Credit Card Design

My thinking about credit card design began earlier this year with the post “What’s This? CV2 / Credit Card Security Code”. I realized then that there was still more work to do, and took a shot at redesigning the whole thing.

On the whole, credit cards are pretty ugly, congested things. That’s a result of the combination of a) needing to convey a ton of information in a confined space, and b) designers who probably knew or cared relatively little about visual or business design. Let’s give this a shot.

First, for reference, some “before” photos I scraped from Google Images:

honga konga donkey konga

The cards I own generally have the following features:

Front: Credit Card Number, Expiration Date, Name, Cardholder Since, Visa Logo, a thousand different conflicting colors and logos from my bank.

Back: Magnetic strip, signature area, my signature, the last four numbers of the card, a hologram, the confusing cv2 thing, more logos, three different phone numbers, a website, some number jargon in the top corner, the copy “Not valid unless signed,” the bank’s site URL.

For my design, I decided to go with a minimalist approach. Not just because I think it generally makes good design sense, but because it looks so unlike any other card I’ve ever seen—and that’d make it fun and attractive.

Front side:

i'm bringing sexy back

Quite a departure, right?

Notable design decisions:

  1. I started with a blank slate, and added back only what I felt was absolutely, positively necessary. You might even argue that the only item that falls into this category is the credit card number. I contemplated a design like that. However, thinking about how the credit card is generally used, I feel that including the expiration date and CV2 number make a more effective design. Specifically: The use case of buying products online. With this card, you won’t have the painful (I mean, “painful”) use experience of having to flip the card over to find vital purchasing details. This design makes it intuitively obvious what the expiration date and CV2 number are, without requiring help text which clutters up the card. You don’t need your name on the front of the card, because you don’t (at least, shouldn’t) need to use the card as a reference to remember what your name is.
  2. It may be a little bit of a leap for a stodgy finance company like Visa, but I don’t think you need any logos on the front of the card. The design should speak for itself about what your brand is. Ever notice how you’ve never once seen an Apple logo on the front of an iPhone? You still know it’s an iPhone, right?
  3. I thought it would look awesome if the card numbers were punched out cleanly, rather than just imprinted. Purely aesthetic, stylistic choice that seemed like it would look and feel bad ass. I could certainly be wrong, but my impression is that the imprinted card numbers thing became the norm because merchants originally used carbon paper contraptions like this in order to record your data. It’s possible that modern ATM machines wouldn’t recognize this new style, in which case, we stick with the universally accepted standard. If we didn’t have to cater to these ATM standards at all, it might have been fun to experiment with entirely new shapes. Perhaps a smaller square with a standard-size hole punched in so that you could easily wear the card on your keychain? That raises an entirely different set of design issues…it was just a thought.

Back Side:

Men in Black

Notable design decisions:

  1. Obviously, if the vital numbers are punched through, you’ll still see them when you flip the card over.
  2. On the cards I have on hand, the hologram generally seems to be at least partly overlapping with the imprinted numbers. My guess is this is some kind of tactic to impede forgery, so I stuck with it.
  3. Hey! There’s my name! So if I need to find it, and prove that I’m me, here it is. Furthermore, my understanding is that when a cashier is cross-referencing my credit card to my ID, he wants to investigate that both the name matches and that the signature matches. Now he doesn’t have to flip the card back and forth to see both.
  4. My signature here has been printed directly onto the card. As a result, we don’t need that ugly multi-color signature space, and we don’t need any explanatory text to remind us that “card is not valid unless signed.” My intuition is that a digitally reproduced copy of my signature is acceptable—the DMV does this on my Driver’s License, and there doesn’t seem to be any concern about validity there.
  5. Took a little creative liberty with the Visa logo. Hopefully they’d be cool with this look.
  6. I’m not totally sure why the back of every card I’ve looked at has a reproduction of the last four digits of your credit card number along with the CV2 code. I’m just going to assume that it has to be there. Furthermore, per my original CV2 post, every single website ever has those instructions that point clueless users to where their CV2 code is located. It would be a horrible user experience if, somehow, you managed to miss the numbers on the front by following the site instructions, and found that help text pointed to nothing on your card. So for the sake of those hopeless people, I’m leaving the numbers here in tact.
  7. All the rest of the vitals crap is stuffed away above the magnetic strip. I think much of it is unnecessary, but imagine that this isn’t a battle I’d be able to win against corporate. The name “Visa Black Card” really ought to be intuitive enough to search in Google or by phone that I shouldn’t need to state it here. Same goes for the web address. Every card seems to have some kind of serial number jammed into a corner, so I’m assuming this stays. The phone number I accept as inherently useful—though I think it’s silly that the card should explain that it’s a “24-hour customer service line.” If it was an 8am-5pm line, I’d need the advisory note. But saying that the number works 24 hours isn’t going to affect my usage behavior at all.


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