A Business Card Collection

Precisely two years ago today, Stoytcho and I were walking the warm, humid streets of Jakarta at night in search of dinner. Indonesia was the 11th country in a year-long trip to circumnavigate the globe; from October 2016 to November 2017, we traveled through 28 countries on five continents to experience what the world beyond U.S. borders. Eschewing resorts and (most) tourist destinations, we took our two ~40 lb. packs and hostelled, camped, and hiked our way through these countries, living on USD $30 per person per day for meals and lodging and documenting our experience on the blog Neverending Everywhere.

With cash and carrying capacity limitations, we couldn’t buy many souvenirs on the trip, but wanted more than digital photographs for memories. So we started collecting business cards everywhere we went, because people gave them freely (and often) with excitement. Every few months, we shipped them back to the U.S. and by the end of the trip we had collected more than 200 cards, tracing our path across the continents through neatly rubber-banded stacks.  We had a way to visualize our travel in more than just photographs.

Though we knew we wanted to display the business cards somehow, they sat untouched for a year after we returned to the U.S. as we settled into new lives in Boston and I started consulting with ClearView. A couple of months ago I pulled them out to organize them and see what we could make.

I had originally envisioned layering the cards underneath a sheet of glass on a coffee table, but our apartment didn’t have a coffee table and finding one seemed time consuming. So for now I decided on a collage display format, which would only require a frame and cardboard mounting.

The creative process for the collage was straightforward, with deciding on the broader pattern and minimizing card overlap taking the most time. I started by finding the average size of the business cards and laying out a pencil grid on the carboard mounting, guessing that a vertical collage with horizontal business cards would be most visually appealing.

Then came figuring out how to pattern the business cards. I wanted to lay down cards by color instead of by chronology, so you could see Mandarin next to Cyrillic next to Vietnamese next to English. But the colors on each card were different and the number of cards we had in each broader color group varied significantly. We had many more cards with red, yellow, black, or brown primary colors compared to relatively fewer greens and blues. So a rainbow across the collage in any direction, built from columns of business cards of similar color group, seemed difficult to complete.

Instead, I opted to pattern the collage as a gradient, working to match each card laid down with the color next to it. I organized the cards by color group and within that, color intensity. I laid them down with black on the bottom, then moved slowly upward and outward, laying down blue, gray, and brown cards, then up further into greens, yellows, oranges, and reds. I used standard poster putty tack to hold cards in place, in case I wanted to move them later.

I initially placed business cards so they would have minimal overlap, but because of variation in sizes and the size of our final frame, Stoytcho pointed out that we would have to cut the edges of some cards to fit them into the collage. So I reworked the collage to allow overlap between cards, ensuring the most interesting or informative part of the card remained visible to trigger memories of people and places.

After the final card was in place, we slotted the board into the frame and hung it on the wall, a reminder of our travels. Taking a step back, it’s amazing to see not how many places we visited, but how many people in the world have their own businesses. Here in the U.S., where brands reign and large companies are common, when we envision work or a career it’s often in someone else’s company. In countries outside the U.S., especially in the developing world, to build and run your own business is much more common, from walking vendors hopping between railcars in Mexico City to the evening food carts of Indonesia. The lifestyle comes with its own pitfalls and benefits, from uncertainty over the future to the freedom of working to build something for yourself. But it’s something different from the U.S.

It will be a long time before Stoytcho and I get a chance to travel around the world again, but for now we have built a reminder of where we’ve been.