DESIGN LED: Creating the right exhibition stand

26th February 2008

Get the design of your stand right and it’s well worth the money, but get it wrong and you jeopardise your entire event presence. So what factors do you need to take into account to make sure you get it right?

“We try to focus on our clients’ objectives – the reason why they are exhibiting,” says Carl Criscione, marketing manager at stand designers Equniox. “Your services, messages or products all have specific needs, a successful design satisfies and builds itself around those needs. You are at the show for a reason; a good looking stand has it’s place, but it's only one part of the mix.”

Stuart Reeves, creative director at global experience marketing company George P Johnson (GPJ) agrees, saying: “Although I work with global brands such as Motorola, Cisco, IBM and Unilever, the rules of good stand design are the same irrespective of company size. The starting-point for any stand has to be the business’ objectives. As a designer I’m the first to appreciate attractive design, clever new materials, exciting new lighting ideas – and I could point you in the direction of the latest gimmicks and gizmos. But frankly it's about how your stand supports the business’ goals that really matters.”

GPJ recently asked event managers from 125 companies what their exhibition business goals were with the following results:

  • Enhanced customer relationships
  • Increased brand awareness
  • Increased knowledge of products/services
  • Increased brand preference
  • Product demonstration
  • New product launch
  • Lead generation

Each of these will have key implications for a stand’s design, so it’s vital to make sure you’re clear about your aims before deciding to exhibit and try to stick to one or two. If you must have several objectives, then make sure they are clearly prioritised.

“If your main priority is demonstrating new technology,” says Reeves, “the stand’s design will be quite different than if you’re showcasing new branding or using the event to launch a new product. This sounds obvious, but you only need to look at your own experience at shows to see how often even the biggest exhibitors overlook this basic rule.”

If you’re demonstrating new technology, you’ll need some kind of platform to be clearly seen and space for your audience. You could also film the demonstration and simultaneously project close ups on screens around your stand. This could then be shown in between the physical demonstrations to increase engagement and inform.

A launch is about presenting clear concise information about the new product or service, while visually and physically getting across the brand. Often this can be done by taking people on a ‘journey’, which can also be used if your aim is to increase product or service knowledge.

GPJ worked with Nissan on its exhibition presence during the 2006/7 automotive show season. The key aim was to allow visitors to learn about the Infiniti brand and vehicles. This was achieved through the use of special interactive mirrors.

“Three large panes were placed side by side, each displaying rear-projected content from a high-lumen projector,” explains Reeves. “A visitor standing in front of the mirrors has the unusual sensation of seeing their reflection and the projected content simultaneously.”

Special sensors allowed visitor to navigate the projected content using movement alone, without ever needing to touch the mirrors, creating a unique and highly engaging experience. An additional sensor recognised when a visitor was approaching and automatically activated the mirror to welcome them.

Often overlooked when designing a stand is a meeting space. Yet if you’re looking to enhance customer relationships and develop leads, it’s vital to have a well designed and inviting space to do this.

“People often say their critical aim at an exhibition is to have in-depth, pre-arranged meetings with key customers and prospects,” says Reeves, “yet the meeting rooms on the stand receive little design attention. “This is madness. If you are inviting your critical clients to a meeting at your offices, you don’t hold the meeting in a broom cupboard or in the staff canteen.”

GPJ’s design for IBM’s stand at premier healthcare event HIMSS was designed to evoke the aspects of a modern hospital environment. As a key aim was to get across to visitors how IBM technology could improve quality and safety of care, so a special conversation area was built in that was representative of an outside atrium creating a clean, open and comfortable space.

Equinox preached what it practiced at the Exhibiting Show at Earls Court in London last year. “We made sure that the stand could capture the attention of passing visitors, enable us to move them onto the stand and through an appropriate presentation/discussion, and then off the stand,” explains Criscione. “All this was achieved in an efficient manner, logging details ready for the post show sales campaign. Our estimate is that from the stand we have generated around £250,00 of projects to date.”

Key here of course was building in a way of not only capturing attention, but also data; of generating leads, but also assessing and measuring the success of Equinox’s exhibition presence.

Once your aims have been clearly set, Reeves offers some final tips on helping your stand work better. “First, don’t just go all out to attract large volumes of traffic for traffic’s-sake,” he says. “Quality contact is what you are after. Think about how to attract the few that matter, such as creating a journey on the stand, with a logical flow that will take them up the customer chain – from prospect, to warm contact, to customer, to key customer and advocate.”

Reeves also suggests creating different levels of content, perhaps shifting and changing information, but he warns against too many words, recommending a clear, clean approach and enough space for visitors to access the details they need. Interactivity can be useful, but Reeves says it has to be right for your audience.

“If your target is senior decision makers, then don’t have a highly interactive stand, as they generally don’t like making a public show of themselves – they will prefer exclusive, private areas,” he says. “Similarly allow for cultural differences – audiences in the US are much more participative then audiences in Europe.”

Finally avoid gimmicks, as they can take up a lot of space, but deliver little, and be aware of physical practicalities. “For instance, avoid steps on to stands or any other barriers and remember,” adds Reeves, “once people are nearby they don't look up, so don't just rely on the height of your stand for its design impact.”

(Related categories of interest see Exhibition Stands or Modular Stands)