What is it that's driving exhibiting companies to settle for sub-par stand design?
My team of writers and editors has recently been reaching out to exhibit houses to discuss the most exciting projects they worked on in 2019. Their queries have been met, repeatedly, with variations on a common theme: "Business was good, and we built lots of booths this year, but none were particularly interesting." In fact, that message was relayed so many times, and by exhibit providers specializing in both system-based and fully custom builds, that I had to wonder: What is it that's driving exhibiting companies to settle for sub-par stand design?
If you're of the mind that design doesn't equal dollars (or, perhaps more appropriately, sales leads), I urge you to conduct a little experiment at your next show. Stand outside your booth for five minutes and count how many attendees give it so much as a second glance. Then locate a comparably sized stand with a little bit of wow factor and repeat the drill. I guarantee there will be a noticeable difference. And no, second glances aren't sales leads, but if you can't even elicit a double-take from prospective buyers, you have zero chance of scanning their badges.
To those who think "good design" is synonymous with "out of my price range," consider this: According to the Experiential Designers and Producers Association, the average cost per square foot for a single-tier island exhibit is roughly $165. When I calculated the cost per square foot of the 15 stands that won 2019 Exhibit Design Awards, they averaged $168, putting the premium for award-winning design at a measly $3 per square foot.
In a way, it's not surprising that the bulk of booths produced in 2019 weren't what one might consider innovative. After all, most exhibits at any given show tend to blend into the background. But the fact that so many exhibit houses had trouble pointing to even a single new build that pushed the envelope or embodied exceptional design is worrisome.
Most companies expect a new exhibit to last at least four to five years, and the average U.S. exhibitor attends approximately 36 domestic shows per
year. In other words, if you knowingly settle for a blasé booth, you've signed up for 15 dozen missed opportunities to make an impactful impression. Plus, you're now sidled with that sad excuse for a stand until the year 2025, when your organization might pony up the dough for a new design.
I fear this "particularly interesting" problem may stem from the fact that far too many exhibitors approach new builds with a checklist of perceived
necessities rather than a well-conceived corporate objective. Their marching orders to exhibit designers may include items such as a reception desk with locking storage, a conference room that can accommodate up to six people, a display case in which to spotlight their newest doohickeys, and two flatscreen monitors to run looping videos. If that sounds familiar, you're underestimating your exhibit house.
Of course an exhibit designer needs to know your functional expectations of a space, but you're not allowing him or her to design anything if you're prepping for the new-build process in the same way you prepare to go grocery shopping. Rather, come to the table ready to discuss the biggest challenges your company is facing, what attributes you'd like attendees to associate with your brand, and how you want booth visitors to feel inside your space. Then let your designer start designing, and sit back while your mind is blown.
The simple truth is this: Exhibit designers aren't short-order cooks, and they shouldn't be treated as such. Unless you are an exhibit designer yourself, you probably shouldn't be telling an actual one how to do his or her job. Respect designers' ability to solve your problems and empower them to do so, and they'll return that respect via creations that will stand out on the show floor and help you accomplish your objectives. E