Finding Craft in the Process

02.10.2011 / Author: Laura Shore

In her brilliant and wide-ranging article about systems thinking in the 2010 CA design annual, DK Holland writes: “In reality, effective graphic design is both a craft and a discipline requiring concentrated strategic thinking.” She describes it as both an artistic commodity and intellectual pursuit. Professional discourse over the years has oscillated between these two poles. From my perch in the marketing department at Mohawk I’ve seen this play out in designers’ approach to materials—alternately celebrating and dismissing physical substrates like paper.

While we may be moving toward a paper-less society—I don’t expect we will ever see a paper-free society. But where we do use paper these days, we need it to count. We’re seeing this play out in design sites like Felt and Wire Shop, the design equivalent of the local foods movement, where paper is celebrated as a means of personal communication.

How does this affect professional graphic design? Let’s take a look at the humble, ubiquitous business card. We’ve all seen what happens when we get together at a trade show, or in a conference room to pitch or be pitched, we trade business cards. Practiced consultants arrange cards to track participants around the table. A quick look down and you can quickly evaluate the status of the speaker—or find a name that was lost in the flurry of introductions.

These little pieces of cover stock, thoughtfully designed, distill identity down to its essence. Your client’s business card will be collected, saved, and referenced. It will remain as a tangible expression of their brand long after the meeting.

So many interactions exist these days in a virtual space that a company’s web assets have replaced the stationery system as the signature expression of its brand. But while YouTube and Facebook have become critical touchpoints for consumer-facing companies, businesses still rely on personal connections, even when augmented by social media. And business cards are an essential ingredient in the web of personal connections that become the business-to-business brand.

As a result, we’re seeing designers create more interesting, memorable cards for businesses of all kinds. Sometimes the distinction is tactile, sometimes photographic. Two print processes—one old school and one cutting edge—are opening up new ways to produce cards that get saved after the essential data is entered into the CRM system.


The development of polymer plates for letterpress printing has made the process incredibly flexible from a design perspective and is perfectly tuned for the short runs typical of print today. We love the way that letterpress marries up with thick, toothy cover stocks. A great way to find a letterpress printer is to browse the Letterpress Directory on Mohawk’s design blog, Felt and Wire. There you’ll find designer/printers along with printers to the trade.

Boxcar is a large letterpress operation near Syracuse, NY that makes polymer plates for smaller shops. They also print for the trade, as well as produce several lines of retail products for the social stationery market. Their blog and site are a good way to get up to speed on the process. We like their clear instructions on designing for letterpress.

Coeur Noir is a ten-year old letterpress shop in Brooklyn, NY that is highly regarded for its refined approach to letterpress printing. They spend more time printing than marketing, but nevertheless have worked with many high-profile brands in NYC.

Rohner letterpress was founded 14 years ago in Chicago, IL and has built a reputation with the design community for their professional approach to letterpress printing.

Digital Print

Digital printing, with its typically slick white surface may seem more at home in postcards and flyers than trendy business cards, but some providers are working hard to change that. is a great example of a digital startup that puts designers squarely in the center of their thinking. Moo emerged on the scene a few years ago—challenging the business card format with the unique mini size and the ability to endow every card in a run with a different photo, quote, or color scheme. These memorable cards are perfect for retail, start ups, and established businesses with adventuresome spirits. They have also begun offering 100% PCW cards that can be printed digitally printed as well.


And what would a business card be without paper? Super thick cover stocks, sometimes double-thick, can make a real impression on the recipient. Card-stock up to 24 pt. can go through a typical offset press. At Mohawk we keep ours to 20 pt. just to be safe. Many specialty printers have small desktop laminators that can create double or triple ply cards. Another way to achieve luxurious, tactile cards is to go for cover-weight antique or vellum finish. These papers aren’t smoothed out in manufacturing so you get more bulk (and they look great letterpressed).

Don’t forget that your paper choices reflect your values. Mohawk’s new Loop line includes beautiful antique finish covers in 100% postconsumer waste (whose electrical energy is offset by windpower credits). The advanced search feature at is a great place to research paper sizes and attributes. Once you narrow down your choices you can order samples, swatchooks and small quantities direct from the mill.

About the Author

After working in print for many years, Laura Shore now oversees social media, branding and e-commerce at Mohawk Fine Papers. She recently developed the design blog and marketplace, Felt and Wire and Felt and Wire Shop.

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2 comments, please join in the discussion

  1. 02.10.2011

    SO TRUE ~ and sometimes a challange ! Recently- I got the most luscious card handed to me… with just a website address…and cool graphics. I had to look them up to get the phone #….times have changed ! I love some of the cool sizes, with photos front and back, with a notch on the side…AND a grommet ~ some designers cards are collectables – that ‘s for sure …..!

  2. DrDeadline

    Is utility a thing of the past?