Best Practices for Conference Name Tags

Hans Moritz Günther is a research scientist at MIT. He works on high-energy emission from young stars and their jets and outflows. As part of his day job, he maintains MARX, the Chandra ray-trace code. He was the chair of the local organizing committee (LOC) for the Cool Stars 20 workshop in 2018, which had 550 participants, and was on the LOC for two TESS-related conferences in the summer of 2019. This post is the first in a series of posts on tips for organizing conferences.

On name tag design

With the number of conferences that astronomers attend every year, it’s understandable that conference organizers may want to emphasize the conference name on the name tag. However, a name tag design that emphasizes the conference logo leaves little space for attendee name and affiliation, making it impossible to read without the use of a telescope from more than 30 cm away. At conferences, most astronomers want to know the name of the person they are talking to as quickly as possible. So please, keep the logo small and the attendee name BIG.

Caption: Measurements of 31 name tags from astronomy conferences. In most cases, only a tiny fraction of the area is used for the important information (name and affiliation). See this page on conference name tags for code and more details.

On name tag colors and fonts

Just as font style and color has a big impact on audience absorption of slides in a presentation, these choices can affect the comprehension of name tags as well. Unusual fonts in bright colors make the brain work harder to read text that on a name tag should be able to be processed quickly. All in all, treat the name tags at your conference the same way you treat the figures in your articles: choose large fonts for what’s important (name and affiliation), print them in black or dark blue on white, and print them double-sided because they will flip around. People attach their name tags to scarves, necklaces, or collars, all of which may flip your carefully crafted little paper slip on its back. If you absolutely need to print information like the WiFi password on the tags, print two name tags and put them in the holder with names facing outwards and slip the extra details on a paper in between.

On name tag holders

The LOC should provide some type of name tag holder. There are different varieties: safety pin, clip, or lanyard (string around your neck). The last one is probably the most common, because it works on all kinds of clothing. Pins and clips can damage leather jackets or light fabric. So, in my opinion, the name tags in most conferences work reasonably well, but there is still room to improve in many cases.

What particularly memorable examples of name tags have you seen in the past?

Editor’s Note: When making name tags for conferences, the ability for attendees to identify their pronouns is very important. This can be done by providing space on the name tag for people to write their preferred pronouns, or by including a ribbon that can adhere to their name tag with their pronouns. We apologize for the oversight in not including this in the original post.

8 comments… add one
  • Sarah J Nov 4, 2019 @ 11:13

    Are tag holders and lanyards strictly necessary? After PhD don’t we all have a pile of these things leftover from previous conferences, or just throw them all in the bin when we get home?

    Academic conferences, particularly international ones, have a big impact on the environment. Since face-to-face contact is still vastly superior to tele-conferencing for academic networking and discussion, we should strive to lessen our impact in every way we can. Asking everyone to bring their own lanyard and reuse a standard size tag holder from a previous conference would be a very easy way to cut down on the waste we all produce when traveling.

    • Moritz Günther Nov 8, 2019 @ 13:52

      I thought about this. Re-using is always better than new, but the impact that a new name-tag has compared to other things a conference can do is sooo tiny that I think energy is best focussed elsewhere. Don’t get me wrong – every bit helps, but If I have only x hours of time to organize the meeting, then I would rather spend that on other things wit ha bigger impact like e.g. make sure the caterer serves in real cups, not single use plastic cups, or allow remote attendance. 1g of plastic equals about 5-10 g CO2, so a single tag holder is worth maybe 100 g CO2 or so. An Europe-US return flight is costs about 5 t CO2 or 50000 tag holders. Maybe I should do a post on conferences and the environment… Let me know if you would be interested to write that together with me!

  • Luisa Rebull Nov 4, 2019 @ 12:00

    The lanyard for the nametag should not involve two metal links — the metal may seem to clink quietly when you have just one in your hand, but put several hundred astronomers in a room that is supposed to be quiet to enable hearing the speaker, and it will sound like a million tiny reindeer jingling holiday bells…

    And, Moritz, what you did for the last Cool Stars was genius – he asked us for one graph (science result[s]) to put on our nametag. It prompted lots of great conversations!

    • Moritz Günther Nov 8, 2019 @ 13:53

      This is a series of posts and one of them will be dedicated to the badgebot program!

  • Sarah White Nov 4, 2019 @ 15:39

    “The LOC should provide some type of name tag holder.” As we cut down on consumption (especially plastic), surely conference attendees can re-use a previous holder? In which case it would just be down to the LOC to print the name tags.

    Even better: just re-use a previous name tag *and* holder. When attending a conference, do we really need a reminder of where we are? 😉 There’s enough other stuff with the conference logo.

    • Moritz Günther Nov 8, 2019 @ 13:58

      Conferences often use their tag holders for “security”. While we (unlike the AAS) did not check tag holders at the door, we would have asked people to pay the proper registration fee had we seen them walk around the conference venue without out name tag. I’ve met astronomers who faked a AAS badge to get in without paying – so I’m pretty sure it’s going to happen a lot more often if all you have to do is walk in with any old badge. As long as that behaviour exists in the community, I think we’ll need some minimal way for the organizers to check that people paid their fee and got the badge.

  • Yg Nov 5, 2019 @ 5:46

    Affiliation is sometimes printed in a fint that is too small. That can be annoying (It’s nice to know where the person you are meeting works without having to spend an awkward long time at an awkward distance).
    Also, you may want to review affiliations so that they are consistent.

  • Alexis Lavail Dec 9, 2019 @ 10:31

    Excellent article! You people did such a good job with CS20, and it’s great that you take the time to write about the lessons learned, it’s a great resource for conference organizers in the future. I should have done this for CS19 :D, I spent hours experimenting on badge readability.

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