Exhibition stand design: an 8 point guide (to getting it right!)
Posted by Tom Oakes
Done well? You can slay the competition. But done badly and it’s not only a waste of time and money, but risks your brand identity taking an irreversible hit in front of potential paying customers.
Here are 8 tips to maximise your chance of success:
1: Good exhibition stand design is about knowing your audience
Before getting into the meticulous planning of your exhibition stand, first identify who it’s for and what you want them to think, feel or do while they are there. Your answer will influence just about every element of your stand, from its design to functionality and everything in between.
Having a clear understanding of your audience and communicating this information to your designer through a stand design brief is vital. Because sharing insights about the people who need or want your products or services will help inform decisions about creative, effective and relevant ways to reach them.
- Identify who you want to visit your stand—existing customers, new prospects, or both.
- Think about what motivates your audience and how you can engage them with your exhibition stand—competitions, video content, demos, interactive elements, etc.
- Put all of this information in a stand design brief so your designer can find creative solutions to meet these needs.
2: Think about brand identity before the creative design
Every successful exhibition stand design starts with brand identity. After all, as well as having a specific purpose at the exhibition, your stand will be a valuable brand-building exercise.
Any designer worth working with should ask questions about your brand and the organisation behind it—what you do, what you stand for, and who your audience is (see above). If they don’t, or you don’t bother to provide that information, you’re in danger of leaving the fate of your identity to whatever superficial information they can find on Google.
To help them get to the heart of your brand, share your company values with them. Think of the messages you want your stand to convey through words, pictures, sound, and colour. Bypass the old clichés of ‘engaging’, ‘interesting’, ‘impactful’ and think deeper about what you want people to remember after visiting your stand. Lay the foundation for a design that makes sense for your business and the people who want or need what you’re offering.
- Clarify your brand’s personality, tone and identity before jumping to designing the stand.
- Providing a brand style guide will ensure the exhibition stand design is consistent with your other promotional activities.
- Provide examples of your current brand in action as visual references for your designer (think posters, brochures, flyers, advertising, etc).
3: Clarify the goals of the exhibition stand
There’s no doubt about it, the creative process can easily become all-consuming. So it’s essential to stay focussed on the end goals—the reason for having a stand in the first place and everything you want to get out of it. Being too close to a project can mean losing sight of the bigger picture altogether, which can lead to moving goal posts, costly alterations and delays in the project timeline.
Make sure everybody is aware of these objectives and ensure that every decision at every stage comes back to your objectives. Not only so the project stays on track, but so you can stick to your budget and get the result you want.
Clear, measurable goals make this process easier. So think carefully about what you want to get out of your stand. Do you want fresh leads, sales, followers, or brand awareness?
The answers to these questions will have an impact on the layout of your stand. For instance, if you want to attract a broad target audience and promote your brand, an open plan layout would allow people to move around freely to explore your stand. But if you want to sell directly to people, a more closed set-up with formal meeting rooms will allow for more one-to-one communication.
It’s also worth thinking back to your previous exhibition stands: What worked? What didn’t? Did your competitors outshine you? How? And don’t hesitate to share these insights with your designer. Learning from the past—both good and bad—will help them make your next stand your best yet.
- Identify the things you want to achieve from your stand.
- Use these goals as a touchstone throughout your project to stay on track.
- Learn from your previous stands—what worked, what didn’t and why.
- Be clear about how you intend to measure success.
4: Consider your budget for this exhibition
Sometimes our ideas are bigger than our budgets. But it doesn’t follow that a small budget will buy a mediocre exhibition stand. Sometimes all it takes is a conversation with your designer to find smarter, cheaper alternatives that deliver the same effect.
However, it’s important to be realistic when you draft a design brief for an exhibition stand, because even the best designers can’t perform miracles. So be upfront about your budget from the word go, and ensure that any potential design amends are costed and accounted for in the process.
While your designer can help provide you with costings, you can also do some of your own research to help get a feel for how much an exhibition stand might cost.
- Fix a budget for the exhibition which includes a breakdown of costs for design as well as any amends or alterations if they occur.
- Include this budget in your brief, and use this as a talking point with your designer. They may be able to suggest some options to help you meet your budget without compromising on quality or creativity.
5: Identify the style of stand you want
If you have an idea of the type of stand that would work well for your brand or not, it’s good to include in the brief any photos, clippings or brochures featuring other designs you’ve seen and liked. This will help steer the exhibition stand design from the initial concepts and allow the designer to understand what style is likely to be approved or not.
This is also the time to think about specific brand or campaign elements you want included—such as logos, images or messaging—and sharing these with your designer so they can be integrated into the design.
A good way to get the ball rolling is to explore which of the three main types of stands would work best for you: bespoke, modular or shell scheme.
A bespoke stand does exactly what it says on the box—it’s custom built and made according to your specifications. From illuminated display units to suspended canopies and revolving stages, it gives you complete control of how you want your brand presented. But bespoke design can come at a cost, so is best suited to higher budgets.
A modular system basically lets you buy a stand off the shelf, with pre-made walls, display units, banners and graphic displays. It’s great if you’ve got a small to medium sized budget.
A shell scheme offers pre-erected stand space, usually with front and side facias and several walls. The show organisers often build it for you, but the space can be dressed however you like, making it ideal for relatively small budgets.
- Pull together examples of stands you like and share them with your designer to draw inspiration from, making sure they also work with your brand and budget.
- Think about specific brand or campaign elements you want integrated into your design and include these in your design brief.
- Start by choosing from the three basic types of stands and go from there.
6: Be clear about your stand (and location) specifications
No matter what type of stand you have in mind, it’s worth considering the pros and cons of different specifications early on, as they’ll play role in the design of your exhibition stand.
Things to think about for the brief:
- Do you want a flat floor or raised floor?
- Do you need a staging area, meeting rooms, or AV equipment?
- What’s the stand size you’ve booked?
- Where is the stand located?
- What’s the stand orientation—is it facing a visitor attraction, exit or entrance?
- Will you have counters, desks or display units?
- Are you booking tables and chairs?
- What services will be available—water, power, internet?
The cost can significantly vary depending on the specs you choose or the location you’ve been given, so your budget will inevitably help answer these questions for you. But just remember, size isn’t everything. It’s more important to ensure your specs support the rest of your brief, so your stand delivers what you need.
- Choose the specs you need and want for your stand, keeping your budget and brief in mind.
- Share these specs with your designer so they can work them into the exhibition stand design from the start of the project.
7: Get the right exhibition stand designer
You’ve articulated your brand, identified your audience, and outlined your goals. You’ve put all of this into a design brief. And you’re ready to start talking through your project with a designer. But how do you know if one designer is a better fit for your project than another?
One way to find out is by putting your stand out to tender (and for the sake of saving time and money it’s a good idea to use a shortlist of no more than four designers). If you’ve done your research well, you’ll end up with a good mix of designers and supply companies to compare and choose from.
Asking these five questions during the tender process will go a long way to helping you choose the right designer for the job:
- Do you have experience designing stands in my industry?
- Have you worked on projects in the country I want to exhibit in?
- What happens if I want to change the design of my stand?
- Who will build my stand?
- Can you provide recommendations for your work?
Of course, budget and turnaround time will also influence your decision. As will the style of their previous work, so be sure to check out their gallery to ensure you’re going to get the outstanding delivery you’re expecting.
- Have a design brief ready to go with details about your brand, your audience, your goals, and stand specifications.
- Put your brief out to tender, inviting no more than four designers to respond.
- As part of the tender process, have important questions ready so you can easily compare the proposals of each supplier and find the best fit for the job.
8: Always be open to talking with your designer
Once you’ve got a designer on board, think of them less as a hire and more as a business partner. They should have the skills and experience not only to undertake the design itself, but also to help you formulate a realistic budget by advising on costings, provide you with information on the latest designs and trends, and give you options to ensure you get the most from your exhibition stand.
That’s why it makes sense to talk with them from the early stages of your project, and keep talking to them all the way through. Give them the chance to explain their choices, how their design meets (or exceeds) your brief, and anything else they might want to suggest. And provide considered, constructive feedback in return—which means compliments or criticism they can take away and work with.
But be sure to not overstep the fine line between discussing the design and being too prescriptive, because it will limit your success. Giving too much direction or detail about what you want inevitably stifles creativity. If you leave your designer no choice but to simply visualise your ideas, that’s exactly what you can expect to get—and nothing more.
If you’ve done your research and have chosen an experienced and talented designer, you should be able to trust them to create an exhibition stand that not only meets your brief but improves upon it in ways you couldn’t have imagined.
- Keep the lines of communication open with your designer—talk to them in the early stages of your project, and keep talking with them throughout.
- Don’t be too prescriptive about what you want—let your designer find the best creative solutions to your problems.
- Let designers design—trust them to be creative, inventive, and resourceful.