Trading places

Sustainability, reusability and experiential concepts have transformed trade show stands from dull environments into places where you can enjoy spending time.
Anna Richardson talks to four designers who have helped clients achieve this objective

The value of the trade show stand is often underestimated, but with clever design it can be a valuable tool, especially in these budget-constrained times. ‘It is a far more sophisticated art than it is given credit for,’ says Simon Shaw, the creative director at Exposure. ‘An exhibition stand is a brand experience that needs to talk to lots of different people about lots of different things. It’s about how to create an impact and draw people in.’

That draw can come in different ways, from investing in a lighting rig that can counteract the harsh, monochrome blanket lighting of an exhibition hall, to getting visitors to interact through innovative technology or handing out attractive freebies.

Exhibition stands have to work increasingly hard to earn their keep. ‘It is going against the convention that can create exciting, memorable and effective experiences,’ believes Jack Morton Worldwide creative director Tim Elliott. ‘We increasingly talk about promoting brand personality, encouraging meaningful conversations and helping communities come together. Corporate chest-beating, meaningless gizmos and a plethora of “essential” information is not the way forward.’

For telecommunications giant Ericsson’s stand at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this year, Jack Morton Worldwide steered away from telling a very dry story aimed at technical people. Instead, it created a bright, positive, theatrical and homely environment, inviting visitors to ‘our place’.

‘It was totally at odds with everyone else at this event,’ says Elliott. ‘It became an instant success because it had space to breathe and was a joy to be in.’ Using budgets creatively can also go a long way. ‘It’s not all about graphics, screens and swanky furniture,’ explains Elliott. Creating spaces to meet, share and discuss can be more effective, he adds. ‘Encourage people to play, smile, snack, chat and relax a little.’

Spread Design took just such an approach when it developed stands for private jet operator NetJets to use in hospitality lounges at major art fairs. ‘Although many of these art fairs are already very design aware and have a high level of considered content, there can be a visual overload for the visitors,’ says Jason Smith, director of Spread Design. ‘We felt that the lounges needed to be a resting place, not just for the body, but also for the mind and, therefore, the eyes of the visitor.’ The minimal and understated design concept the consultancy came up with was further developed for exhibition stands and other VIP lounges, with a consistent design language throughout.

Priestman Goode also took the experience into account when designing the stand for a group of Danish design brands, including Fritz Hansen, Bang & Olufsen and Kvadrat. Based on the Spanish Steps in Rome, the stand was designed to encourage people to sit and enjoy the furniture and products on display, says Paul Priestman.

The consultancy used its product design approach and experience in the aircraft interiors sector to make the stand reusable and modular. It is produced in a factory, slotted together on site and can be taken apart to be used somewhere else.

The stand launched at the Sleep Event last November, and has since been at the HD Expo in Las Vegas in May, where it generated much interest. Fritz Hansen is thinking of developing the concept further to allow for different sizes of stands.

Apart from the ease of reassembly, sustainability was a key factor in the design, and it’s something that increasingly features in designers’ approaches.
Smith encourages clients to think months, or even years, in advance about their exhibition requirements. ‘It helps to save on money and waste if we can design with a programme of events in mind,’ he explains. ‘Modularity and re-use is the way forward.’ It’s also a way of keeping a brand message consistent in the visual pollution of busy exhibition spaces.

‘Obviously, the messaging and the graphics change over time, but structurally it’s nice to see something that people can relate to, and not reinvent the wheel.’ Educating contractors and devising how to package stands forms a key element of sustainability considerations, adds Smith.

Another important element is interaction and use of multimedia. ‘Multimedia is almost a given these days,’ says Shaw. ‘And it’s a very good use of clients’ money. Once you’ve made it you can transport it from show to show – you can show a brand video as many times as you like. And from a consumer point of view, it’s a great opportunity to try out new ideas.’

Helping clients realise such opportunities and what they need to get out of an exhibition is where designers can be of particular help, but sometimes it’s the smallest details that can have the most impact. ‘Humour has a big part to play in many communication activities,’ says Elliott. ‘If you can make people smile they will warm to you. Little games, spoof products, amusing animations – the sort of relaxed, friendly attitude you might apply with guests in your own home.’

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