Badges are often a decidedly unfun and necessary evil of attending conferences. I have a pile of the things, some too big or too small, and others so garish they feel like a punishment. I can deal with an ugly badge, but I hate an unusable one.
The previous version of the An Event Apart badges that I designed used a generous setting of Garamond, contained all the relevant information, and looked the part just fine. But in practice we found the type to be too soft and the additional information a tad too big.
When it comes to conference badges, information can be sorted into two categories: critical and non-critical—which can just as easily be summed up as seen by others and seen by you. Anything that is “seen by others” should be large or digestable immediately from a distance. Everything else is pretty much there for people who want to hang on to the badge as a keepsake.
Mike Davidson wrote on the topic a while back, calling this mindset “The S.O.B.” or “Socially Optimized Badge”. When there are a few hundred people sitting around at a conference, chances are good that they know where they are and what they’re attending. Usually, the most vital piece of information they don’t know is everyone else’s name.
The new AEA badges I designed this year use Joshua Darden’s Freight Sans, a sturdy typeface at a size that can be read from across the room. All of the secondary information like the event name or date are given considerably less real estate.
I don’t get the chance to do a lot of print work, but I really enjoy making these. We dump the attendee list out in XML and I pull it into an InDesign template (which is like coaxing a fish to spontaneously sprout legs and walk on land). I then go through each badge to tweak longer names that don’t work with the default type sizes I’ve set up.
The end result isn’t a modern marvel of design, but it is a much more useful badge; big and clear type for the important stuff while the secondary info gets out of the way. And it’s tremendously useful for a chronic name forgetter such as myself. Now I can be sneaky when I cruise badges.
Left: old AEA badge design, right: new design