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Trade Show Secrets

Five design strategies to draw visitors and business

By Connie Jeske Crane

Research tells us you have mere seconds to captivate passersby at a busy trade show. So how do you attract attendees in the blink of an eye? Trade show booth design is key. To get a sense of the latest trends, we asked several industry experts what they’re seeing. Here are top elements to keep in mind for 2019.

A crucial strategy when engaging millennials, innovative interactive approaches often involve technology. “Probably 80 per cent of the booths we’re designing and building have some sort of AV component,” says Geoff Martin, CEO of Best Displays & Graphics in Markham, Ont. “People are putting monitors on to convey their story, or do a presentation, or update people on their products. We’re seeing more touch screens on booths where people can actually interact with the monitor.”

Similarly, Martin sees more booths decked out with selfie stations, high-tech photo booths and LED video panels.

“LED lighting is also a new trend that certainly enhances any exhibit,” says Nasera Pirbhai, creative manager at GES Canada in Toronto. Beyond wordlessly signalling an organization’s environmental commitment, she says energy-efficient LED technology adds wow factor. “From backlighting the large tension fabric graphics and colour-changing lights, to strip lights surrounding corporate logos, these all serve to increase the visibility of any exhibit.”

Martin also sees LED lighting used to add height: “We’re seeing more towers with backlighting.”

In contrast to all the slick technology, pops of nature are big too. Pirbhai says, “A new trend is to use live greenery, such as living walls,” with corporate logos sometimes built into the display.

Martin notes a similar trend with giveaways: “We’ve noticed healthier foods being given away at booths.”

Simplicity reads as contemporary. Jodi Anastasakis, manager of exhibit and design sales, GES Canada, warns against long-winded booth text displays. “Keep it vibrant, eye-catching and simple. People will not typically stop and read extensive messages on walls.” Similarly, she recommends open and inviting exhibit spaces. “Don’t set up perimeter barriers that visitors are hesitant to cross.”

In the #MeToo era, Martin also sees companies dropping outdated sexist approaches—“we’ve seen less scantily clad women”—in favour of straightforward and compelling brand stories.

Finally, practical booth designs that allow for flexibility, growth and easy setup are huge today. Martin sees interest in modular booth products, which his company creates: “We’re seeing a lot more people that don’t just have a standard size display for each of their shows.”

Pirbhai notes the rise of large-format full-colour graphics on tension fabric, a lightweight format that also allows exhibitors to change designs. Renting system exhibits is also trending, adds GES’s Anastasakis, “The exhibit can change and update every year, and the tasks of storage, transportation, labour, etc., is the responsibility of the rental company— leaving exhibitors to focus on what they want to achieve at the show itself.”

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