The subtle usability considerations of conference nametags

Date:June 23, 2006 / year-entry #211
Orig Link:
Comments:    44
Summary:When you go to a conference or some other event where everybody wears a nametag, pay closer attention to the nametag design. There are many subtle usability mistakes that I see far too often. First of all, is your name easy to read? It's called a nametag, after all; the name and affiliation of the...

When you go to a conference or some other event where everybody wears a nametag, pay closer attention to the nametag design. There are many subtle usability mistakes that I see far too often.

First of all, is your name easy to read? It's called a nametag, after all; the name and affiliation of the wearer should be the most prominent thing on the tag. I've been to events where the most prominent thing on the nametag was the name of the conference itself. Hey, everybody presumably already knows what conference they're attending. It's printed on the agenda sheet, it's printed on the tote bag, it's printed on every sign at the venue, it's even printed on the pens you gave out, for goodness' sake. Tell them something they don't know: Who they are talking to. (Corollary: Don't put the name at the bottom of the tag.)

Okay, now that you've got the name on the nametag in a position and style where it actually serves its purpose, you have to make sure the tag is visible when worn. Most computer events use a lanyard-style nametag. If the lanyard length is not adjustable, then you have a new problem: You have to make the cord long enough to go around the wearer's head. But once you do that, the cord is now so long that the nametag itself hangs around the wearer's belly-button. This is already awkward enough, but if the conference entails sit-down meetings, the nametag will end up into the wearer's lap. And if you have the meetings at tables, the nametag will disappear beneath the surface of table. A nametag that you can't see isn't doing its job.

(Diagrams require a VML-enabled browser.)

Can flip


Great, you have a name on the nametag that people can see, you are keeping the tag visible, you think you're home free. But wait, how is your nametag mounted to the lanyard? Nearly all lanyard nametags I've seen are mounted from a single clip or hole at the top center. With this design, the nametag can easily flip around, pushing the person's name into their chest and showing the nametag's backside to the rest of the world. One solution to this problem is to make the nametag reversible, so that even if it flips, the name is still visible. Another solution is to mount the nametag from two holes, one in each top corner. In this manner, the nametag becomes flip-resistant.

Just a few little details in nametag design. But you'd be surprised how many people miss them. (The PDC nametags are the only one in recent memory that addressed all three problems.)

Comments (44)
  1. Peter Ritchie says:

    Now, if there were some way to avoid having the sales guys read your nametag and say "Hey Peter, how’s it going" as you walk by their booth, as if they know you.  Then, you’d be on to something…

  2. Chris says:

    What is with the huge blank space in this article? (I can’t imagine that the vml diagrams I can’t see are supposed to be that big)

  3. Iain says:

    I looked at the page in IE – you can see the diagrams (pretty), but the space is still there.  Instead of being part of the blog box though, it’s like the blog box has been cut in two, with the bottom bit pulled down from the top.

  4. kbiel says:

    You’re assuming that conference organizers are more concerned with usability rather than economy.

  5. Markus says:

    It also would be nice if the organizers would manage to print the right name, in the right spelling and order. I have seen my name and the name of my company (which contains an umlaut, of all horrors) mangled in many a fascinating and unexpected way.

  6. Sevenoaks says:

    Have you seen the Soccer World Cup nametags?

    They are exactly in the way that has been suggested here.

  7. miles archer says:

    You’ve made the assumption that the nametags are there for the attendees. There’re not. They’re for the security goons to keep the riff-raff out.

  8. BryanK says:

    Chris, Iain — the reason for the huge vertical space is the "clear=all" attribute that someone set on the br tag before the "Just a few little details" paragraph, along with the "align=right" attribute that’s set on the VML table.  The intent was to make the "Just a few little details" paragraph not wrap around the VML table, but start below it instead.

    The problem is the float: right CSS that’s set on the sidebar, which interacts with the "clear=all" in the same way.  So the paragraph actually starts just below the sidebar, not the VML table.

    One possible fix could be to remove the clear=all attribute on the br tag, though I don’t know what that would do for sure.

  9. Stu says:

    For those of us with web browsers that don’t support propietary
    standards that were rejected by the W3C, could you please replace the
    diagram with a .gif or .png?

    What advantage is there to using VML anyway?

    [Pictures are a major pain to create, they don’t scale, look ugly when printed, and I don’t have a place to upload them anyway. -Raymond]
  10. GreenReaper says:

    Perhaps this doesn’t work out for all conventions, but I’ve found the best way to get a good badge is to make it yourself, or to have it drawn by someone who knows what they’re doing. Click my name above to see an example – it has the name at the bottom, but as it’s the only text there I felt that was OK. :-)

    I agree that the usability of badges could be seriously improved in general. Even the PDC ones flipped around sometimes.

  11. evan says:

    Click my name for the image as a png.

  12. dispensa says:

    The Tech*Ed nametags were pretty good too. Sounds like they were the same as PDC.

  13. thomasa88 says:

    What about an svg, it scales ;)

  14. foxyshadis says:

    A couple of conventions I’ve been to recently use the "pin it to your shirt" style of flip protection and height management. They all had designs that are way too busy though, so they still fail. :(

  15. joe says:

    In general, I like a name tag I can flip and I always do. I usually don’t want people identifying who I am unless I specifically want to but many places will give you trouble if you don’t wear the name badge. Not having my name available is nice when I just want to walk up anonymously to a group and listen to what they have to say before they recognize my name and start asking me what I think, plus people clam up when they talk to certain people. For instance, if a group of people were talking about some Windows internal and Raymond walked up, if they know who he is by the name tag, there is a good bet they will censor what they are saying so as not to look silly.

    STU: Kind of rude to come to someone else’s house and tell them to conform to your sense of correctness.

    It isn’t Raymond’s fault that you chose the browser you chose. If you wish to have full benefit of what he did, don’t demand that he cater to you, you cater to him. The fact that he posts anything for us is good enough. If he chose to make his blog available only to those that run a custom client that he himself wrote that you have to download and it only ran on one specific build of BSD you would do that if you wanted to read the blog. It isn’t necessary to him for you to read it. While I am sure Raymond enjoys doing this, certainly he doesn’t have to and for those of us who enjoy the posts, it isn’t that much of an effort to jump from Thunderbird feed reading to IE.

  16. Vorn says:

    If Raymond walked up, you’d know him by, if nothing else, his withered hand.  :P


  17. GreenReaper says:

    joe: Maybe. But isn’t this post about usability? It’s not very usable
    if a third of your audience misses out on what you’re showing them. And
    in five or ten years when this is being used as a reference, which do
    you think will be better-supported – VML or PNG?

    The irony is that the markup required is actually larger than the
    equivalent PNG would be (though admittedly you’d have the overhead of
    another download, which probably cancels that out).

    It is absolutely, positively great that Raymond chooses to take the
    time to write his posts. I think that using an image standard that
    everyone can see would make them even better.  An illustration
    that you can’t see isn’t doing its job.

    [PNGs are a non-starter since I can’t upload pictures. I try to write the text so you don’t need the diagram anyway; the diagram is just a bonus for people with vision. -Raymond]
  18. I’ve seen nametags (most notably, the recent XTech conference) where the most prominent thing on the nametag was whitespace. Despite having lots of room to play with, the tags were printed with the name in a relatively small font, and the affiliation even smaller.

    I personally hate lanyards. Someone needs to invent a way of clipping a namebadge to your chest such that it’s removable and reattachable when required (so can’t involve glue), doesn’t damage your clothes like a pin, and keeps the badge angled upwards (I’m 5′ 4") rather than downwards, as a clip does.

  19. Raymond: you could use something like for your pictures. But that doesn’t really give you a longevity guarantee.

    Another option would be to use a data: URL (RFC 2397); that would allow you to embed the data in the HTML page rather than needing to upload an image somewhere. If only IE supported them ;-) But perhaps you could provide a data: based version as an alternate. Hixie has a data: URI kitchen to help make them:

  20. Mark says:

    While you’re at it, make the name tags wider than they are tall so you have more space for longer names.

  21. Gene says:

    And all this applies to company security badges too!

    Plus there’s been times when my chair arm has stripped my badge off my belt and I haven’t noticed until I need to get back to my office.

    I refuse to wear a lanyard of any kind, as it’s really irritating to have something flapping around your neck. I don’t wear a tie for the same reason.

    Think about the design problem: if you wear a t-shirt, you’re out of luck unless you want to pin something to it, and most folks don’t like pins.

    I have seen badges that clip to a shirt pocket or between buttons on a dress shirt. I heard they were relatively expensive so of course they didn’t catch on.

    (I guess I miss out on the diagram since my computer won’t run any current versions of Windows.)

  22. Joe Huffman says:

    Boomershoot 2006 ( got all those items right:

    I don’t have a picture of the holder but it was a two hole plastic holder with an elastic string.

    Raymond, if you want to attend next year I’ll not only give you a free entry but free ammo and the use of a suitable rifle.  We would love to have you partake in all the fun.

  23. Rick C says:

    Raymond, as someone else suggested–what about SVG?  IE and Firefox both support it.

    [I tried this sample SVG and neither IE nor Firefox could display it. -Raymond]
  24. Ulric says:

    Poor Raymond!  it’s a hard to get a post that gets only the "hey, you’re right!" it deserves :-D

    Reminds of the recurring Craig Kilborn skit "Craig comes close to sealing the deal with a lady… but blows it on the last line" :D

    p.s. : Joe, isn’t that Boomershoot logo huge compared to the name, blowing rule #1..

  25. cathy says:

    I know it’s probably an eat-your-own-dog-food thing, but Firefox can’t see the diagrams.

    I quit using IE.  I lost a bit less than $1000 because I visited a web site that had a zero-day IE exploit then later logged onto my bank account online.  I didn’t know what had happened until much later.  Firefox has more security bugs per month than IE but at least most black hats don’t care about a browser of such small market share (same as why the Mac doesn’t get hacked).

  26. James says:

    Gene: Since you mention company badges, mine could be greatly improved if badges were issued more flexibly than Friday mornings between 10 and 12, *after* your contract starts (so if you start work on a Monday, you’re working with no ID for your first four days…)

    Then again, I’ve been around that campus nearly a decade off and on, asked for it precisely once in all that time, so maybe they don’t need to improve it urgently!

  27. Puckdropper says:

    If you used a two-part magnetic attachment, you could solve a couple problems with name tag usability.  The only draw back is you’ve got to keep both magnets and they can’t be too weak or too strong.

    Conversely, hockey players use a garter belt to keep their hockey socks up.  At the point of attachment there is a wire loop (shaped like two rings with one larger than the other) where a coin or rubber piece can be placed.  The sock is trapped between the outside of the coin and wire ring and it keeps the sock up without damaging it.  (For a business suit this would likely not work too well.)

    Since someone mentioned Raymond’s withered hand, I think I can post this without being too OT:  Take a look at this Sunday’s User Friendly (June 18, 2006)

  28. Chris says:

    the svg works for me (Linux firefox)

    ah well…

  29. ender says:

    [I tried this sample SVG and neither IE nor Firefox could display it. -Raymond]

    Opera 9 and Firefox both opened the file immediately. IE
    first asked me if it can run ActiveX controls (because I’ve got it set
    that way), then a license agreement from Adobe SVG viewer appeared, and
    after clicking Accept, IE also displayed the graphic. I don’t remember
    ever installing Adobe SVG viewer, but maybe it came with Acrobat Reader?

    [Ah, I was using an older version of Firefox. But I can’t figure out how to embed SVG inline. It appears to require a separate upload, which returns to the original problem… -Raymond]
  30. Philip says:

    [Ah, I was using an older version of Firefox. But I can’t figure out how to embed SVG inline. It appears to require a separate upload, which returns to the original problem… -Raymond] has an example which works for me in IE6 (having installed the Adobe SVG plugin) and Firefox 1.5 and Opera 9. Unfortunately it seems to require the page to be valid XHTML, so it won’t work here (nor many other places), and so VML is the more practical choice. But there’s always the widely-supported reliable option of ASCII art ;-)

  31. James says:

    Our accredditation (passes) for the Athens Olympics were designed with two holes, but with different printing on each side. But even with two holes they were always flipping round. Normally everytime you had to show it to some security person.

  32. Martijn says:

    Those nametags often prove to be single sided, but as they usually come as something printed on paper, inserted into a plastic sleeve, I just ask them to print me another one, and put one on either side, so flipage is not a problem anymore.

  33. Joe Huffman says:


    The Boomershoot badges had the name as large as it could be made and still be on a single line.  I suppose the names could have been put on two lines.  And I believe the names were more than large enough to read at normal speaking distances by the people attending (this isn’t an event for people with poor vision).

    The motivation for the badges is not so much to be able to know their names but to know they paid their entry fee.  The logo being large and slightly different each year means it’s easy to determine their status.

  34. Chris J says:

    I have IE (6.0 SP2) but can’t see the VML… a quick google han’t revealed why. Suggestions on what I’m missing?

  35. SVG says:

    The VML junk graphic distort the page. Please change to the SVG standard.

    [As others noted, it’s the <br clear=all> that’s messing up the page, not the graphics. I can’t get SVG to work in Firefox 1.5 (since it requires XHTML which the server software does not produce). Since it appears to piss off everyboy so much, I’ll just stop including diagrams entirely. -Raymond]
  36. ChrisR says:

    Raymond, the diagrams are nice.  For those of us who can see them (which is probably the majority of readers), please keep including them.

    Though I can understand why you would stop, since it seems to get a minority of vocal readers to complain at you.

  37. David Walker says:

    Yes, please keep including the diagrams.  Don’t let a few loud people piss you off.

  38. Cody says:

    Diagrams preferred.  Detractors rejected.

  39. richard says:

    I hate things that hand around my neck – so I wouldn’t wear it that way.

    I prefer either the clip on ones (which never clip on well) or the self sticking ones.

    @Gene: my company pass does not have the company name on it for security reasons. If the pass gets lost and somebody finds it, they won’t know which company’s doors they might be able to open.

  40. ghbyrkit says:

    I see that the World Cup is using the two hole badges for all the on-field people (players, coaches, staff, etc.)  But they are on long lanyards that seem to leave the bottom of the badge at belt height.

  41. To those who complained about the pictures:

    I have observed over the past few months (perhaps incorrectly) that Mr. Chen does not respond to comments on his blog as often as he used to.  The top two reasons for this that I can think of are 1) busy working on current projects and 2) being annoyed by some of the commentors.

    While I truly hope that number one is the real reason, we can’t entirely write off number two since mind reading has yet to be fully implemented.  Number two is mostly likely the result of slashdot’s failure to ensure that all the cages in its zoo are locked properly.  

    What we all must come to realize is that Mr. Chen writes this blog not because he is paid to do so, but because blogging is supposed to be fun.  In other words, Mr. Chen writes this blog every weekday (even on vacation days) out of the goodness of his heart.  Therefore, he doesn’t owe us anything – not even pretty pictures.

    Another thing to realize is that this blog has come a long way to eliminating so many of the misgivings that so many of us have had about Microsoft for a long time.  For example, how many of you have come to realize that the incredible efforts to maintain backward compatibility by Mr. Chen and others has benefited you despite some of the trade-offs involved?  How many of you wish other operating systems such as Linux and Mac would take back compat as seriously as MS does?  If it wasn’t for Mr. Chen and his team people like us would not be able to enjoy going to Best Buy and purchasing any old piece of #$%^ hardware/software we find and have it work on our computer.

    Last, but not least, how many of us are better programmers now thanks to Mr. Chen?  His tips and tricks have saved me time and money.  

    This blog eliminates ignorance.

    This blog explains why things are the way they are in Windows.

    Please, slashdotters and other MS haters, go find somewhere else to hang out (note: the IEBlog doesn’t count).


  42. [ICR] says:

    Just download IETab and be damned greatful that he bothered to put diagrams in at all.

  43. Aarin says:

    This is an interesting read as a person who works for a name tag company — as the marketing manager, I am always interested in reading about the experiences people have with their name tags.

    One interesting thing I noticed is that what you’ve referred to as "name tags" is what my company (Name Tag, Inc.) refers to as "ID badge holders".  A subtle difference, but at work, the term "name tag" actually describes engraved name tags that we manufacture.

    Anyhow, just wanted to comment that I found your blog to be an interesting read and it presented some valuable information and details.

    If you don’t mind, I would like to add your blog writing to our site.  I am currently in process of creating a resource/help center and I think that your blog/article presents some very good points.  If you are interested please email me at: and let me know how I should reference it.


    Aarin Tran

    Name Tag, Inc.

    Marketing Manager

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