Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Birthday Card Trap, And How To Avoid It

A word of advice for office workers regarding birthday cards:

Back in the 1990s I worked for Sony, designing artwork for CDRMs. In a large corporation such as that, there are naturally a lot of employee birthdays. Lots of birthdays means lots of birthday cards. At least two or three times a week someone would come by my office with a birthday card that they wanted me to sign.

At first I would just sign my name somewhere on the card amongst all the other signatures, but that seemed a little cold and impersonal to me. So I started adding little generic greetings, such as "Have a Happy Day!"

Not wanting to feel like a hack, that same old greeting was gradually replaced by little sayings like, "You're only as old as your knees," or, "Is that your age or were you carbon dated?"

I quickly ran out of pithy birthday sayings, so I turned to adding little drawings inside the cards. Nothing elaborate, just an excited little cartoon man shouting, "Happy Birthday!" I drew that on every card that came my way for a few weeks, but then began to feel I was stagnating, so I started drawing more elaborate images.

People liked the drawings and would look forward to seeing, "what that Bob drew this time." As an artist, I didn't like repeating myself, so I would try to come up with something original for every card. Eventually I found I was spending an hour or more trying to think of ideas and drawing pictures in stupid birthday cards. It became more and more difficult to find new material for all the cards that came my way. I started dreading the sight of the designated "birthday lady" heading towards me.

It was a lot of pressure that I didn't need. In desperation I tried going back to the simple plain signature, but that would just offend the card's recipient. A grown woman actually accused me of implying she wasn't as good as the other employees because they got drawings in their cards and she didn't. So I couldn't go back to the old way.

It became so stressful that I quit Sony and went to work for a marketing agency. What a relief! At last, a clean slate. When the first birthday card at the agency came to me, I simply signed my name and went about my business. I felt free and liberated.

I've been simply signing my name in cards ever since. I'll never draw a picture in a card again.

So let my tale be a warning to all office workers. When the office birthday lady comes by with a card for you to sign, do not write a witty slogan or draw a funny picture in the card, no matter how great the temptation may be. Sign your name and get on with your life. You won't regret it.


  1. Ha ha! this story is almost as funny as that one about the neighborhood walk. Tell that one!!

  2. LOL! Great story!! The neighborhood walk?

  3. Thanks, guys! Let's all just delete the neighborhood walk from our minds. ;o)

  4. great post bob! i have had thoughts of doing a little drawing in the cards at my office too, but i figured that i would have to do that over and over again and it lost its appeal very quickly. i am happy to say that the most they get is a messy signature from me. my birthday cards are DOODLE FREE!


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