Ambiguous Card Direction


I discovered an interesting problem a few months ago when our summer intern was leaving to return to school. I made a butterfly card and brought it in for my coworkers to sign. And something happened that I wasn’t expecting.

Signatures were going every which way! Even upside-down! Now, it’s not uncommon for people to sign things in different directions; I can look back at my high school yearbooks and see that people signed them that way too. It’s fun. But I think there was genuinely some confusion about which way was up with this card. When we had another card to sign at work (and this other card came with a message already printed into it), none of the signatures were more than 45 degrees off of horizontal.

The butterfly card’s design makes it ambiguous whether it’s a left-folding or top-folding card. (In fact, Andrew and I have given the butterfly card both ways.) This is usually made clear after the recipient opens the card and sees what direction the message is written.

But when I brought in the card and told my coworkers to sign it, there wasn’t anything written inside to indicate which way was up. So some of the first signatures were written as if it were a top-folding card, even though I was intending it to be left-folding (though it really didn’t ultimately matter). To further the confusion, the card must have gotten spun around on the table, or maybe people were sitting down in different seats and approaching the card from different angles, because people were also signing it upside-down.

This whole account got me thinking about the experience of opening a card. If I received and opened a card, it would be jarring to see the words inside at a 90-degree angle and realize that I was viewing the card incorrectly the whole time. I feel that I’ve seen more left-folding cards in my life, at least in the store’s greeting card aisle. So if you’re making a card with an ambiguous design, it might be safer to make it a left-folding card, as that’s what the recipient is likely expecting.

And if you bring a card into work and tell your coworkers to sign it, don’t just leave a blank card there. If you made it, you may as well be the first to sign it; your signature will let the others know how to follow suit.


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