Indicating Introversion / Extroversion at Conferences and Public Meeting Spaces

While I was at Innovate Pasadena’s Friday Morning Coffee Meetup on the topic of design this morning, I saw a woman wearing a large decorative flower in her hair. It reminded me of the social custom of Hawaiian women wearing flowers in their hair and what that indicates socially in terms of their wanting to be approached or not.

This made me begin wondering about the less gregarious or introverted people at meetings or conferences who can become overwhelmed by the sights, sounds, and interactions that it becomes so burdensome that they need to take a break and get away for a bit. What if there were a way to easily indicate at conferences that one wanted to be approached, pitched, or engaged in conversation? While some are sure to still need quiet spaces or breaks, perhaps there’s a way to leverage external indicators to generally diminish the additional social, mental, and emotional burdens of interacting in large crowds of strangers?

I might suggest using the position of one’s name tag as the indicator, but in the United States, generally etiquette has been to wear the name tag on the right hand side and at many conferences it’s almost more common that one wears a lanyard which prevents explicit positioning of a name tag in any case. I might also suggest using different sides of a name tag or lanyard, but experience with the physics and design of these indicates they would be poorly suited for this.

The second method that comes to mind is to use the placement on the right/left of other conference paraphernalia? Perhaps pronoun badges might serve this secondary function? It’s a bit Western-oriented to suggest, but perhaps following the existing pattern of wedding rings on the left hand (or flowers above the left ear in Hawaiian culture) to indicate that one is “unavailable” or would prefer not to be bothered, pitched, or interacted with at the moment? Wearing them on the right indicates I’m open for conversation, pitches, or interaction. Using this also has the potential side benefit of encouraging more conferences to explicitly advertise pronouns and normalize these sorts of behaviors and cultural conventions.

Multi-colored pronoun buttons for she (orange), he (yellow), they (green), and ask (red) as well as an IndieWebCamp button
Image courtesy of the wiki via Aaron Parecki (with a CC0 license)

Have other event organizers considered this sort of system before? Are there other examples of it occurring in the wild? What other external indicators could one use and simultaneously be easy for both organizers and participants?

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