What’s in a Name Tag

By NATHANIEL LIM | Senior Member

If you have ever been to a social gathering or a meeting where most people don’t know one another, chances are you wore a name tag. Its most frequent purpose is to learn a person’s name; they save time because you don’t have to ask and you don’t have to remember. If you have ever forgotten someone’s name just a few minutes after they told you, then you know how valuable that piece of paper on that person’s chest is. Another example is in the classroom, where new or substitute teachers find them invaluable for streamlining the teaching process; they work better than saying, “the guy in the orange shirt.”

But name tags are not just for learning names. They also can be used as a “uniform” on civilian clothing, giving all wearers a sense of camaraderie and belonging, an admission ticket for entry into a venue, or even as a status symbol. Preprinted versions include not just a name but also titles, logos, sponsors, and demographic information. At conferences like the annual STC Summit, participants adorn them with ribbons, speaker pins, and other paraphernalia (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. STC Summit name tag.

If you’ve been charged with designing name tags for mass distribution, here are some low-cost, paper-only design suggestions:

Make them big, at least 3 inches x 4 inches. Bigger name tags allow for bigger fonts and easier reading—the bigger the better. This holds true for preprinted and handwritten versions. People cherish their personal space and don’t want acquaintances leaning in too close to read their names.

Make the most important thing the biggest thing. Know why people need to read name tags? What are they looking for? Usually, it is the first name. Typically, it is not the logo, the name of the event, or even the last name. Use all capital letters. Other text can be upper- and lowercase. Depending on your audience, the name may not always be emphasized. Sometimes it can be a mug shot to flash in front of the security officer at work. Or it can be a title as shown in Figure 2. In this case, people do not need to know the person’s name, just that the guy holding the camera is an official photographer.

Figure 2. A simple name tag that shows the event logo and title.

Figure 3. Name is lost among too many elements.

Keep them simple. Use an easy-to-read font, such as Arial Bold. Don’t clutter it with too many other labels. A few are okay, but you may be tempted to fill a bigger name tag with more stuff, which smothers the name (see Figure 3). Some of this information is more for the benefit of the wearer and not the reader, thus, you can add it to the back side of the name tag. If you do that, make sure the paper is thick enough that the reverse side does not show through.

Think outside the box. In situations where you have to handwrite your own name on a blank name tag, use more than one tag. This is especially helpful if you have a long name like mine with nine letters. Instead of cramming all nine onto one name tag, I stick two together to make a larger one. Whether you use one or more, write neatly and legibly using the rules in the second point above. Depending on the event, if you are sitting behind the registration table and you are using handwritten name tags, do people a favor and handwrite their names for them. Also, use a felt-tip pen or marker instead of ballpoints.

In light of keeping them simple, consider odd-shaped name tags, adding nicknames or trivia. People want to know more than just the person’s name. Make it an ice-breaking tool.

Choose your holders and lanyards carefully. Make sure they don’t detract from the name tag. At one conference, I decided the lanyard was too cumbersome, so I switched to a clip-on but kept the actual name tag. When I tried to enter the convention hall, the gatekeeper stopped me because of my unusual holder. At first she thought I was not a patron. After explaining to her what I had done, she took a closer look and let me in. She was looking for lanyards and not name tags. Also, use short lanyards to keep name tags closer to eye level and not down at belt buckles. If you decide to use clip-on devices, allow enough room for the hole into which the clip/clasp is fastened.

Don't use business cards as name tags. They are just too small and were not designed to be read from a distance.

Test them for usability. Show your draft design to a colleague. Shake hands with someone wearing a prototype. Can you read it? Can they read yours? Wear the actual holder that goes with it. Some lanyards have a habit of flipping the name tag over.

Whether they are preprinted or handwritten, name tags can help a lot with communication and networking. You are, after all, designing a document the size of a few square inches to be read and understood in a few seconds. Are you up to the challenge?

Nathaniel Lim (nlim@elekta.com) is a senior technical writer for Elekta Inc. A member of the Silicon Valley Chapter, he has been a speaker at various STC events and has been collecting name tags since 1990.

Arledge, Mickey. EzineArticles.com, http://ezinearticles.com/?expert=Mickey_Arledge, 2009.

Ginsberg, Scott. “HELLO, my name is Scott.” Front Porch Publishing, 2003.

Godin, Seth. “Name tags,” http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2007/02/name_tags.html.

Hildebrand, Deborah S. “Boost Interaction and Networking with Name Tags.” www.officearrow.com, 2009.

Suggested Readings. Ward, Terence P. “Good Name Tags Help with Networking.” http://self-employed-marketing.suite101.com/article.cfm/good_name_tags_help_with_networking, 2008.