The ISE 2024 Badge Thing Is A Mess

January 8, 2024 by Dave Haynes

A Scot who runs global partnerships for the huge AV integrator GPA put out a post this weekend on Linkedin that is framed as an open letter to the team that runs Integrated Systems Europe, suggesting the exhibitor and attendee badge plan in place for ISE three weeks from now is a recipe for opening day chaos.

Mike Stead framed his post as an open letter “from a loving exhibitor…”

*It’s 2024* folks. And you’re asking exhibitors to print their own badges at home, and bring them to the show to be put in plastic badge holders. Where to begin…

ISE is a show focused on two things: technology and user experience. The technology you’re forcing me to use was consumerized in 1984, and the overall ISE arrival user experience is – well – sub-optimal, shall we say.

Inkjet printers are inefficient and expensive. Many people won’t have them at home. We’ve been trying to ‘go paperless’ for decades, for good reasons. The thick card printed badges you’ve provided for years were great – but now *everyone* has to use plastic badge holders. Some will be recycled, sure. But the opportunity to use biodegradable badges is one you should be leading with in the expo space.

Why is the badge you sent me in the app not good enough to use to enter the show? Why do I need to print it out, instead of just showing you it on my phone? Surely showing it working inside an app is far more secure than a printed sheet that I could make a thousand copies of and hand out in Barcelona pubs the night before? (No-one try this. Please. But if you do, photos).

That distant noise is the anguished howl of a thousand Spanish hotel concierges, as yet another jet-lagged and ill-prepared ISE exhibitor begs to get something printed urgently while a minibus of colleagues wait with mounting impatience in the morning light…

Come on ISE, *it’s 2024*. Let’s use technology to make the world a less-wasteful place. And the ISE experience that wee bit happier. Please.

I wrote about the badge pickup arrangements last week, noting that the 2023 process in Barcelona was a mess and wondering if the “fix”  might actually be worse.

The ISE app is now available for download (I swear the ISE site said Jan. 18 was the release date), so I sorted through all kinds of emails to find the one from many weeks ago confirming my registration, and including a code and instruction. I downloaded the app and went through the process of confirming and activating my registration, and then emailing out of the app a PDF link that had a printable version of the badge.

It is a color PDF with little dotted lines and instructions on the three folds you are to do once you have printed it out. I haven’t had a color printer in years because I haven’t needed one, so any printing I do is off a B&W laser printer. So the print-out looks like crap, and doesn’t contain the color coding I am thinking might be important to people on site. I am not convinced color inkjet printers are anywhere near as  ubiquitous.

My wife suggested we get our grandson Beau to color the MEDIA strip with a purple marker. THAT would make for an entertaining badge! For giggles, I tried a purple highlighter (purple for media, I guess) and it looks like hell. Here’s a slightly fuzzy, redacted look at my printout.

The print makes my name super small, which will mean all kinds of people already wondering who on earth is bothering them at a stand will have to bend down and squint to confirm they really should just ignore me.

Maybe that squinty name line is because the printer creates borders and reduces the overall image size, or because the font choice factors in people with short names, and people from countries like Thailand who have names that are lovely and interesting, but can go on for a while. Phachara Khongwatmai has to fit on the same line as Pat Kho.

So a lot of badges are going to look like crap, and need to be read with binoculars.

But the bigger issue is, as Mike notes, most people attending ISE won’t read this or other blog or social media posts, or emails from ISE, advising them on what to do. It is likely 1,000s of people will show up expecting to pick up a badge at the show, as is done at just about every tech show, and then be scrambling to get themselves sorted on site.

If I had a mobile print shop, I’d be parked by the nearest Metro station that week, offering my on-the-spot badge printing services.

I’ve printed and done all the folds from my print-out. It really does look bad. I monkeyed with the printer settings to override the borders, but that cut off part of the bottom, and I’m not sure if the badge – once folded – would be too wide to fit in the plastic sleeve.

As a refresher, here’s what the badges looked like a year ago (grabbed from a Linkedin search, thanks Simon Peters!). They were hard paper stock, no plastic sleeve, and color-coded. The font looks bigger, too.

Mike also makes a valid point about sustainability.  A harder stock paper print-out done on site – or at remote pick-up sites – would not need the plastic sleeve that will quite likely end up in a landfill.

A Positive Note

There are many times at shows when a little anonymity is a happy experience. When I first started going to ISE eight or nine years ago, damn near no one in Europe knew me or Sixteen:Nine. It was kinda nice to just wander around without being stopped or begged/nagged to stop by booths.

My name and publication title are small enough on this thing that I will probably have some renewed anonymity. Yay!

Maybe this badge plan is not as bad as I think, but my gut tells me the mess that was getting into ISE a year ago will be once again be a mess, albeit a different kind, three weeks tomorrow.

It’s also reasonable to think that the more people point out the issue, the broader the awareness will be. So maybe lotsa people will come armed with their little folded sheets.

I don’t like playing trade show manager because running big events is hard, hyper-complicated work, and the Barcelona venue may present some physical or logistical barriers to mass on-premise registration and badge pick-up. Let’s assume there was substantial discussion about this in the past 11 months, and the plan now in place was based on a bunch of conditions at play.

When the show was in Amsterdam, and had even more attendees than Barcelona is seeing, the entry lobbies were even smaller, I think, but  they did physical badges there.

Also, two giant shows this month – CES and NRF – both do physical badges, with CES doing badge pickups at the airport and at a buncha larger resort hotels. NRF pick-up is on site at the Javits.

The issue last year in Barcelona was, in part, that people arriving at the venue needed to show their ISE app on their phone to get in the building – prompting all kinds of delays. Now attendees really, really need that app on their phones to get in, but will they know to print their badges first?


  1. Craig keefner says:

    I’m surprised someone doesn’t sure them for forcing client install on Mobile which is privacy and security violation likely. I don’t load apps on my phone except very selectively. Apps loaded must be super metric for them and advertisers

    1. Rein says:

      Yeah, I definitely suffer from app fatigue. The COVID habit of replacing people with QR codes was probably the last straw for me.

      Given this is a tech show targeting largely retail sector, there are already geofenced ways to track people’s mobile phones. A simple opt in at registration where you can voluntarily provide your phone number to be identified as you enter or exit the building would be a simple solution. Even opt in to be tracked as to what booths you visited if you are comfortable with that. And for those that don’t wish to, use the old school badges. Even shows that moved their booth guides to apps, still usually have maps up on the wall for people who don’t want to use the app. Source: my eyesight does not like looking stuff up on a phone.

  2. Wayne Rorex says:

    I have attended conferences with every possible badging policy. Some were great, show up, scan your QR code, badge printer prints it on card stock, no plastic holder needed. Some were actually funny as only the Media pressroom can print your badge, but they are in the Expo Hall and you can’t get in there without a badge to pick up your badge.
    But the absolute “lack of intelligence” was the live, active, super-secure, cellphone only badge app that was scanned while going through show security to enter the convention center. Once you were in, you were in. There was total confusion inside as nobody could tell if you were an attendee, exhibitor, worked for the convention center, a buyer or media. You don’t know who you talked to and they didn’t either. The fun part was the morning of the first day, the verification app could not handle the volume of traffic from all of the users and it wasn’t just a QR code, it had to be a live display.
    So, in my opinion, CES in Las Vegas has it right with early badge pick-up in multiple locations, even the airport. Didn’t print at home, no app required and do not need a plastic holder.

  3. Rein says:

    All media should have to wear hats that have a card on the front that says “PRESS” like they used to do in the old days.
    Just sayin…

    Also, i always carry a recycled badge holder with a blank card in it. It’s going to end up backwards in about five seconds and remain that way for the rest of the show anyway.

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