An unexpected social trick I learned running out of business cards at the worst time

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Shit happens. I was on the eve of an important conference. I had spend good money, out of my own pocket, to purchase a ticket, travel and accommodation. But I had no business cards left. Yet I had no intention of going empty handed.

Let’s step back for a second. I’m a  business card freak. I’ve been designing my own  business cards for years now and I had no idea that what I was about to do would change the way I look at  business cards forever. This story starts from a startup, Moo. They offer you to have a different graphic on each card at no extra cost. Order 50 cards, you can have 50 unique cards.


So I started to create cards with different backgrounds. To create these backgrounds I used the logo of my company,but also photos that I took during my travels. Like these cool textures of the soil in Iceland, or this funky arch in the desert of Tunisia.

Would Moo be a good option for my “ran out cards” emergency? Not really.

Ordering times would not allow me to have  business cards on time. I had to find a solution. All I had was a laser printer. Should I simply find some cardboard and print some black and white cards?

Looking for ideas I discovered laying around my office some cool materials from the covers of promotional notebooks and folders, plus some printable sheets of labels that I could use.

I combined these funky materials with a neat print of my basic data and my first home made batch of  business cards came to life.


Creative solution, yes. But no big deal in terms of design. In fact the insight that I learned is not that I could easily use older marketing materials to create some jaggedly shaped cards. What I got is an insight I was not expecting.

To understand this insight I must tell you how I hand out my  business cards: by offering a choice. The gesture that I’ve started to use since my first Moo cards is to open them like a fan, like it’s a deck of cards, showing only the back accompanied by the (cheesy) line “Please, take your pick.”

Sometimes when I encounter a bit of hesitation I also add “If you don’t like it, you can also give it back.”


My previous set of cards already made a fun game. But I didn’t realize that these new cards had a hidden power. They could help me understand who I had in front of me.

I think it started with this trans-lucid white plastic that I found on the back of a notebook, probably from Mediacom.


This kind of material – I realized – is like catnip for designers. Every person that deals with images in their life would choose this card over any other. Maybe it’s the simplicity, the lack of color, but if I had in front a designer they would go straight for this card.

Soon thereafter I discovered another magnetic effect. This time related to a very similar translucent cards. But this time a greenish one.


Looks a little bit like a printed circuit doesn’t it? Well this card was pure gold for techies, programmers, engineers, hackers or other assorted geeks. They would immediately chose this one like it screamed their name.

At this point I knew that I was on to something. I don’t meet a lot of finance or real estate people. But guess who went instinctively for the silver and the gold cards? Yes, their soul was perfectly identified by these luscious materials.


By the way the golden card comes from a cardboard edition of the poster of Sex and the City 2. HBO please don’t sue.

I had a batch of pink cards. None is left. I meet a lot of funky girls and a bunch of LGBT or just friendly people. Those pink cards are in their pockets.

A lot of friends and acquaintances liked the dark blue cards. Probably they were attracted by the simplicity and straightforwardness of the back. Nobody specific liked the gray version with the rivets that stick out, even though it’s one of my favorites of this batch. It comes from a WB’s Sherlock Holmes by the way.


At a later stage I got a bit carried away. This is a batch made out of playing cards with a religiously themed Giotto paining on one side. On each card I either cut the angel or the pastor, kinda of small blasphemy.


I mostly enjoyed using my own old marketing materials. These are bookmarks that I made, for a hefty cost, a few years ago. They were advertising an ebook and I still have stacks of them. They make great  business cards in my opinion.


On this journey of business cards creativity I did not always succeed. My biggest failure is the business card of the (failed) project trailerflow. I designed the heck out of these cards. They are totally personalized, themed and have a custom front that features who the card is for. For investors, for friends, for the press. It took me countless hours to create these cards and the end result is that I made a few friends happy, but thy never elicited the wow of any of the other series of cards I created.

Plus they make you clumsly. Instead of letting the other person choose what card they want, you have to find the right card for them: who are you? a Hacker? let me get you the hacker cards. Damn, I’m out, do you mind having the press one instead. Facepalm.


After playing with all these options I realized that what counted the most was the game.

I mean, it’s cool to profile the person in front of you with the choice of materials of your card. And I invite you to do it. It’s a fun social game that anyone can play. But I want my card to be used by the person I give it to. I want it to embody my personality, my brand, my ways. I want it to stand out when they pick it up a week later. I want them to see it and remember me and what I stand for. So I went back to photos of myself, and back to professional printing at Moo.

Thanks to my colleague and photographer friend Livia Patta I got the first good portraits of my life. I have been very proud of these cards.


A few years ago I made some additions to my look and I used the chance to get into Stefano Corso’s studio to get some really great professional shots. The result is the current deck of cards.


Is this journey complete? Not really. I changed look again. So I need a new batch of photos and some new cards.

What I am sure about is that I will continue for a long time to make this gesture, to invite the person in front of me to take their pick, to make the exchange of cards a fun social moment rather than an awkward exchange of vestiges of the past. And I will not do it do get a glimpse for their psychology, I will do it to tell a story, to leave an impression, to make them feel that even the most ordinary moment, can feel special.


Since you’re here and I can’t really hand you a card, why don’t you subscribe to my almost monthly newsletter?

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