Anatomy of a Festival Badge: Ann Arbor 2008

Part of an ongoing series of articles that examines the particulars of that ubiquitious festival accessory, the all-important badge.

picAs befits a festival that constantly defies expectations but never forgets its small-town roots, the Ann Arbor Film Festival badge is simple and understated but functional.

#1 - Plastic badge keeper, open at the top. Perfect for stashing some extra business cards. The badge itself is about the size of a credit card.

#2 - Badge holder's name and affiliation in nice big type. Perfect for scoping out the name of the person you were introduced to last night after a few beers. Nice use of the clock hand theme to divide the two lines of text.

#3 - Color coding identifies the badge level/type. Staff wore yellow, I think red was for all-access? Paper types were unusual enough to discourage counterfeiting, but Ann Arbor is so intimate a festival that it's difficult to believe that the staff didn't know pretty much all of the badge holders on sight. I'm guessing they've got more important things on their collective mind than the occasional photocopied badge.

#4 - The clock motif (ticking off the years until their 50th anniversary event) was present on the festival's signage, program guides, posters, and of course the badge. It's always nice to see badge design extend to more than just the festival logo plastered on an otherwise generic ID badge. (See the Newport Beach FF badge for another example of good branding.)

The AAFF badge was about what I expected from the organization; not too fancy but stylish, professional, and functional. I'm a fan of big, easy-to-read badges but this modestly sized ID card did the job without getting in the way. I didn't take a picture of the reverse side of the badge so I don't think there was any information there. My only suggestion for improvement is that they might have included venue addresses or other handy information (like the location of the Fleetwood Diner, the only eating establishment open after the bars close) on the back.

Anatomy of a Film Festival Badge - Newport Beach 2007

Part of an ongoing series of articles that examines the particulars of that ubiquitious festival accessory, the all-important badge.


#1 - With this big (4.5 x 6.5 inch) badge plastered on your chest, there's no mistaking which festival you're attending, or what the dates are. I really like the date written into the sand -- someone really thought about bringing all the elements of the badge together. A badge this large could have supported much more information but the festival directors keep it simple and reveal that their primary focus is on branding and style rather than identity exchange or counterfeit prevention. There's really no reason you couldn't just loan your badge to a friend, and I get the feeling that the organizers have more important things to worry about, which is refreshing.

#2 - Badges are color coded by type - blue for VIPs, aqua for Industry, purple for Filmmakers, orange for Volunteers, etc. That makes it really easy to spot the kinds of people you're looking for, even if you can't "badge-peep" to find out who they are at a glance. (See #3.)

#3 - The section where one might expect to find an attendee's name instead displays their badge type. You can tell if someone is a filmmaker or industry type, but their name remains a mystery. You have to do it the old-fashioned way: introduce yourself. At least you're given some clues as to how to start the conversation. ("Which film is yours?")


#4 - The back of the badge is devoted to information, beginning with a listing of which events the badge will get you into. Sorry, you can't bluff your way past the bouncer by claiming that you bought that badge thinking it would get you into the opening night party -- the details are bumping against your tie-tack. I also like the fact that the procedures for attending screenings are also included.

#5 - A venue listing -- how practical! The only improvement here might have been some phone numbers for directions in case you don't know your way around. If I recall correctly, some of the party venues were omitted from the badge as well.

A few other tidbits might have been included on the back of the badge -- the fest web site or information number, for example, but overall it's a pretty good use of the space. Some fests sell the back of the badge to a sponsor, which is fine, but as an audience member I naturally prefer something functional. The badge is fully laminated rather than slipped into an envelope, so you'll need to keep those business cards in your pocket.

Newport Beach's badge matches the personality of the festival -- splashy and fun -- but also manages to be useful.

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.