BUSINESS cards are often regarded as relatively insignificant in the whole marketing scheme. Yet, the smaller the business, the more important its card, since this may serve as its sole advertising medium.

Even among large firms, a card passed on from its original recipient to a friend may create that personâs first impression of the company.

In any case, effective business card design demands strategy. Here are some pointers:

Mirror your business or approach. At first glance, your card should portray you or your firm accurately.

Cards within artistic fields should scream creativity; perhaps a stylish sketch for a clothing designer, or a unique arrangement for a florist.

Human touch

Financial plannersâ cards should smack of understated success. Elements like heavy paper stock, embossing and light touches of silver foil lend instant class. Physicians need to forsake yesterdayâs black-on-white formality for a more human touch.

Many gynaecologists favour pastel colours, and choose feminine illustrations like rosebuds.

In other specialties, humour can work well.

One allergy and asthma group practiceâs logo is so pollen-ridden, I almost sneeze on sight!

I also recall a paediatricianâs uplifting photo card of himself sharing giggles with a captivating pre-schooler.

Use a positioning statement or slogan to set your business apart. This is especially critical in crowded fields.

Hereâs an example: Pacific Coast Christian School stresses quality with, ãSetting a higher standard in Christian education.ââ

Any serious Christian with a bright child and some discretionary income will definitely hear bells.

In ultra-saturated fields like hair styling, terms like ãundetectable perms,ââ and ãcolour magicianââ promise heaven-sent solutions.

Keep it simple. Cards printed crosswise arenât ideal for business-to-business use, since they arenât easily viewed in buyersâ phone index files.

Other downers are fold-overs suffering from information overload, and cutesy cards shaped like computers or trucks. These are more appropriate for refrigerator doors than desktops.

Another warning: Some people (like me) use little two-hole punches that convert any standard business card into a phone index format.

Before finalizing your design, overlay a phone index card on your prototype to assure survival of critical information like your fax number.

Shun fads. Choose classic colours to avoid a dated look like Southwestern, whose palette has faded into the sunset.

Solid blues are classic in the corporate realm, and green is de rigueur for agriculture. One technique often overlooked by the budget-conscious is screening, where several shades of one ink colour are used to create a multi-colour effect.

Mind your logo. This should be simple enough to look great on everything bearing your companyâs name.

Complex logo

Donât choose a complex logo for your signpost if it will wind up resembling a swatted fly when reduced for your business card.

Consider type style and size. Like illustrations, type styles are subjective. Calligraphy or script is ideal for an interior designer or a string quartet, but too arty for a civil engineer.

Similarly, big block letters arenât appropriate for someone who must convey warmth, like a psychotherapist or masseuse.

As for type size, anything under 10 points may appear blurry to seniors.

Retain professional help. No matter how tiny your budget, hire a seasoned graphic designer to finalize your business card.

Ask to see samples first. Never forget that your card is a moving billboard, and that it can create many first impressions of your business.

The more strategic your design, the more chance that success will be in the cards for you.