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I have an MSR with an 8 pin FFC with contacts on one side. I don't know if there is a top and bottom and if so how to tell the orientation. There is writing on the contact side I assume to indicate alignment that looks like

<-
D1|
D2|
D3|
D4|
D5|

enter image description here

Does this indicate that with the contacts and writing facing up, the left most pin is pin1?

The header designed to accept it is an 8 pin FH52-8S-0.5SH, with contacts on top and bottom.

The header has a triangle on one side to indicate pin 1 on the header.

Am I correct in assuming the FFC should be inserted with the contacts up so the left most contact is on the same side of the header as the triangle?

In general, is there a rule of thumb that contacts should always go up or down or does it just depend on the design?

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The header designed to accept it is an 8 pin FH52-8S-0.5SH, with contacts on top and bottom.

Check the datasheet available here. This connector has contacts on the bottom only.

In general, is there a rule of thumb that contacts should always go up or down or does it just depend on the design?

It depends on a design. Most connector series include both variants with contacts on top and on bottom, providing designers with flexibility in mechanical orientation of the components. Many series also include variant with contacts on top and bottom. That does not mean you can insert FPC either way. Although it is technically possible, most likely it simply means 2-sided FPC is used to reduce the overall width.

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