Credentials: Simpler is Better

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 15, 2015 – One of the most thankless tasks in any large event is the specification and production of accreditation badges, or credentials as they are sometimes known.

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Once as small as a lapel pin, sometimes adorned by a ribbon, badges have become larger and larger over the years, as they carry more and more information, But sometimes, less is more, as too much information sometimes makes badges nearly impossible to read. Consider this badge format for the recently-completed 2015 Special Olympics World Games:

Now, no badge had all that data, but there was a lot to consider on any badge. Responding to the interests of individual functional areas for exact control of their areas, the final LA2015 credential badge design included 10-11 lines of information, including a person’s name, delegation or organization and function or role. Access control and privileges information consumed up to eight lines on each badge:

  • 21 codes available for participant identification
  • 28 codes available for venue access
  • 25 codes available for sport access
  • 6 codes available for hub access
  • 9 codes available for medical information (athletes only)
  • 41 codes available for housing access
  • 3 codes available for transportation access
  • 3 color codes and 4 numerical codes available for zone access

Most badges required photographs of the users (not for vendors or law enforcement personnel) and each badge had an individual bar code as well. On many badges, only one venue, sport or hub code was used, making their use more manageable. But the system was still complicated, as shown by the prototype badge above.

Moreover, the number of badges printed was large:

  • 31,323 World Games individual badges (with photographs)
  • 36,218 World Games generic badges (day passes and vendors)
  • 4,776 Ceremonies badges (individual and generic)

All together, this totaled 72,317 badges prepared for the Games and available for distribution.

As if this wasn’t enough, the credentials themselves were supplemented by a four-color lanyard system designed to help identify the wearers:

  • Blue: Delegation member housed at UCLA
  • Red: Delegation member housed at USC
  • Green: LA2015 team member (volunteer)
  • Purple: LA2015 staff member (manager)

In practice, the credentials proved to be too complex for many users, with too many symbols and colors to be easily understood. The hub, sport and venue codes and the numeric zone codes were easy to use, however. The delegation lanyard colors (red and blue) were easy to understand, but the LA2015 lanyard distinctions (purple and green) were not widely recognized.

A typical view of the system in operation came from a functional-area chief at the UCLA venue hub (housing, festival and six sports):

Either a simpler access system or better education of what all the numbers/colors on the credential meant [was needed]. Until Wednesday of Games competition week, very few people at UCLA knew that the color-bar across the bottom of the credential meant something. Virtually no one knew about what T-1, T-2, T-3 meant. Everyone focused on the numbers (e.g., 2, 4, 5, 6).

Accreditation badges have come a long way since the current style was introduced at the 1984 Olympic Games held in Los Angeles. There, in order to determine whether someone should be admitted to a specific area, or to any site, an access controller needed to look at only one place on the badge. And a typical badge had only three indicia on them.

Oh, for those simple days again.

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