The business card is a traditional and archaic form of presenting contact information and providing a means of exchanging it. While it is a physical object that is intrusive, inconvenient, and not very sexy, the basic rectangle has gone through several iterations that have kept it relevant for almost a thousand years.
When was the business card invented, and what journey has it gone through over its lifetime? Pieces of paper with gold engravings and detailed artistic drawings called “visiting cards” were invented back in the 15th Century in China. Two centuries later, European royalty widely adopted visiting cards, and used them to inform servants who were announcing the arrival of distinguished guests. The visiting card soon became a social norm among upper-class families who served the royal courts in these quickly expanding European countries. Each household would have an elegant card tray in a prominent place for guests to leave their visiting cards.
In 1830, the trade card was born, which marked the date of the first major advancement. Local business owners in London used trade cards to advertise their businesses, and distribute directions to their establishments with small maps. Names and markings on the roads were almost non-existent at the time, and the trade card acted as an effective way to establish brand recognition in a very early system.
The visiting card and trade card emerged together, and the business card was invented during the early 19th Century. In 1890 “robber barons” made the business card famous. Mainstream society began using cards as a way to exchange information at exhibitions and presentations. Captains of industry were able to establish a personal brand, and could mutually pass their information among other professionals.
Jumping to present day, the business card has not evolved rapidly despite new mobile technology. It still has a strong physical form factor and is still printed. Among innovations by designers are unique aesthetic changes by experimenting with different materials, graphics, and typefaces. Professionals are still expected to carry business cards and exchange them with others, just as people did back in the 19th Century. The business card has arrived in the 21st Century in a form not much different than a millennium ago. It is time for business cards to catch up with social networking and other web technologies rather than fall back on its classic format.
Below is timeline showing how business cards of famous icons have evolved:
Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
Wilbur Wright (1867-1912)
Harry Houdini (1874-1926)
Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
Andy Warhol (1928-1949)
Steve Jobs (1955-2011)
Warren Buffett (1930-Present)
William Gates (1955-Present)
Larry Page (1973-Present)
Mark Zuckerberg (1984-Present)