt they're going to hand-enter it to call you :-) – voretaq7 Apr 14 '12 at 5:26
  • The phone number is wrong in my current company business card (it happens ;). We never bothered to replace them, because I don't usually interact with clients and when I do it's via email. The mistake is very easy to spot (some extra digits) and it's always funny when someone first notices. – yannis Apr 14 '12 at 7:55
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Resist the eye candy offered by the on-line sites. Some of their templates are beautiful, but the purpose of a business card is, business. A plain white card, on heavy stock, with black printing makes a clean impression and gets across all the information you need.

Put on your card the contact information you want to share. Nobody keeps cards these days, if the card doesn't have a QR code; the card is usually scanned. Once your email address and cell phone number are in someone's database, you can expect it to be in everyone's. I once fired an operator for selling email addresses and phone numbers out of my database. It happens all the time, everywhere.

Ten years ago I expected a plain back where I could scribble notes. Today I put my notes on my phone. I expect a QR code on the back, with an eCard that I can scan and then add notes.

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