Business Cards for Game Designers

Note: this is the obligatory business card post that every blogger does eventually.

Fellow Horseshoeite Bryan Cash posted this on Twitter today:

PLEASE. Make your business card easy to write on. I have a pile in front of me of shiny cards of people I cannot remember for the life of me

Which I cannot agree with more. When conferences roll around I spend a lot of time hearing about and reading tweets about business cards. While they are this kind of antiquated artifact of 20th century business, they do serve as a reminder to add someone to LinkedIn or whatever when you get home.

The point of having a business card is communication. And what do you know? The main skill of game design is communication. Like it or not many game designers put a lot of weight into what goes on that business card as a barometer of the person’s ability to communicate. Thus, you can screw that puppy up bad. I’m no American Psycho card guru as there are a few things I will fix on my next try: bigger text, up the contrast, and so forth.

Here are some mistakes you can make and what someone receiving a card containing that mistake might think about you.

The Irregularly Sized Card says: “It’s about me, not you.”

Everyone complains about the designer with the monster ego and then we ooh and ahh at Kevin Mitnick’s lockpick business card. A designer that gives out an irregularly-shaped business card is saying: “I know you can’t file this with your other business cards, but I’m so important that you will need a special place to put my contact info.” Uh, no.

Corollary: If your card is made of titanium or hemp or souls of the damned, it better well be important to your business proposition. Otherwise, you are essentially broadcasting that you are all style, no substance.

The Glossy Card or No Space to Write says: “I don’t think ahead.”

This is what Bryan was talking about. If I’m at a conference and I collect fifty business cards, I like to put a little note on each saying what we talked about or where we met. Nearly everyone I met does the same. If you don’t make your card easy to write on, you are essentially putting all of your eggs in the “I’m so memorable that he won’t have to take notes” basket. For someone as forgetful as me, that’s dangerous. For me, the back of my card is completely white. Everything I need to tell people I’d give the card to is on the front. They can fill in the back with what they need.

There is no reason for a shiny card that can’t be written on!

For game designers, it says that you plan systems that don’t make affordances to how the user will actually need to use them!

Bonus: you can take notes on your own business cards when you need to remember something and have no other means nearby.

The Hard to Read Card says: “I don’t communicate well.”

If your card is hard to read, what kind of screens will you design? I violated this on my business cards by accident as the final product didn’t have the same contrast as my screen proof. I’ll fix that in the next go around. Your card should attempt to be easy to read at a glance, right? Contrast. Repetition. Alignment. Proximity. Yes, it spells crap. That’s what makes it easy to remember.

The Focal Clip Art Card says: “I am not creative.”

Jesus, God in Heaven, if I see a piece of MS Paint clip art like in the example above, you better damn well be the best designer in the world and using it ironically. Luckily, I don’t see this much in games, but I do see it often in just about every other industry that hands out cards. Luckily, in many of those industries, you don’t have to be creative. In games, you must be. If you even think for a second of putting clip art as a focal point in your card, give yourself twenty lashes and start over.

There’s a corollary to this: images aren’t bad. If the image is evocative of something and if it blends well with the other content on your card, then go for it. But do not make it the focal point and make sure it is related to what you do and used in an attractive manner. My card has a lot of black space on the front. I’ve filled that with some line art from Asteroids. It’s evocative of my style and it isn’t a focal point. It simply breaks up the visual field. I’m not making a Spinal Tap album.

The image here also shows the safe zone and bleed zone. Don't go to the edge. The card doesn't contain the dotted lines, obviously.

The Contains a Game Card: “I like games so much that I don’t care if they are terrible.”

I haven’t seen one of these out in the wild, but have heard about many instances of them. Ian Schreiber posted a link to one. If you are putting a game on your card, it better be 1) fantastic in design, 2) playable in no time at all with no extra effort or materials and 3) memorable. Just putting a game on your card is of no use unless it is spectacular, otherwise you are showing people that you don’t know how to design games. An at-least-we-tried is not particularly wowing. The cards I linked to would be much better off removing the visual clutter. They are certainly memorable, but not for the right reasons.

I’m sure there is a memorable business card game out there somewhere, but I’ve never seen it. How about just putting a link to your game that’s on the web that is already awesome?

The Printed on Your Home Ink-Jet Printer Card: “I’m not doing so well.”

My parents have instilled in me very powerful lessons on saving money for the lean times. Nonetheless, there have been times when I’ve been broke as a joke. You may desire to print some cards on whatever thick paper you have in the apartment. Stop. These cards generally bend and crease and fall apart in people’s pockets. There are usually coupons for Overnightprints.com or Vistaprint where you can get professional weight cards for very little cost. (Don’t get the free Vistaprint ones). If you go the cheap route, you end up looking kind of pathetic, even if you are kind of pathetic (and we’ve all been there).

Too Much Text: “My design documents will be impossible to parse.”

The above linked business cards from the students with the board game brings up another point. If you have no white space on your card, if you try to cram as much info as possible into those few square inches, I’m just going to assume that you put five hundred words on each powerpoint slide and fill your design documents with meandering asides. There’s a place for additional information. In fact, some folks rely completely on this.

Doesn’t Have a Website: “I’m All Talk and Have Nothing to Contribute”

If you don’t have a website that has some sort of content that gives me an idea of who you are as a person and as a designer, then what do I have to go on? If you are a student, the link to your portfolio should be up front and highlighted. My card contains in order: my email address (where you can ask less public questions), my blog (longer-form writing and other content), Twitter (something where we can talk publicly and you can see my personality). If your information is easy to find or if you tell everyone within earshot of your website that is easily Googleable, then maybe you can leave that out. Err on the side of caution.

These snap judgements I listed leads you to a very simple card: name, sparse but evocative presentation and links to additional information/communication channels. Every other statement you make about yourself should be in the conversation you have with the guy or lady you are giving your card to! Be memorable there! How much time are you spending designing your card versus actually being interesting so people will want to keep your information?

3 thoughts on “Business Cards for Game Designers”

  1. My name-only business card worked really well at GDC, in that I was contacted by hardly anyone! (Seriously, my goal was to filter out for just the people who REALLY wanted to talk to me.)

  2. I just wanted to say thanks for the article. I am planning my first trip to GDC next March and this is exactly what I am looking for. Great perspective.

    -former student of your’s and Game Designer in training
    John

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