Posted on Mon 30th Sep 2019 at 8:30pm
We caught up with Craig Bryant, Evolve's creative designer, to chat about designing exhibition stands, what goes into them, and how exhibitors and organisers can get the most out of their budgets.
Where does the stand design process start and finish for you?
It depends on whether it's a space only design a modular package or an organiser stand, because the most important first step is research, and how much time can be devoted to it.
Typically, I want to get a flavour of the client's brand and marketing assets, the language they use in their communications, and the nature and character of the product and service. This means meeting and talking with the customer in detail, and getting 'under the skin' of their business. Generally, I'm trying to build up a visual and thematic vocabulary I can then employ in the actual design phase. If it's a large, space-only design, I will have more time to go direct to the client, meet with them on several occasions and iteratively develop a visual design. But if I'm designing dozens of stands for a show, my options for client contact are limited, so I'll work from existing assets and materials.
The second part of my research revolves around the show and the venue - who is coming? What is the layout like? Where are the stands situated? I start with the floor plan, look at the aspects and elevation, lighting, and so on, to build up a picture of how stands will be presented, how they will interact with footfall, and where they are in location to key features like entrances, exits, toilets, auditoriums, food outlets and so on.
When you are designing a stand, what do you think are the most important factors?
The most important thing for me, in terms of designing a stand, is that it should fulfil the requirements without retreading old and tired ideas. I'm always looking for a feature or facet that will serve as a launch point for the creative design. It might be variations on a logo, or a particular word or image that can form the basis of a design, and from this point, I can build the concept outwards to fulfil the business purpose without compromising the creativity of the overall design. I try and go to all the shows I design for, and if I can't I'll often deputise a colleague, because it's the best way of understanding how to stand out creatively in that particular visual and commercial environment
Do you have any advice on artwork for someone considering exhibiting?
Yes! Primarily you should think 'Brand'. How your brand is going to be interpreted on your stand is vital. Every visit to your stand is ultimately a ‘brand experience’. Like a visit to your office, website or even reading your headed letter, the stand should stay true to your brand so the returning customer is welcomed with familiarity and new customers leave with a clear idea of who you are. I try to steer clients away from the tendency to overuse their branding and collateral, and towards a 'less is more' approach. Keeping the brand in focus doesn't mean having it everywhere you look, it means the whole design should encapsulate the brand in some way, through colour, form and configuration.
After branding, you have a blank canvas, the more creative the better. Graphics will most probably be your biggest spend here so content is not the only aspect you need to consider. There are hundreds of materials and media available, from printed foam board and banner wraps to lightboxes and screen walls.
What about technology?
Everywhere you go in exhibitions, technology is being used as an audience grabber. The latest and greatest tech can pull in visitors, but they may just be there for the wow factor, and uninterested in the products or services on offer. This is frustrating for stand personnel, because the true prospects and leads will be swamped by the 'tourists'.
It's better, in my opinion, to create stands that look open and inviting, and use tech to support stand personnel in engaging visitors. Also, I think there is, in some sectors at any rate, a swing away from the shiny, technological look. There's a trend emerging for the 'stripped-back' look, with bare ply and unfinished surfaces that can be very attractive. Although it's not a suitable look for every business, it has undeniable impact. Sustainability requirements for stands vary, but the fewer disposable components there are, the less environmental impact it is likely to have. The stripped-back look with bare wood strongly suggests a sustainable stand, although the reality of that depends on many other factors!
Of course, technology enables things that were impossible only 20 years ago, like off-grid lighting and flat video walls, and in terms of creating stands, 3D design software and photorealistic rendering can reveal issues that wouldn't have come to light until the stand was actually built. Now we can solve them, before they become problems during the build, as well as presenting meaningful previews of how the finished stand will look in situ.
How should I make the best use of a low budget?
Talk to your supplier! Whether your a first-time exhibitor or a seasoned pro, working with your supplier to ensure your investment is spent effectively should be your first move. As a creative designer, I've built up a toolbox of techniques and methods to help our customers get the most out of their budget - and much of the time these come as a revelation. Every customer, large or small, has a unique set of requirements. Working collaboratively with every customer means we can focus our efforts, and their investment, on the essential stand elements, and find creative solutions to maximise the 'set and setting' with the remaining time and budget. Communication is the key - creative designers have a lot of tricks up their sleeve to help you do much more with less than you think.
It all starts with the maxim that 'simple is beautiful! Think of all the things you can do without, and do without them. Think carefully about how your stand will be used by the people on it and the people visiting it. Your desired dwell times, for example, will tell you whether you need furniture or refreshments. If you're doing demonstrations or presentations, you'll need a suitable space and furniture, and so on. The best designs always begin with clarity of purpose and simplicity of design.
Any other advice for exhibitors on stand design?
Remember that first impressions count, and simplicity never fails. A visitor coming on to a cluttered stand featuring mismatched branding, harsh lighting and too much furniture is going to come away with the wrong impression of your whole company, business and product.
Don't be afraid of blank space, it gives people's eyes the space they need to focus on a particular image or message and pick it out of the background noise. Try and keep your stand looking as light, airy and 'open' as possible, and use it as a canvas for interactions, and not an attraction or passive display.