Updated November 2023
At one point in my life, commercial design was giving journalism a good run for my career-planning money. In high school, I won contests in both. The image on the left is an illustration of mine that chosen for a charity card set back then. The image on the right is a business holiday card I designed after a last-minute decision to send glad tidings to our clients. Let's all share a sign of relief that words largely won out.
How to design a unique corporate holiday card
I asked Marc Borzelleca, my friend and design partner for 20+ years, to share advice and tips on designing a terrific year-end greeting. He's designed business and corporate holiday cards for everyone from large regional health systems to small local businesses.
Margot: You’ve been doing this a long time. What's the biggest mistake you see us making with business holiday cards?
Marc: Sending generic cards with nothing personal added. It looks like you ordered 200 cards, printed your name on it, mailed it and called it a day. It’s the same as getting a form letter. And while the acknowledgement is nice, it doesn’t show sincerity. It’s like, “we are acknowledging that you are a client, but not special enough for us to do more than slap your address and a stamp on this envelope.”
Right. Nothing wrong with ordering pre-made cards, but it does mean you have to seriously raise your personalization game. What are a few things we we should think about before starting our card?
I’d say three things:
- What do we want to convey about our business? How do we want our clients to see us? As a serious, earnest company; as a company that has a religious leaning or other important sentiment to convey — this can be tricky — or as a fun, hip place, or cutting-edge, hi-tech company. This sets the mood for the design of the card.
- What are the practical considerations? What is the budget? Is there even a budget? Will these be printed and mailed, or sent digitally? If mailed, will they be bulk mailed, or hand stamped. P.S. Hand-stamped is always better. If printed, how many, and will they be designed or bought off the rack?
- Will these cards have a personal note included, or a real signature from the owner or employees? Will the card accompany a gift?
I love what you said about the message — both the overall message and the actual business holiday card sentiment. You really have to know your values and your audience to get that right.
Exactly. And it can take a lot of time to work that out internally.
Speaking of time, so many of us put off our holiday card planning. Why is that a bad idea?
You certainly don’t want to rush it and send out something that has typos or the wrong message. Make sure the copy and imagery adhere to the corporate standards — like if your company does not want any religious or political affiliation, or has a standard message that is used in its pieces. This impacts the design “language”, too. It can help to develop a piece, then give it a little time and look at it again with fresh eyes, or have another employee look at it, and see if any issues come up.
If you’re printing cards, it’s best to start as early as possible because printers get overloaded during the holiday season. I try to give them 1 to 2 weeks at least, more if shipping is involved. That also gives time for addressing and mailing, which can take a while. You want the card to arrive not too early, but also not so late that it gets mixed in with everyone else’s cards, or after the holidays, that makes you look like they were an afterthought or you are bad with time management — unless you’re intentionally doing a New Year’s-themed card.
Even if you’re doing e-cards, don’t wait around. While digital cards will save mailing time, the design process can take just as long, especially if there are multiple parties who need to approve it.
What do designers need from clients to create custom business holiday cards?
Communication! What makes a designer cringe is when a client tells them “I don’t know what I want or like, but I know what I don’t like”, or “I’ll know what I like when I see it”. It's best to communicate everything in the beginning — but at least your budget and some examples.
Ideally, though, you'd give us as detailed instructions as possible, so we don’t waste hours creating designs that are off the mark.
For instance, If there’s a certain style you want to go with, send examples so we know what direction to go in. If you want to keep the printing costs down, don’t spec special sizes or multiple folds that increase the cost. If it has to fit within a corporate design style, give us the colors, fonts and icons to adhere to that style. Do you want to include your logo or not? If you want to use a photo of your business or employees, make sure it's high resolution — 300 dpi at 100%, by the way— and that you have people's permission to use their images. Finally, let us know if you want – or don’t want – religious or seasonal imagery.
Any final advice for designing a unique business holiday card?
Make your card special and sincere in the message that you convey through imagery, text, a personalized greeting, or best, all of the above!