The Evolution of Business Cards: From Traditional to Interactive

Humans are driven to connect, and business cards have been a staple of networking since networking as a business concept was invented. Whether for announcing your presence, proposing a meeting, or advertising a company, these cards have continued to evolve since their emergence.

Keep reading to travel through time and explore the history of business cards from ancient China and ornate hand-crafted designs to the current age of using the internet to design business cards with online card maker options.

The following will help you better understand the importance of business cards and what to look for in a graphic designer whether you outsource or use an in-house designer.


It’s widely believed that the concept has its origins in China in the 1400s. Back then, they were exclusive to the upper class. Made out of expensive materials, their sole purpose was to impress the receiver. Finely engraved, the owner would hand one over to a butler or servant at the entrance to a building or household. The resident would be given the slip of paper by their servants, who then examined it to determine whether the visitor was worthy of meeting. Hence, the design had to be refined and sophisticated, as it was an indicator of wealth.


Over in France and Italy in the 1700s, it was expected that a calling card was carried on a person most of the time, and though it varied in size, it was small enough to be carried around in a person’s pocket. This would be left upon visiting someone’s residence or workplace. The overall design varied greatly but generally had an image or pattern on one side, with the other side left blank for a handwritten message. As the idea of this wound its way through Europe and the United States, the design began to feature the person’s name on one side. It was common for men to use these to court women, leaving their details in case the woman was interested.

Otherwise, social etiquette dictated that upon first visiting, the person would only be expected to leave a calling card. If the corner was upturned, it would mean the visitor had passed by in person to leave it behind.

If the visitor was welcome, a response would be delivered to the original visitor’s house. If unwelcome, the calling card would be in an envelope, or there would be no response at all.

Trade Cards

At the same time as calling cards increased in popularity, businesses figured it would be a good idea to hop on the bandwagon. Merchants and companies frequently exchanged trade cards, and the designs would include a map displaying their location. Sometimes, there would also be detailed instructions on how to get there. This would be the first version of how they are known today. They were still small enough that they would fit in a person’s pocket, and the earliest ones were printed on paper. Much like the ones in China and the ones used today, the aim was to make them as memorable and creative as possible to serve as an unforgettable commercial memento.

Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution brought manufacturing into the modern age, and communicating commercial information was no exception. Companies could have their details printed en masse to hand out to the public. Designs would include photography and branding, as well as location and other contact information. This opened up a whole new world of opportunity for printers, artists, and photographers, who would all compete to create new exciting designs.

Now… And the Future

Nowadays, the importance of business cards has not been forgotten. They still play a vital role in connecting people, though now that the internet is at the forefront of most companies, physical advertisements have had to evolve to keep up. In a saturated market, organizations have to think outside the box and come up with unique and clever ideas. For example, adding a QR code can take the potential customer straight to the website. Or, a creative twist might capture a yoga instructor’s details on paper that can be rolled up like a mat – or for a divorce lawyer, a card that can be divided in two.

The physical aspect has now become something of a novelty, but that doesn’t mean they are obsolete – more a trend that will likely circle back.

Looking ahead to the future, the ideas and potential are limitless. Designs can be created effortlessly online and at your door within days. Imagine what the future could hold – holographic images? Augmented reality?


In conclusion, it’s clear that business cards have come a long way from their roots in China and are tied directly to the history of business itself – but their purpose is still the same at their core. People connecting with others is something that humans have done since the dawn of time, and this will continue as the future stretches out into the unknown.


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