very year, I'm invited to speak to various audiences. In less than 12 months' time, I will have presented for groups in the United States, South Africa, Germany, India, and Singapore. More often than not, the organizers responsible for inviting me to speak come bearing an identical request: "Educate our audience on emerging industry trends."
In all honesty, I have a love/hate relationship with trends in general and emerging ones in particular. While identifying global exhibiting trends is, of course, an important part of my role, I find people place far too much value in what's hot. Just because something is deemed trendy does not make it a good idea. (I present Zubaz and Hammer Pants as exhibits A and B, respectively.) Furthermore, trends are inherently fluid and dynamic. As Heidi Klum might say, one day they're in, and the next day they're out. But perhaps most importantly, trends (especially the emerging variety) are risky. Exhibitors who chase the cutting edge often find it carries a hefty premium, especially when it involves new and untested technologies. And cautious late adopters risk arriving a little tardy to the party.
Those realities create a complex challenge for exhibitors and designers alike. Depending on new-build timelines, what's considered trendy today can be out of fashion by the time the project is fabricated and makes its debut on the trade show floor. Additionally, budget constraints often rear their ugly heads midway through the process, eliminating the technologies exhibitors were relying on to provide "wow factor" – and making that trendy new booth they were hoping to build look an awful lot like the boring old one they intended to replace, not replicate.
The truth is, trends do not supersede smart design. In fact, unless appearing cutting edge is essential to your brand, current trends are likely irrelevant to your exhibit-marketing program. Remarkable design is timeless, and I suspect that the majority of the 18 Exhibit Design Award winners profiled in this issue will look just as brand appropriate and eye-catching three, five, or even 10 years from today. That's not because designers employed futuristic technologies or emerging trends; it's because they incorporated brilliant solutions derived from their clients' challenges, objectives, and brand attributes.
Having said that, the world will continue its ongoing love affair with trends, regardless of my jaded opinions of them. We are practically hard wired to seek out, respond to, and adopt all things new. It's the exhibit-marketing equivalent of keeping up with the Joneses. And while appearing "on trend" may not be a core component of your brand attributes, looking "old school" can prove a liability on a trade show floor full of forward-thinking competitors positioning themselves as newer, cooler, or more contemporary.
Bottom line, I'm not saying you shouldn't be intrigued by trends. Having an awareness of what's happening in the global exhibiting industry is important if you hope to stay relevant. However, I urge exhibitors to take trends with a grain of salt, and consider them in the context of their brands and objectives. According to the late Steve Jobs, "Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works." And if your exhibit doesn't help you accomplish the objectives you've set forth or function in the manner you need it to, nobody's going to care that your back wall is painted this year's hottest hue. Form must always follow function, not the ever-evolving whims of trend spotters like me. And if all your time and energy is wrapped up in the aesthetics of your space, I suspect the only trend you'll identify is a downward one with regard to your return on investment.