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Trendy or Timeless?


How can we have so many different trends all gaining popularity at the same time?
Recently, after perusing the winners of our 30th Annual Exhibit Design Awards competition, I prepared a presentation in which I analyzed design trends based on their popularity, versatility, scalability, and affordability. I arrived at a list of more than a dozen trends currently making an impact on the exhibiting industry. But when I gave that presentation, an astute attendee asked a valid question: How can we have so many different trends all gaining popularity at the same time?

First, seemingly unrelated trends are often the result of common drivers. For instance, the current trends I've identified fall into one of four overarching themes: permanent and enduring, authentic and irregular, dimensional and tactile, or kinetic and eye-catching. So while there are numerous individual trends, they boil down into four big-picture buckets.

Another reason there are so many trends is because society no longer adopts a bandwagon approach to what's in vogue. In the past, there were rarely more than two or three primary trends with enough momentum and staying power to truly make waves. Think of the avocado greens and harvest golds of the 60s and 70s, or the denim trends of the 80s. If you wanted to be fashionable, you adhered to the singular trend of the time. Today, however, consumers (and especially Millennials) don't like to be lemmings.

From their iPhone cases to their coffee cups, people want to appear on trend without sacrificing their personal vibe. And that gives rise to a greater multitude of trends. In order to appear contemporary, yet maintain a unique identity, people pick and choose from myriad styles, merging and layering them to create something unique, yet undeniably relevant. The same is true with exhibition design. Smart designers don't put all their eggs in one basket. They mix and match various trends to create exhibits that are both brand appropriate and trendy to boot.

But whenever I talk about trends, it's important to also discuss anti-trends, because most fads with staying power will eventually spawn one. After the Apple Store blew everyone's mind with its trend-setting design, featuring glass panels, polished surfaces, and minimalist architecture, exhibitors began asking designers for new booths inspired by that Apple aesthetic. As a result, shopping malls and trade show floors were inundated with minimalist exhibits featuring glossy white surfaces and futuristic finishes. Eventually, however, people grew tired of those fads. We became over "Applefied," and a new trend toward rustic, irregular authenticity took root.

Similarly, in the years prior to the Great Recession, the industry witnessed a trend toward organic designs created via curvilinear and ephemeral fabric architecture. And before long, every exhibit hall was full of tensioned-fabric exhibitry. But after the recession, the last thing any company wanted to be seen as was ephemeral. So instead of swooping curves and flimsy fabric elements, an anti-trend of structure, permanence, and industrial finishes emerged. Sure, fabric is still popular. But instead of wispy elements, today's fabric exhibits look less temporary and more like brick-and-mortar structures with a sense of permanence.

What's the takeaway? Look beyond the trendy trees and see the fashionable forest. Consider the drivers behind trends, as they are likely to outlive any of the individual fads they nudge forth. Or eschew trends altogether and aim for the kind of timelessness inherent in the Best of 30 Years Award winners featured in this issue, all of which could be plucked from history and redeployed at today's trade shows without looking the least bit dated. After all, the evolving nature of styles and fads means that while trends have the power to add relevance to your brand, they can also cast you aside like a distressed pair of acid-washed jeans. And always beware of the anti-trends lurking in the shadows, ready to turn your once in-vogue exhibit into an old-school liability faster than you can say "fanny packs." E


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