Show and tell

Exhibition systems come in all shapes and sizes, and knowing which one will suit your purpose can play a large part in the success – or failure – of your display. Anne-Marie Power asked five exhibition designers which off-the-peg systems they use in their

Tim Pyne

Jasper Jacob Associates

The standard exhibition display system Pyne uses at the Ideal Home show is Octanorm. “Octanorm is cheap, easy to assemble and robust, but from a design perspective it can be inflexible and hard to create around. It’s a bit labour-intensive,” says Pyne.

“As a designer, I would recommend stock-panelling as the best system to create around. Another good system is Fold-it, a cardboard system. Though dimensionally it is not suited for industry, it is perfect for small stands.”

Another system Pyne considers satisfactory is the Click display system – similar in type to Octanorm. “Both are huge and adaptable for all uses. Click is quick and easy to assemble and has an attractive exterior.”

Giles Velarde

Giles Velarde Associates

“My favourite off-the-peg system is the Nexo system, consisting of panel-jointing clips or clamps and accessories, because it affords the exhibition designer more freedom and control. It is strong, light, and flexible, liberating the designer from the metal framework which is characteristic of most other systems. A top-of-the-range exhibition display system is the Inca showcase from Click Systems, while a good middle-market one is the Nimlock system,” says Velarde.

“Despite various new models and updating of old systems, little has improved since 1981 and the original grand-daddy system Marler Haley. New semi-plasticised and cloth systems have been introduced but offer no significant improvement. They are really geared to inexpensive solutions for the sales representative at trade fairs.

Lorenzo Apicella

Apicella Associates

Apicella recommends Dimension 3, designed by architect Mike Dowd.

“It is flexible, light and well-serviced, but more importantly it affords designers the freedom to make the system their own, as it is easily customised and easy to create around – an attribute designers rarely associate with set display systems.

“Dimension 3 is carefully designed in the greatest detail, and it allows its own structure to recede behind the display, permitting the designers’ free-form ideas to foil against it without imposing upon it,” explains Apicella.

Apicella’s general opinion on the relationship between exhibition display systems and designers is one that was generally agreed with by those interviewed: “Off-the-peg display systems, although convenient, generally aim to please everyone and therefore the designer’s originality is limited.”

Mark Brown


Mark Brown chose two off-the-peg systems, Octanorm and the Leitner system.

“If an off-the-peg system has to be used, I would recommend Octonorm because of its minimal structure. It provides the designer with a backdrop for graphics, allowing the introduction of custom-made elements, the formation of curves and the inclusion of platforms, ceilings and seating areas,” says Brown. The Leitner system is “simply a nicely designed system, although structurally the designer can do little with it”, he adds.

“I find that standardised exhibition display systems are often very difficult for designers to use because of their restrictions and the limitations imposed by their rigid structures. But there are opportunities to make these systems work for the designer, when approached with the right attitude.”

Exhibition display systems, he believes, are better for companies that use graphic messages strongly, but “their three-dimensional expression has it’s limitations, and can be creatively restricting”, says Brown.

Mike Dowd

Michael Dowd Architects

“I felt it necessary to design an exhibition system because many of the existing systems were 15 years out of date, offering nothing new for the designer to work with. Cable systems have to be drilled into the wall, while umbrella systems are easily knocked over. Then there’s the problem of poor shadows and overheating,” says Dowd.

So he came up with Dimension 3, which had the latest lighting, could be both free-standing or cut in half to lean against the wall, and had the latest lighting systems.

“As well as Dimension 3, I think the Erco Lighting exhibition system is beautifully designed and very contemporary. The problem is that it’s a complete construction. You need to buy all the parts and it’s very expensive. So it’s no good for a one-off and I’ve only ever seen it used twice. But it’s very elegant, a real luxury item,” Dowd adds.


– Buy more tools for assembly in case some vital components are lost or mislaid.

– The person who will be assembling the display system is the person who should choose it, as some systems are more lightweight and are therefore easier for a single person to assemble.

– Some systems have small- scale kits, making it possible for people to design their exhibition from their desks.

Latest articles