Why Employee Badge Design Matters to Your Company

Posted on August 8, 2014 · Posted in Analysis and Opinion

What defines the design of the employee badges in your company?

Who cares, you say?

YOU should, I reply. Very much so. Read on.

How it’s usually done

The employee badge is a standard feature of the hi-tech workplace (and other security-aware establishments). It is usually issued to new employees by the security department, since its main raison d’être is to enhance security by highlighting intruders. Until full biometrics take over, it is also frequently used to open doors to restricted areas, to feed the employee in the plant cafeteria, and to charge and track other activities.

Form follows function, so badge design is dictated by these uses. They prescribe the construction of the badge, the information printed on it, the electronics embedded in its thin body. Information about the employee can be encoded in bar codes, memory chips, RFID setups, or just plain text. Clips, lanyards and retractable cords define the way the badge is affixed to clothing or person, and the way it can be extracted to interact with various reader devices. All very ingenious, I’m sure.

But as I visit various clients companies I get exposed to different badge designs, and it’s clear to me that one important function of these badges is often ignored in the design process.

The most important function of a badge

Here is a use of badges that is just as critical as security:

Badges help people recognize the folks around them!


No, I don’t need badges in my one-man
business… but if I did, this is what
I’d want them to look like!

Why does this matter? Because in any sizable corporation, you need to work with lots of people – including many you don’t know closely. Then there are meetings with suppliers, clients, and other outsiders. Bottom line: you interact with people whose name you don’t know, and vice versa; a fact that stands in the way of effective collaboration and certainly of trust building, that intangible but crucial ingredient of any human interaction. Just think of attending a largish meeting in another group and trying to note who said what: you’d need to interrupt each one and ask them to state their name!

The humble employee badge solves part of that problem by making it known who everyone is. It shows names, and in many organizations also other attributes, such as business unit affiliation and employment status (at Intel we had blue badge background for full employees and green for contractors – which was so ingrained in the culture that contractors were referred to as “Green Badges”).

And this – introducing people to each other as they interact – is a really important function of those badges, which is all too often overlooked in the design of the badge. Security departments are not about getting the good guys to work better together, and they seldom care what the badge looks like as long as it keeps the bad guys out.

Designing a badge for human interaction

So – how would you design the badges to facilitate trust and communication?

Here are some ideas:

  • Put the written name up front. That is, make it LARGE, in a legible font, surrounded by sufficient white space to stand out. It should be legible at a rapid glance, from as large a distance as possible. This is the most important thing; yet I’ve seen badges that you’d need to peer at from a few inches to read the name they carry.
  • Visibly code useful attributes. If you’re going to specify business group, security level, Site, or whatever, don’t wrote them in tiny letters; use large color areas, or icons, or text abbreviations, or geometric shapes that are easy to see.
  • Move other information out of the way. If the badge needs to have information that is not useful to human rapport (say, mail stop, phone number, or bar codes) put it on the reverse side, or make it small and unobtrusive.
  • Design the badge position to be visible. It’s easy to clip a badge to a belt loop at one’s side, but then it’s invisible in sitting and in many standing positions. Badges should be visible from the front in both positions; standardizing on a lanyard is probably the best way to handle that.
  • While you’re at it… make the badge good looking! Think of it as a tiny work of art, and have it designed with pleasant proportions, harmonious fonts, and a convenient shape and size. And remember, the employee photo needn’t be an ugly mug shot – the profile pictures of Facebook may be too much, but try for the smiling faces and businesslike looks common on LinkedIn. These are our faces, after all: respect us by taking the effort to make us look at our best!

Just one of those little things that matter

Some may think that all the above is just nitpicking, that employees are hired to create business value and not to socialize. However, the two are connected: an environment where people are respected and that is conducive to effective interaction at all levels inevitably improves business results. That’s how people are.

This post exposes just one of many little things that together can make a large difference. I’ve covered another – attention to employee names – here. There are more… can you find some out for yourself? If you can, will you share them in the comments?

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