Anatomy of a Film Fest Badge: SxSW 2008

This is the first part of an ongoing series in which I examine the differences between one of the essential tools of any film festival: the festival ID badge. Every event has different needs and this series will observe how the design and usability of each badge reflects the festival's personality.

sxsw badge

This is an example of the badges used by South by Southwest (SxSW). As an event SxSW is hugely popular (the mixture of film, technology, and music events provide a big draw) and the prices of the badges reflect both the high demand and SxSW's unusual status as a for-profit festival. The motivation to counterfeit, steal, or just plain swap badges is high, so the organization has gone to some lengths to protect against such activities. With the mix of activities and attendees, the badges also demonstrate the levels of admission flexibility that the festival is willing to provide.

#1 - Badges are color-coded by type for at-a-glance identification by admissions monitors. Individual conference badges for specific interests like Interactive and Film are available, as are Gold badges (which combine admission to Film and Interactive events) and Platinum badges, which give access to pretty much everything. Badges provide priority access to individual films and music events, ahead of pass & ticket holders (films) and wristband holders (music). Badges also provide access to parties.

#2 - Large, readable type makes it easy to identify people you haven't met in person before. This is also useful when you need a quick memory refresh for someone you met earlier in the week -- and with the huge number of people hanging around, many from out of town, this happens all the time. For an attendee, the large type size is probably the most important usability feature of the badge, and one I wish more festivals would adopt.

#3 - ID photo cuts down on badge-swapping. I especially like the fact that SxSW lets you upload your own photo in advance, though they will certainly take a mug shot style pic at registration if that appeals to you.

#4 - Punch out icons let the staff know if you've claimed your goody bag, party invites, etc.

#5 - Hologram sticker is shiny but also makes the badge harder to counterfeit. May conceal an RFID chip -- I know that SxSW has been using RFID for their music event wristbands but I don't know if that extends to badges as well. I haven't cut my badge apart to find out.

#6 - Open-ended plastic sleeve (as opposed to sealed laminate) allows you to slip other items into your badge holder -- like business cards or a pocket schedule.

Overall, the badge is very utilitarian (standard size, not too ostentatious, easy to read), serving both the needs of the festival and the attendees. It's the kind of badge you see at hundreds of conventions and festivals, but the distinctive downward pointing arrow, the unmistakeable SxSW abbreviation, and the attractive banner design make it more than just another badge.

For a listing and price breakdown of all the badges that were offered in 2008, visit the 2008 SxSW registration page.