Making your own business card from scratch is a tricky business. That’s why most people rely on the experiences and successes of others. So what better way is there to create your own business card, than to look at those of the most well-known people of history?
Below are a number of business cards from figures of historical or cultural importance. Let’s see how they made their business cards work for them!
In his days before the presidency, Abraham Lincoln was an attorney and public figure. Like others in the profession of his day, Lincoln needed a business card to drum up business. A business card often attributed to him stated:
Attorney and Counselor at Law
To whom it may concern:
My old customers, and others, are no doubt aware of the terrible time I have had in crossing the stream, and will be glad to known that I will be back, on the same side from which I started, on or before the Fourth of March next, when I will be ready to swap horses, dispense law, make jokes, split rails, and perform other matters in a small way.
But what confused historians was that this card was likely printed in 1864—one of the years of Lincoln’s presidency, and during the Civil War. So why would the sitting president need to print a business card?
As it turns out, it may not have been the man himself that had them printed. In fact, it was likely the Democratic committee that had them commissioned as a dig at Lincoln for the war and a number of political defeats he had experienced. Alternatively, Lincoln may have had them printed as a self-deprecating joke—historians aren’t sure.
But don’t copy his card too closely, as you likely won’t get much business from it!
Harry Houdini needed business cards like any other businessman of his day. As a performer, he needed to be able to connect with local businessmen so that he could put on shows, and so they could contact him to have him perform.
This one seems to have been equal parts business card and marketing material. While it tells the recipient who the person is—Houdini—it also advertises the then-current show ‘The Man From Beyond’, which Houdini was performing at the Times Square Theatre.
But what makes the card interesting isn’t its text. It’s the shape of the card. Rather than your average rectangle, it’s a triangle. This would make the card instantly memorable and recognisable, despite being so simple.
‘Walt Disney’ is one of the best known names across the world, probably only matched by religious figures! It’s almost inconceivable that at one point in his life, the man would have needed a business card. But before he was famous, when cartoons were only first becoming widespread, he did.
Disney’s card drew on his strengths. It features his name, Walt Disney, and underneath in smaller font ‘cartoonist’. Then further below, the card expands on what Disney can do: ‘comic cartoons, advertising cartoons, animated motion [and] picture cartoons’. Finally it features his address, at the time in Kansas City Missouri.
But it’s not the details that set the card apart. It’s how he personalised it and made his strengths clear. The card features a cute self-portrait of the artist, sat at a contemporary easel. With his sleeves rolled up and a pencil behind his ear, he scribbles furiously, with papers flying everywhere.
How could you personalise your card to grab the imagination, and make your strengths clear?
Albert Einstein’s card is a good example of a basic business card template. It features his name, his profession (‘Professor—Physics’), where he works (Institute for Advanced Study), his address and his phone number.
The only major difference between this and any other business card is the texture. It has an almost corrugated texture which would have made it interesting to the touch. But if it weren’t for the name on it, this business card would definitely not have made the history books.
Chuck Jones was another animator, famous for being the man behind Tom and Jerry, Looney Tunes, Merrie Melodies and more. Because of his ground-breaking style and immense success, he became known as The Father of Contemporary Animation.
Like Disney, Chuck Jones made his strengths clear on his business card. It features his name (stylised as it appeared in the credits for his cartoons), as well as his phone number and address. But like Disney, Jones sought to personalise his card in the only way he knew how: art.
Front and centre of the card is a drawing of Roadrunner (‘beep beep!’) The drawing utilises Jones’ famous illustration of movement, with a big cloud of dust billowing up behind him. Roadrunner was one of Chuck Jones’ most famous inventions, both then and now, so to include a ‘portrait’ of the character was almost to say Don’t you know who I am? I’m the guy who came up with Roadrunner!
What could you put on your card that might have a similar effect?
Andy Warhol was a cultural icon. He was known both for his art, and for his position in the flourishing cultural scene of 1960s New York. His art studio (The Factory) was essentially where anyone who was anyone would hang out at the time. Considering he knew anyone who was anyone, it’s surprising that he felt the need to have a business card—but he did.
Warhol’s business card reflected the man behind it. It was handwritten in two colours, with Andy’s name and address. Aside from these basic details, the card is actually bare. But the impression it gives is one of a man who was confident in his art, informal, and different—all of which Andy was.
If it were your job to print a business card for Andy Warhol, how would you design it? Could you do a better job than the man himself?
Steve Martin is a comedian—one of the greatest stand-up comics of all time. He was first a writer, but got his big break as a regular guest on The Tonight Show in the 1970s. He subsequently starred in many movies, both comedies and not, and won Emmys and Grammys for his work. He also happens to be an incredible juggler, and a highly proficient banjo player. There’s little he can’t do.
Like most of the best examples here, the card reflects the man. Steve Martin’s business card didn’t feature his address or how to contact him; he was widely known enough that if you wanted to get in touch with him, you could find out how quite easily. All it features is the text:
This certifies that you have had a personal encounter with me and that you found me warm, polite, intelligent and funny.
It was signed underneath.
Steve Wozniak (also known as Woz) is an American inventor who co-founded Apple Inc. with Steve Jobs. While Jobs was famed as the face of the company, Woz was the man behind the inventions: the Apple I and Apple II, and the Apple Macintosh. These were the products that put Apple on the map.
His business card is anything but bland. For starters, it’s made of metal, not card. Along the top and bottom are two rows of perforated dots to provide texture. The card gives his name, address, email and phone number, as well as his website (woz.org). He’s had the same design for decades.
Steve Jobs was the face of Apple until his untimely death in 2011. Aside from being the co-founder of one of the biggest tech companies around, he was also the primary investor and chairman behind Pixar. Jobs wasn’t short of success.
His business card, though, was actually quite plain. During his first stint at Apple, his card was a basic white rectangular design, featuring the name of Apple, his address and phone number, his name and his job title (Vice President, New Product Development).
While his later business cards may have been more interesting, how do you think this first one could have been improved?
We don’t need to tell you who Bill Gates is. As the head of one of the world’s biggest companies, he’s had lots of different business cards over the years. One of the first was printed soon after he founded Microsoft with Paul Allen in 1975.
The design featured here is definitely eye-catching. It features ‘MICROSOFT’ in a big, stylised 1970s font along the top, as well as Gates’ name, job title, address and phone number. In short, it’s got everything you need to contact the man if you should need to.
But aside from that, you could argue that it’s lacking in personality. From the card alone, could you tell that Microsoft were a software company or not?
Mark Zuckerberg, like many in our list, doesn’t need a business card these days. If you need him, you know where he is! But back when Facebook was a fledgling site (and then known as The Facebook), Zuck and his fellow employees did need business cards.
The designer who drafted and printed them thought that making them fun would be a good idea. They’re based on the site’s design, featuring Facebook’s well-known font, and its blue and white colour scheme.
Each card featured a tagline, which reflected the design of the site at the time (random quotes would appear on the site’s footer, just for fun). Zuckerberg’s quote on his card was one that the designer remembered him using, ironically or not, in board meetings: ‘I’m CEO, Bitch.’
Do you think you could get away with a card with the same design? If not, why not?
Arnold Schwarzenegger has had, to put it mildly, a unique career. Having come to the public’s attention through winning the Mr. Universe title at age 20, he went on to star in several low-budget action movies before finding fame in Conan the Barbarian and Terminator. After a long movie career featuring action, comedy and dramatic roles, Arnie settled down into his retirement… By becoming governor of the state of California.
His business card during the later part of his career reflects his position. It isn’t flashy, but it is classy—it looks just like the cards of other governors and politicians. It features his name, job title and address (State Capitol, Sacramento, California, 95814) as well as his phone number. Embossed at the top in gold is the seal of the state.
If you were Arnie, what would your business card look like? Would it be professional to reflect his later career, or more fun to reflect his earlier career?
Obama doesn’t need an introduction! Barack Obama’s business card was surprisingly similar to Arnie’s (or perhaps that should be the other way around).
Back when he was U.S. Senator for Illinois, his card featured everything you would need to get in touch with him, but not much more. Again, his card featured an embossed golden seal, but this time it was the Great Seal of the United States rather than of his state. Professional and elegant: what more could you want?
Do you think all politician’s business cards should be basic and professional, or should they have more personality to them? Which approach do you think would be the most effective?
Love him or loathe him, Donald Trump is arguably the best known celebrity in the world today. Perhaps taking inspiration from Arnold Schwarzenegger, Trump decided that a career in politics was for him a long time ago. And again, whatever you think of him, now he’s leader of the free world. So what on earth must his business card look like?
As for the ones he currently uses, it’s not actually clear. There aren’t any examples for sale, unlike his many other autographed cards for his position at the Trump Organization. He may still be using his personal professional cards rather than those of his office.
His older cards are instantly recognisable. They’re embossed with a golden logo, but other than that are quite basic (i.e. name, position, address, telephone and fax). The main difference is that if you flip the card, you’ve got all of the above details but in Japanese. This would have made it easier for Trump to liaise with Japanese businessmen, which he definitely would have been doing in the 80s and 90s.
If there’s one thing that you take away from this list it’s that the card should reflect the person giving it and the position that they hold. If you’re a creator, don’t be bland: be interesting and different. If you work in sales or marketing, don’t be boring: sell yourself!