Why the APSA Badges Sucked

If you were at the American Political Science Association (APSA) meeting this past weekend you noticed several shortcomings of the badges we all dutifully hung around our necks.  I don’t believe I have attended an academic meeting in which the name badges did not leave something to be desired (including, at some small meetings, an absence of badges), but I am pretty certain that these were the worst badges I have ever encountered.  I know I was present for more conversations with folks about how poor they were than I have been in the past.  More specifically, three issues struck me as deficient in this year’s badges: Information on them; Print size; and Length of the “necklace.”  I can only hope that the APSA staff who selected the vendor for this year’s badges did not “field test” them.

In this post I both describe what was wrong with them and, to Dan Drezner’s horror, use available information to produce conjectures about why the people who designed the badges computer program for the vendor who produced them for APSA made the choices that produced those particular badges (Dan refers to this practice as Jedi Mind Tricks).

Information we Value

Academics attending APSA generally value two pieces of Information: Last Name, University.  A first name is not a bad thing, but I believe it is unnecessary: a person’s initials followed by their last name is optimal.  After a few iterations people would learn that they need to introduce their first name to folks they had not met, and for folks who know one another, the first initial coupled with the last name will prompt recall of the first name.

My badge would look something like this.


Florida State University

This year’s badge contained three pieces of information: Name, Institution, Town.  Having the “town” is wasted space for us.  I can understand why the conventions from which the vendor who supplies the badges earns most of its income would find the inclusion of those three pieces of information valuable.  For example, a person’s first name is more important than their last in the Housewares convention. Second, the geographical location of a person is valuable both for placing people who work for firms with many locations (e.g., imagine General Mills, IBM, or Sony as the Institution on a name badge). Third, town is a useful ice-breaker to start conversation at the typical convention to which these vendors hawk their badges (e.g., Your in Las Cruces?  I was there for a week a few years ago…).  For an APSA meeting the Institution (if the ) conveys all of the information

Print Size

There is a fixed amount of horizontal and vertical space on a name badge.  Yet, there is considerable variance in the length of the  Contrast these two name badges.


University of Utah



University of California, San Diego

If you looked at several folks’ badges at APSA you may have noticed that the computer program that printed them was maximizing the size of the font across both horizontal and vertical space: short lines of text had wider and taller print than long lines of text.  As a result, they did not look like the proxies I produce above.  Ms. Smith gets a pretty great name badge that the senior people in the discipline can read with ease while Mr. Steinert-Threkheld gets two long lines with a much smaller font that many of the venerable folks in attendance won’t even try to decode the tiny bits of ink on his badge.

Proportional (width and height) fonts definitely look better than fixed (width and height) fonts, and the vendors who sell them know that.  We could go to something like Courier (which is fixed), but nobody wants that.  Instead, I think we want badges printed in a proportional font by a computer program that

1. commits two thirds of the space to the Name, and

2. one third of the space for Institution, and will permit use of a second line for Institution when it gets long, thus sustaining a size to the letters such that the more experienced (i.e., visually challenged and influential) members of the society can read them.

The feasibility of a strict 2/3rd, 1/3rd distribution over Name and Institution depends upon the ability to print the longest Institution name in the APSA membership upon 2 (rather than 3) lines, but we could adopt abbreviations such as “Univ” for University and “St” for State to ensure that outcome.  The goal would be to have everyone’s name the same size, and the Institution large enough that folks like myself can read them without being awkward, squinting gawkers, leaning in toward someone’s chest.

Under my proposal the two badges above would become something like:


Univ of Utah


Univ of California, San Diego

“Necklace” Length: One Size does not Fit All

The “necklace” bit on which we hang our name tags comes in one size (srsly?), and this year’s version was longer than they have been in the past.  Indeed, it was so long that it literally drops into a person’s groin when they are seated (which is both awkward and eliminates their value).

Now we all know that Americans are getting larger (weight and height), and that in response clothing manufacturers continue to make articles larger (including changing the “size” of a given size for an article).  We also know that the largest market is at the mean.  So, I am going to conjecture that (1) more males than females attend the meetings to which name badge vendors market their product, and (2) the conventional sexist practice of thinking of “the male” as “the universal” reinforces #1.  As such, when deciding who the average badge necklace should fit the vendor considers an average American 40 year old male.  Thus, I suspect that the increase in the length of “necklaces” is likely due to the growth in the average 40 year old American male’s “beer belly”  (which outstrips the recent growth in his height), in conjunction with American society’s general preferences for loose fitting clothing and “bigger stuff.”

Whether I am correct about why the length has grown, that specific length is poor for most of the folks who attend an APSA meeting.  More importantly, three length options would be a considerable improvement over the current “one size fits all” situation.

In closing, I encourage the APSA staff who selects the badges for next year’s meeting to not only weigh the many issues that they already take into consideration, but also those above, and to please field test the badges.




About Will H. Moore

I am a political science professor who also contributes to Political Violence @ a Glance and sometimes to Mobilizing Ideas . Twitter: @WilHMoo
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3 Responses to Why the APSA Badges Sucked

  1. saideman says:

    There was an easy fix to the second problem: detach the lanyard and attach the badge to your jacket pocket or shirt at a convenient spot. That is what I did. But on the size of the font and such, yeah, not good.

  2. Aaron Deslatte says:

    Printing the city was pointless, and there was some wasted space. But use the bar code to allow free drinks somewhere, and problem solved. That might also generate some interesting data.

  3. Agree with the useless city information. The University of Scranton in Scranton, PA doesn’t really contribute much. However, at 6’4” with the beer belly, the lanyard was a terrific length.

    Sorry I missed you there Will.

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