As I cleaned up the desk heading in to the new year, I ran across some business cards I’d collected at a networking event.  I usually scan them in using my handy scanner (side note: I highly recommend a sheet feed scanner – receipts, pictures, memorabilia, documents, and business cards), move the ones that are known to me to my active contact list, and store the rest for posterior’s sake (sticking them where they’ll be of some use – realistically I’m never going to contact these people).  The reason I scan the cards is to have a permanent and easily accessible record of the notes I write on cards – that’s how I remember who people are.

While the optical scanner is an amazing piece of equipment, it is a human-programmed device that uses algorithms to make sense of things people do every day (the human brain is even more amazing!).  In this case, it’s trying to recognize and translate printed text to English words – or names, phone numbers, and addresses.  While we do it with nary a second glance, you can imagine how difficult a task this would be for a computer.  And it FREQUENTLY (more than half the time) gets important information wrong.  That means I have to manually correct the information, if I deem it worthy of correcting (seldom).

This task is made even more difficult by the crazy designs and font choices people put on their business cards.  Scanners rarely pick up light text on a dark background.  They can’t read text printed on a picture.  They don’t like changes in fonts very much.  They can’t make sense of two different directions of text (although it CAN detect a rotated card).

Just for grins, I ran my own (soon-to-be-replaced) business card through my system.  I didn’t expect it to make sense of my business logo.  But I was surprised that my italics font job title came through “Communications Cooch” (a cooch is “a sinuous, quasi-Oriental dance performed by a woman and characterized chiefly by suggestive gyrating and shaking of the body” — NOT what I do!) and my phone number (Arial font — NOT italicized?!) is 8.1(8..18_’81:18 (call me!).  Everything else – most importantly my name and email address – did come through exactly as it should.  I’ve given your scanner a fighting chance of making your life easy and thus easier for me to be contacted.

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I understand the desire to have a flashy business card.  You want to be noticed.  I get it.  But I’d rather you be remembered for what you say and the connection you made when you were with me (communications skills, anyone?) rather than the incredible picture and design of your business card.  And remember Rule #1?  Who is this business card for, anyway?  And what are they going to do with it?  If they are a modern-day electronic warrior, they might scan your card, and you are making them work extra.  Or they may file it for posterior’s sake.

I’ve had people give me torn off sheets of paper for a “business card”.  One of the ones I just scanned lacked a name!  And often it doesn’t have an email address on it.  I’ve even had people tell me business cards aren’t needed in this digital age.  I disagree.  It’s an accepted part of business.  It should be professional and informative.  And make it readable, please.

Give people the information they need in a format that works for THEM.

P.S. If you want to do business with anyone over the age of 40, then you shouldn’t use 5 point fonts, either.