Designing with Depth: The Business Card

Whenever I design something for a marketing or branding purpose, I feel its often more effective to do so with depth. It’s one thing to create a shiny logo, but if there is a connection to the brand, a layered meaning behind it that relates to the company or service provided, that design will be far more effective & memorable. Businesses are constantly vying for our attention, and in an era of start-ups, any chance of standing out from the rest is sought after.

Recently, a good friend of mine achieved his goal of becoming a certified driving instructor. This is a big deal for him, and already things seem to be going very well. But teaching people to drive is a very competitive business, and London has an endless supply of instructors, driving schools, and organisations. So he was very keen to establish a foothold for himself, and asked if I’d help with some business cards.

A few examples of the competition.

Now, in general, driving school or instructor business cards are not exactly.. great. There is usually either some clip-art, several fonts that don’t quite work together, or stock image combinations involved. It all comes across as far too cramped and busy. They aren’t inspiring, and never really stand out from each other.

First of all, we agreed on a double-sided design. This meant the front design could be focused on the “brand”, whilst the information could be laid out on the back. Secondly, there were two phrases he wanted to incorporate. One was “Prepare the Right Way”. The other, for the back, was “Preparation is the Key to Success”.

The other thing he informed me, was that although he was approved by a national organisation, not only did they not provide cards, he was not allowed to use their logo on any self-made material. (Unless he used a photo of his car.. which falls into the aforementioned uninspired route.)I found this quite odd.

Immediately, something struck me about the first phrase. Prepare the right way. The right way.. Right of Way.

Of course! There is a road sign that is used to inform drivers which side of the road has the permanent right of way.

What if I were to adapt this sign, and incorporate it into the card’s design? The right way in this case would be taking lessons from the instructor. What if I placed the phrase underneath the white arrow, and put the initials of my friend at the top?

More importantly, I decided the card design had to be portrait. It might sound like a minor thing, but a change in orientation separates the card from a large number of other designs. That, and the fact it would also look a lot more like a road sign would make it unique & memorable.

The next thing for the front was typeface and colours. I knew just what to go for. There is a large amount of research in Colour Psychology that people associate colour combinations and shapes with companies and organisations who use them effectively. You don’t have to use the name of a brand to make someone think about them, if you cleverly play with the “look & feel” that they are known by.

A short web-search also came up with the right font to use.

With the back, We agreed that the second phrase should be bold and stand out, with enough separation between it and the contact info to make a statement. However, to really make the text “pop”, I inverted the colour scheme. The result was more striking, and everything was much clearer to read. It also gave each side of the card its own “character”. I kept the same font throughout to avoid conflicting type, playing with heights and offsets instead.

I managed to convince my friend to go for curved corners, just to play on the signage idea a little further. He agreed, but left one corner at 90 deg so that they were easier to take out from a wallet or card holder. I particularly liked this idea, as again this was for both stylistic and functional purposes.

A week or so later, he dropped by with the printed design.

So there it was. A business card that stood upright, out from the competition, delivered a layered message, and visually associated the person with their organisation without having to use its established name or logo.

Lighting Designer, Freelance Graphic Artist and Self-Confessed Photoshopaholic.