How to make the ideal conference badge

Academics and professionals go to a lot of conferences. I recently returned from iSLC 2010, which like all conferences had badges and like all conferences the badges could be frustrating. Unlike most conferences, this one is run by graduate students such as myself and I figure that by posting these notes I can make a difference for iSLC 2011 and beyond. (For what it’s worth, other than the badges, I thought this was the best run iSLC conference yet. Practice makes perfect.)

This isn’t the first post on designing conference badges but I’ll try to make it one of the most succinct. Here is the main principle to bear in mind when designing a badge: The purpose of the badge is to help people connect. To that end, here are some graphic design tips (with help from my friend and colleague Ruth Wylie):

  • Participant’s names should be largest on the badge and then affiliation.
  • First names above and bigger than last names.
  • Duplicate front on back for when it flips. (Can print one-sided and fold.)

That’s it. Notice there’s nothing about the conference itself, since that’s the least important part of the badge. Everyone knows where they are. In general, anything that sets people apart should be larger than anything that is the same.

Matt Cutts’s ideal conference badge is a great example of the guidelines above. Mike Davidson shares a more detailed analysis, along with a sample Illustrator file to make it super easy.

If you’re also running the registration system, these are more improvements:

  • On the registration form ask both for name and what they prefer to be called. (e.g. William and Bill)
  • Have a field for people to enter keywords about their research/interests for others to ask about.
  • If the number of affiliations is few, code them by color.
  • Make all extra material (e.g. banquet ticket) sized so that it fits within the badge holder.

Zaki Warfel adds some more considerations to the matter.