Welcome everybody to my blog! It was a difficult decision what topic to select for the first post. Since the main goal of this blog is to discuss practical issues in science, I thought it would be good idea to think briefly about the item that leads to a lot of first contacts in the scientific world: the conference badge. As many scientists know, it serves the vital function of introducing each other as it contains basic information, usually ”name” + “affiliation”, e.g., Professor John Doe, University of Smalltown. However, as a conference organizer, one may actually enhance the function of the conference badge quite considerably by making a few sensible decisions.
The first decision is: metal pin, plastic clip or lanyard? Personally, I find the choice easy as plastic badges fixed with a metal pin damage clothes and tend to tilt making the information invisible. The last argument also applies to plastic clips. The main disadvantage of a lanyard is that the plastic badge can rotate. However, this can be fixed by the practical solution to put the key information on both sides of the actual inset. Whether one wants to print a logo, the conference name or nothing on the lanyard is a matter of preference. All three options have advantages. For conferences at universities, a preference might be to use the university logo and name if one aims to recycle the lanyards, clearly the conference name would not work in this case. Also a blank version makes sense as it does keep costs down.
The second problem: What to write on the badge itself? In principle, a lot of information would be available such as name, main affiliation, institutes, research area, etc. Most conferences organizers seem to agree that less is more in this case. Indeed, the key information is the name. My personal preference would be to make the name relatively large and clearly visible. Quite a few scientists seem to wear glasses, indicating eyesight restrictions. Some conference organizers just use the participant name and I can see some logic behind this decision: treat everybody equally and use minimal personal data. However, the main goal of a scientific conference must be to foster discussions, create new collaborations, and define key problems. The discussion part works best if participants also talk to each other during coffee breaks (a topic to be discussed in detail in this blog at some point!). To start a conversion, a simple icebreaker is useful and this is where a second piece of information is valuable. The ‘home institution’ is a well proven choice. Although other creative choices might be worth thinking about – since institutional information requires a detour to move the conservation to research problems – it is difficult to think of good alternatives.
So now, the conference badge is finished, or is it? It seems that many conference organizing committees do finish at this stage and this is perfectly OK. Nevertheless, I have been at conferences, where organizers thought a few steps further. One common idea is that the space between two name tags inside the badge is useful! Indeed, one thing I like to store there are lunch vouchers if the conference provides lunch as many bigger conferences do (and we are talking here about a conference, not a smaller workshop). Therefore, the lunch vouchers should have the right size to fit inside the badge. Similarly, one can also print public transport information on the badge if this is included in the conference fee.
So now we are finally done? At a recent conference I was surprised by a very good idea to think even further. The idea is to think BIG. In fact, at Equadiff Lyon 2015, I received a badge which was quite large but also contained a folding program with the main data (program overiew, speakers, locations) as well as basic facts about the conference (city sketch, conference site directions, public transport map, etc.). Overall, this is a really good idea! There are certain things I would like to look up frequently such as the basics ‘where’, ‘who’ and ‘when’? Therefore, having everything available without having to search through the backpack is definitely convenient. Of course, one does have to add a few grams of weight to the badge and there is some additional cost but this trade-off could well be worth it. In principle, this would make the compelte conference accessible from a practical standpoint by just using your badge. In this context, it would also be welcome if conference organizers thought about a place at the registration desk where the badge could be handed in after the conference for recycling, or even better, for re-using the lanyard and/or plastic badge holder at future conferences.
Are there even further innovations possible? Likely, but they may be (a) costly if one thinks electronically and (b) potentially irritating if one uses too creative design elements. So after quite a few recent conferences my personal preference would be to try to scale it to the occasion. For a small conference, keep it simple, keep costs down, and use the key information. For big conferences additional practical help via the conference badge can be useful!