Not just for Christmas?

Designers still send out Christmas cards, but Adrian Shaughnessy wonders if these are genuine displays of creativity or thinly disguised pitches for new business

By now they’re all in the recycling bin. One or two may have been kept because of their dazzling brilliance, but the rest will have been pulped. What am I talking about? The Christmas TV Guides? The business cards of Polish handymen? Price lists from the local pizza parlours? No, I’m referring to Christmas cards sent by graphic designers.

In our secular age it’s surprising to see that the sending of Christmas cards has survived at all. It’s even more surprising to see how many designers keep up the tradition of designing their own printed Christmas cards. And considering the heightened awareness of Green issues it’s alarming to note how many designers still think it’s cool to send foil-blocked and laminated bits of folded card through the Royal Mail.

When I had a studio, we sent studio-designed Christmas cards for the first few years. Each year we planned to create a card that would have our clients gagging with admiration. But we were rarely happy with the results and the annual chore of designing the studio Christmas card become the job no one wanted. After a few years of Yuletide acrimony we abandoned the practice and sent T-shirts instead. When e-cards became de rigueur, the studio junior was told to knock something up in Flash, and this was then sent (usually on Christmas Eve) to the studio database, which meant that it went to accounts departments and the local council, as well as valued clients and important contacts.

As a Christmas-hating curmudgeon, I’ve now given up on Christmas cards both professionally and personally. My wife – a far better human being than me – still sends them out, though even she concedes that each year the list of recipients gets shorter and shorter.

But why do design groups still send them? Well, it’s a chance to do a bit of old-fashioned print design in the era of screen-based communications. It’s an opportunity to do a piece of creative work without interference from a brand-manual wielding client. It’s an opportunity to mix a bit of smart copywriting with some ‘smile-in-the-mind’ visuals. And it’s an occasion to remind some of those back-sliding clients that we are still around and that they’d be well advised to put us back on their pitch lists for next year.

Has a Christmas card ever caused a client to pick up the phone and start (or restart) a working relationship? Maybe. But while there’s a possibility of this happening, designers will continue to send bits of paper with lukewarm jokes about Xmas pies, and the old chestnut of words with the letter ‘l’ missing. (Work it out.)

This year I enjoyed Nick Bell’s toilet signage cards: not a bauble or red-breasted robin in sight. Just an arty photograph of a loo door in Russia. But the winner of Designer Christmas Card of 2007 – by a country mile – is Michael Johnson. In keeping with Green political correctness, Johnson Banks sent out an old issue of Design Week chopped into the shape of a Christmas tree. I was flattered to see that my re-purposed copy of Design Week featured one of my Private View columns.

Shrewd man, that Johnson. I wouldn’t put it past him to have made sure that everyone who received a Johnson Banks Christmas card had a version of Design Week with their name in it.

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