by Matt Brown

Earlier this year, I designed two business card sets, one for Microsoft’s MIX Online team, and another set for our agency, thingsthatarebrown. Despite it being months since these cards went to print, I thought it would be fun to show ‘em off.

Bold circles, FTW

For the MIX Online team cards, I wanted to extend the “blending circle” metaphor I’d developed for their website. The overlapping and blending colored circles played on the idea of ‘mixing’ and set up a visual motif I knew could work in print.

I cracked open Illustrator, pulled in a few shapes from the website PSD, and started working on an initial design. What immediately struck me was that I had this fixed, definite canvas to play with — 3 x 2.5 inches, front and back, no funny stuff. We lack the constraints of print on the web, which makes it difficult to create intricate designs that hinge on ratios, the grid and proportions.

With this in mind, I made my design ‘sync’ the front and the back side — the upper blue circle ‘bleeds’ over into the circle edge on the back. It’s a small detail, but one that’s impossible on the web, where you don’t have three dimensions to work with. I think it gives the printed card a sense of cohesiveness, even if you don’t notice the shapes lining up right away.

Donny, you’re out of your element

I’m almost a total novice in Illustrator — I can use it about as well as your cousin can use Word 2010 to design a webpage. So I called on the wonderful Chelsea Conboy to clean up my files and give me a few tips on how not to screw up again. Very helpful.

After that, I was off to the printer. I knew I wanted a thick, rough, recycled cardstock and wanted to use letterpress to give the colored shapes a rich, clean, organic look.

What I didn’t know was that print shops carry only a few common paper types—the paper I coveted was distributed by a small Swedish company that only sells in large quantities, with nearly a one-month turnaround time on delivery. No dice on the sweet paper.

To meet our deadline, we’d have to print an offset color down first, then letterpress on top of that.

Evolution to the rescue

It’s hard to overstate the importance of working with a good printer. Scott and Molly of Evolution Press helped me refine my production files and choose accurate PMS colors, and advised me on all the details of the letterpress process. They also let me drool over all their Heidelberg printers.

They found a way to source the recycled paper I wanted, too. Long story short, they bought back an old client’s excess card stock (who used it on an awesome card for Seattle’s Still Liquor). I owe a big thanks to Scott and Molly for all their hard work.

Here’s how cards came out:

Some love for our little company

Since I was knee-deep in bringing one set of business cards to life, I figured I may as well design a new version of our own thingsthatarebrown cards. I’m pleased with the result, especially the very big/bold treatment on our names (set in Century Gothic, tightly tracked) on the reverse side.

Check em out:


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We packed up shop in early 2011 to work at Facebook. Tiffani now works at Pinterest and Matt is working on secret projects. To keep up with us, check out the Brown Blog or follow @brownthings and @ticjones!