A history told in business cards

6 business cards for the same person arranged on a sheet of paper. One dominates, showing cover of How To Be Old and a photo of a woman paddling in the sea.
An incomplete history told in business cards

My new business cards have arrived. It’s the umpteenth iteration. Like all the previous ones, they provide a snapshot of my life and times.

Over 30-odd years I have kept samples of only a few of my own business cards. Others have succumbed to decluttering. That’s both literally (no stray cards even in the junk bowl) and digitally (not even a jpeg file remains).

Yet even these six illustrate parts of my working life. They also reflect the design trends and business concerns of the times.

My earliest (vanished) business cards date back to about 1991 for my first or second trip to Japan. There, business cards were an essential communication tool and a notation of status. I surely would not have lectured at universities without a card that at least gave my name and contact details. Still, I’m darned if I can remember what that first one looked like.

As a two-year Guest Professor at Doshisha Women’s College of Liberal Arts, I didn’t qualify for a card from that prestigious institution. If I had, it would be framed in gold and hung on my front door with bells and good luck charms.

Business card 1995 style

In 1995 I came home to New Zealand permanently. I quickly became absorbed in a new passion: communication on the internet, especially the “World Wide Web.” (Forgive the quote marks, but the expression is almost obsolete. Perhaps you have never even heard it spoken aloud.)

At that point I got a proper business card from a cool designer, and we both thought my personal logo was forever. The font was Excelsior, new and classy, and the “e” of “Rachel” was elevated over a fine line. E-everything was the go and I was into a serious 20-year geek phase. As a bonus, that lively little “e” jumping up in the air reminded people how to spell my name.

Then I lost the logo. I tried to recreate it but my version was clumsy, all elegance gone. This is the only fragment of my ersatz logo:

Black and white logo of RACHEL McALPINE in very small format

Business cards 1999–2003 (about)

For maybe ten years I freelanced, writing books and training people to write digital content. We called it “writing for the Web.” “World Wide” eventually slipped into the shadows, but note the persistent capital W.

After I got married to the WWW I needed a business card like a wedding ring. One more trendy card followed (lost, lost) then these two, photographed below.

The first, very much a DIY card. Would that typeface be Verdana already? And look at those lovely domain names. Also long lost, of course. The second, made a few years later, shows a more professional touch. It’s legible. It’s balanced. That’s nice.

Two business cards for Rachel McAlpine in cream and orange. Left, small print, centred, Writer, Training Consultant. 3 websites writing.co.nz, webpagecontent.com and trainagain.com. Right: more elegant, Words that work.

There were other business cards around this time. As a freelancer in a new field I struggled to know what to call myself. Both Quality Web Content and QWICKIT were brands I tried over those years. Qwickit? What was I thinking! No business card remains to tell that story.

A business card for a Plain English lobby group

The next card tells a different story.

Around 2000 (just a guess), Plain English Power was what we called our lobby group. We began pressing for more clarity in government documents. At the time, the clarity and content of official communications varied wildly. Government organisations were all bound to communicate online, which some thought irrelevant. But a large proportion of official bodies just plonked 1,000 incomprehensible PDFs on a painfully inadequate web site and thought the job was done. We did have a cause! Luckily while we were lobbying for the cause of clear communication, a core group of public servants took things in hand.

Today, years later, WriteMark Plain English Awards Trust in New Zealand carries the flame with their annual awards for clear communication. Entries for this year’s awards close tonight!

But I digress. Here’s what’s obvious about the Plain English Power business card. Sure, it identified the organisation and gave our contact details. But it did more. It clearly stated our business:

Plain English Power. Read it. Get it.

Join our campaign to promote plain language in official information. Clear communication from government is our democratic right—and it saves money.

Business card 2006–2016

In 2006 I formed a company with business partner Alice Hearnshaw. The dreaded QWICKIT was soon transformed into Contented, which stuck. The business card pictured below was probably our second attempt to get it right.

And now look at it! This must be one that I corrected on the spot under duress. The desecration occurred after I’d retired from the company and reverted to life as a poet. I was so used to having a business card in my pocket—but Contented was no longer my business, rachel@contented.com was no longer my email address, and “business communication in the digital world” was no longer my job.

What to do? Scribble all over the beautiful cardboard, obviously. Now the sorry card pictured below is the only paper relic of my life with Contented.com. But the photo mattered. No use being shy: a portrait is so useful on a business card. Especially for us face-blind people.

Business card for a poet

Yes, even poets can use a business card. Just very occasionally. They can double as invoices or receipts. Remind people of your name and work. Save people writing down your email address. You can stick labels on the back with little poems or a promo for some event.

Actually I’ve had a poet’s business card for a few years. That one was made in haste for—I forget the occasion. The idea was good, pity about the execution. All my doing, but the photo is weird and I never really liked it.

So this is what I had printed last week. Designed by me, tweaked by Danni, a Big Picture designer. Frankly my friends, it is an advertisement. After they leave an event, I want people to remember my latest book of poems. Recognise it in a book store. And buy a copy or two. Shameless, ay?

Photo of a business card. A woman stands in shallow waves. Bright yellow book cover top left: How To Be Old, poems Rachel McAlpine. Contact details.
A poet’s business card

Why did I write about business cards?

Honestly I have no idea. It’s not my core business. It’s taken me days. It’s time for lunch.

Maybe I did it because I’m pleased with my latest card. I always am, mind you, so that’s no guide to quality. But I’m specially happy that I can:

  • feel free to do whatever I like with my own card
  • design it without a committee or a brand expert
  • use a snapshot of me paddling in the sea instead of a head-shot
  • brazenly advertise my latest book
  • hope against hope that two people will glance at my blog.

What will this card look like on Friday?

One more problem, though. I will have my first cataract operation on Thursday.

What will my business card look like when one eye sees clearly? Is that blue really blue or almost black? Clear communication depends partly on clear eyes.

What have I done?

27 thoughts on “A history told in business cards

  1. realruth says:

    I’ve just checked in an old business card folder, and I’ve got eleven different versions from three different roles. The most recent one is now incorrect. I still use it, but tend to scribble over it. As I get older I have less need for cards, but they are still useful in some circumstances. Maybe it’s time for a redesign?

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      It’s quite fun, so why not? I’m impressed that you have still got eleven.

  2. I’ve got some sweet Moo cards that are now obsolete but I can’t bear to throw them out. I never thought about writing about them and thereby consigning them to posterity (kind of …). What you have done? As always, something brill. I’m thinking I can maybe make mine current with a bit of Twink. Do people still twink?

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      I twinked some cartoons a few years ago, so it still exists. But better, why not get some noo Moo cards for Kay the poet? Just for fun.

      1. Just might do that.

  3. Sadje says:

    All the bad Rachel for your eye op!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      I know you meant best 🙂

      1. Sadje says:

        Oh my , I’m sorry. I did mean best. 😱

      2. Rachel McAlpine says:

        Sadie, those fiendish autocorrectors are all infuriating. I must turn mine off.

      3. Sadje says:

        Totally agree with you Rachel ❤️

  4. Paula Light says:

    I love both your current one and “Words That Work” ~ striking designs! I made a few up for a romance writers’ retreat, but I ended up disliking them later. Currently, I have none. Hmm…

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Aha! I can’t believe most of mine were so conservative in the past. And I was so earnest about it. Now it’s much cheaper so my approach is pretty playful. So… Do it 🙂

  5. A fascinating post which grabbed me by the correct use of iteration in the second sentence 🙂

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Ha! Told you I was a geek. I am happy with my impact.

  6. Cathy Cade says:

    Good luck with that eye op. When our former neighbour had hers done, she said it was a revelation!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Thanks Cathy. I’m dreading the sight of two things: the dust on my bedroom floor and my face in the mirror. If the drugs do their job, good.

  7. This was a fun idea for a blog post. I had cataract surgery on both eyes, and I was blind in one eye it had gotten so bad. I am so thankful for the medical technology that allows me to see. Good luck with your surgery!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      It’s sure to be a great success. Thanks Priscilla!

  8. Am I the only one to be thinking that you are perfecting the use of a she wee in the latest photo? Perhaps my cataracts have advanced more than I thought!

  9. Dan Antion says:

    Business cards are themselves almost obsolete, but I did get a personal one after I retired. It’s fun to look back over the years through these little pieces of paper. I think I have all of mine.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      True, I rarely see one nowadays. But then again, I’m not moving in t by e corporate world.

  10. Elizabeth says:

    I love the current card. As for cataract surgery, I can see blues much more vividly since I had both eyes done. It rook a couple of months to adjust, but I can now say it was worth it.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Glad you like the card! And I’m always glad to hear another good-news cataracts story. I wonder how the blues will look to me in a few weeks’ time…

      1. Elizabeth says:

        I have a friend who does icons and is quite concerned about how her surgeries will impact her color choice. I am curious to know how blue changes for you. (Along with the dust which I swear wasn’t there before my surgery.)

      2. Rachel McAlpine says:

        I will report back when the eyes have settled down.

  11. cedar51 says:

    …”What you have done?”…. is take us on a journey that has spanned your working life through the decades…thanks for sharing.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      That’s a lovely thing to say.

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