What's in a name?

Reftech’s chief ideas officer, Simon Clayton, on understanding regional sensitivities when getting badging right at events.

Go to any trade show, anywhere in the world, and all the attendees – visitors, exhibitors, press, organisers and all the rest – will be wearing badges. Organisers know this but what some do not realise is that expectations relating to badges vary from country to country.

The challenges fall into two distinct areas: first, what should go on the badge? Second, how should that information be presented?

On the face of it these are questions with very obvious answers. However, if you ask a German, a Briton and an American what needs to be on the badge, you are likely to get three different answers.

To some extent the content will be dictated by the purpose of the badge. In most cases the primary requirement is to identify the wearer. Other needs include providing access to conference sessions or specific parts of the event, allowing access only on specific days or any number of other purposes. All of these things will affect the design of the badges.  But in most cases, the badge should carry the name of the person wearing it.

It’s at this point that life starts to get more complicated in international exhibitions. To start with, there is the question of how the different elements of a name are described. Using ‘First name’ and ‘Surname’ works well enough in the UK and north America but in some Oriental markets, it is better to use the terminology of ‘Given name’ and ‘Family name’. This is because the family name is shown first in some cultures and the given name is shown last.

Once the terminology has been sorted out, there is the question of how to display the information. For example, in the USA, attendees are likely to expect their first name to be printed in large text. In some cases, organisers are omitting last name and organisation name in order to have as much space as possible for first name. So the badge may carry nothing more than the exhibition logo, a barcode and, for example, ‘BARAK’ printed as large as possible. In Germany, on the other hand, attendees are likely to expect given name and family name to be printed along with multiple titles.

In the Middle East, multi-part names are the norm and because each part of the name relates to the individual’s parent, grandparent, or origins, the full name should be printed on badges: an organiser who randomly shortens an Arabic attendee’s name runs the risk of offending them. If that attendee is a member of one of the Royal Houses in the Middle East, this could be a serious problem. On the other hand, some Arabs have adopted a Westernised style of name so, for them, a western approach is acceptable.

So there is more to think about in badging an overseas exhibition than may be realised. But it’s important to get it right because getting the badges wrong suggests the organiser doesn’t care about the market. And that’s a short route to failure.

When designing a badge

Leave maximum space for the person’s name. Some organisers want a big exhibition logo, sponsors’ logos, attendee’s name, organisation name, country – in some cases even a website address. The result is either an over-size badge or a name that is too small to read. Allow for word-wrapping of long names and make sure the contrast between the text and the background aids readability: black on white is great; grey on white can cause problems.

Remember that badges for Americans tend to be big enough to take ribbons denoting ‘First Time Attendee’, ‘Member’ or any combination of additional identifiers.

Most important? Simplicity and clarity.

This was published in issue 2/4 of Exhibition World. Any comments? Email Annie Byrne