Design….one of the most difficult aspects of working in trade show design is explaining what ‘design’ actually means and its value in a business context.
Lately, I have been watching stands at a few trade shows and it’s clear that while they look great, they are ineffective due to their layout and the face they present. This is a classic case of where a Marketing Manager or Creative Director has chosen a designer’s proposal purely on the basis of it being a pretty picture.
It Shouldn’t Be A Beauty Contest
Yet a trade show is not a beauty pageant; it’s a place where the physical environment needs to facilitate human connection and a mutually beneficial meeting of two parties.
Nearly anyone can create a trade show booth design that looks great. It is really a case of knowing how to use design software appropriately. Not many know how to create a trade show booth design that actually works.
By this I mean the exhibition stand has to fulfill all angles of an event brief. It has to look incredible, the passage of visitors has to flow without thought. There has to be a delicate balance that appeases both visitors who want to look and those who want to connect.
There should be things to touch, places to recharge, new experiences to encounter and people to communicate with. All may not be relevant, but that really depends on how much you know about the visitors the stand is trying to engage.
None of which, you can begin to consider when you aren’t thinking about how the design works in practice.
The value of design: case in point
Take the stand above as an example. This was not the biggest booth at this year’s Mobile World Congress by far. Yet the design achieved a series of touchpoints, crucial to the brand’s success. These include:
- As well as space for visitors to walk on, the booth also contains meeting rooms and demo areas which aren’t obvious on first glance.
- The culture of the company and the Nordic region is obvious – a key goal for the brand in trying to distinguish itself to a new audience.
- The screen is positioned at the exact height for the eyeline of visitors walking by. As they get closer there is a second level of screens which facilitate vision from a short distance – this is essential to making the most of both points where there could be potential visitor engagement.
- The changing content seen on the LED screen is a big atmosphere builder and the motion attracts the eye.
- The stand’s ambience is dynamic; able to change from day to night through lighting and screen content. This allowed the booth to go from business meeting to party mode for the brand’s annual Polar Mingle party without needing separate areas which would have incurred extra cost.
In short, the booth looks great, sure. Yet each element has been designed to fulfil a specific goal which all feed into the bigger picture and the reason that brand is at the show in the first place.
This didn’t require a huge space or a crazy budget. It was simply a case of understanding the goals of the business, its audience and how to facilitate that within a design that worked.
When there is no value of design
Then on the other hand, you have booths where the design works well enough but where the perfectionism today’s audience expects is missing.
In a world of filters and image editing we are not used to seeing imperfect messages, particularly from brands.
The physical finish of the stand is crucial to how the brand is perceived on that trade show floor. But again, I have been to countless shows lately where the material has pulled and a gap is showing or where the environment looks unfinished and far too much like the temporary environment it is.
This ruins the mirage.
The physical finish of the stand should be flawless every time. Partly this comes down to the builders and the agency, ensuring that their levels of quality are on par. Occasionally this also comes down to the decisions made by the brand themselves. If you are constantly cutting back on costs and trying to beat your agency down on budget, there has to be an effect.
Often, it is the attention to detail which can no longer be afforded. When that happens, you are putting a cap on the value of the experience your visitors will have. If you are shelling out to attend a trade show in the first place, make it worthwhile; don’t settle for anything less than perfect design, flawlessly executed.
The whole picture
As well as the design of an individual trade show booth, the design of the trade show as a whole is also key.
I’ve heard so many times that a client’s stand was ineffective but they never review the whole picture.
Was the exhibition well attended, marketed and targeted? Was access easy, expensive or restrictive? Was the show floor layout logical or space efficient so the organisers could put more exhibitors into a smaller space? Was there room to breathe when walking the show, places to relax and a genuine feeling of engagement and participation or did the delegates just want to get it over with and out of the way?
I think it’s an easy excuse to blame stand design for an ineffective show presence yet the best design in the world cannot make up for a badly planned trade show.
The most effective exhibitors we work with analyse why or look at ways of achieving any of the above by doing it differently next time and perhaps engaging better with the halls and the organisers to get them to assist and start with effective planning from the outset.
This is an opportunity few take advantage of but is ripe for the picking. Organisers too, are looking for success and a hall full of happy exhibitors.
I believe there is more that can be done when you analyse the exhibition you attend as deeply as your stand design. It is then that the two work in tandem to give an exhibition design that actually works.
In conclusion: placing a new value on design
Trade show design is constantly evolving. How we approach design and how much we value it is something which is easily lost but as illustrated above, has huge effect. Not just for the brand exhibiting, but for the value of the trade show itself, the organisers and the visitors attending.
When exhibition designs are more than just a pretty picture, it is everyone who benefits. I for one, would like more people to benefit from a well-rounded, effective trade show experience where the value of design is once again high.
About the Author
Pete Allen is the founder of 4D, a specialist exhibition design agency founded in 1994. For over 20 years, Pete has worked with ambitious global technology, IT and telecom companies at shows such as Mobile World Congress.
Pete’s passion for the events industry lies in the variety and speed of projects and the ability to do amazing things in weeks instead of years, as is the case in his other passion of architecture. Pete’s knowledge, experience and enviable track-record at MWC allows him and the 4D team to provide exceptional experiences for targeted visitors and superb visibility, engagement and results for global brands.
Pete Allen can be contacted via LinkedIn.