rom their inception 159 years ago with the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry in London, world's fairs and expositions have forged the template for trade shows and events across the globe. Whether we're talking about over-the-top exhibit designs, inventive line-management techniques, innovative lighting applications, dazzling product launches, captivating presentations, cutting-edge audiovisual tools, or even gaudy booth-staff uniforms, it all entered exhibitors' DNA starting with these international expos. Now with Expo 2010 that recently concluded this past October in Shanghai, China - decidedly the largest and debatably most influential World's Fair ever - EXHIBITOR magazine brings you the top 10 trends that we predict will influence trade shows and corporate events for the next several years, from the largest of exhibits to the tiniest of 10-by-10s.
Statement buildings are as old as the pyramids. From those ancient tombs to the Eiffel Tower and the Space Needle, their exteriors impart a Disney World's worth of experiences without you ever having to set foot inside them. Nowhere was that better exemplified than China's 161,458-square-foot pavilion. 1 Three times the height of the next tallest pavilion, the 207-foot-tall structure has a roof made of 56 traditional "dougong" brackets, each one representing a Chinese ethnic minority. Nicknamed "The Crown of the East," and colored the same brilliant crimson hue as the headdresses China's rulers once wore, the pavilion does indeed suggest a giant crown for the world's next economic emperor.
Similarly, Saudi Arabia's "Moon Boat" Pavilion 2 signifies the sheer opulence of a land that possesses about 20 percent of the planet's proven petroleum reserves. Costing an estimated $146 million, its roof deck housed 150 date palms and a hanging garden next to Bedouin tents. Mere commerce wasn't the point of the United Kingdom's 66-foot-tall "Seed Cathedral." Looking at first glance like a cyborg porcupine, the pavilion consisted of 60,000 thin, 24.5-foot-long translucent acrylic tubes that waved like an insect's antennas in the wind. Glowing at night, the tubes appeared lighter at their tips, creating the illusion that the structure was fading from this reality into another, where perhaps buildings are as alive as the people inside them.
Much like the China Pavilion, the Saudi and U.K. structures imparted a distinct experience - even to passersby who never entered. And while it's unlikely that a trade show exhibit will possess the grandeur of the Chinese "Crown of the East," the best exhibits not only tease attendees inside with provocative, unique exteriors or graphics, they also communicate a relevant message in an aisle-side glance. The pavilion organizers of Expo 2010 knew that while 70 million people were expected to attend, each individual pavilion would only welcome a tiny fraction of that number inside its walls. Similarly, only a given percentage of a trade show's total attendees are likely to step inside your space. But if you design a booth that speaks to those that don't come in, you're extending your message far beyond the few who do.
Engaging more than one of the five senses - sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste - simultaneously, multisensory environments create a rich experience for attendees. This trend was perhaps best applied within the Switzerland Pavilion, designed by Buchner Brundler AG Architekten BSA. Its iconic chairlift swept up crowds through a wide-open shaft to the pavilion's roof, carrying visitors over a rolling pasture of knee-high Alpine-like grasses that grazed their feet and other aromatic plants that replaced the urban odors of fast food and industrial exhaust. Throughout the ride, the calming sounds of cowbells gently rang out.
Back on earth, the Oman Pavilion 3 promoted the oil-rich country's limestone caves and Biblical history with floors and walls made of the rough stone, while the air was thick as wool with the scent of frankincense. Famed as one of the magi's gifts, the resin-y herb, which comes from the Boswellia tree (one of which was housed on the pavilion's main floor), was an olfactory reminder of Oman's place as the historic center of trade in the fabled spice.
Less pungent but just as effective was Austria's use of pine and spruce scents in its pavilion's woods and grasslands section, 4 where the crackle of leaves and the song of birds also accompanied the forest fragrances. And since what we can feel is almost as important as what we can smell and hear, the Austria mountain-zone area chilled
visitors with a continual supply of real ice and snow that visitors could handle.
You don't need to build a chairlift into your next exhibit to capitalize on this trend. Several scent-marketing options exist for perfuming your space - and the science behind that
practice hints at some serious benefits, including increased browsing time and even incremental sales increases. Similarly, the use of music inside your exhibit can help create a more sensorial space while adding an auditory representation of your brand.
Many pavilion architects created "biomorphic" buildings: structures whose
muses were the softer contours of
nature, from seashells and stones to anthills and amoeba. For example, Japan's pavilion, nicknamed the "Purple Silkworm Island," 5 resembled a lavender insect of stadium size. Semicircular in shape, the structure was clad in a violet membrane material with antenna-like elements turning the pavilion into a "breathing organism" that symbolized harmony between humanity and technology.
The caramel-colored building representing the United Arab Emirates was rounded to mimic the leeward and windward shapes of the sand dunes found in the UAE's seven member countries. Like a sand dune made of precious gold, the glittering pavilion - designed by Foster
+ Partners - appeared sandpaper coarse on the northern side (which typically bears the full force of the hot desert wind), while the relatively protected southern elevation had a comparably smoother façade.
With its sculpted and shaped walls, the 20,500-square-foot Australia Pavilion 6 was a red-ochre reference to the continent-nation's ghostly Ayer's Rock. Made of a "weathering" steel called Corten, the pavilion's 66-foot-high façade continually aged into deeper shades of copper and maroon that evoked the unusual alien terrain Down Under.
If the Australia Pavilion took its
inspiration from the earth, the Meteo
World Pavilion 7 was inspired by
the sky. Sponsored by the United
Nations' World Meteorological Organization, the pavilion consisted of four
spheres of varying sizes connected
to each other. When water sprayed
from 4,000 mist emitters over the white, semitransparent membrane structure,
the resulting condensation transformed the pavilion into what appeared to be a floating cumulus cloud. Furthering the illusion, when the sun's elevation angle dropped below 42 degrees, colorful rainbows formed over the top of the building.
You're probably not ready to turn
your next exhibit into a giant mist-emitting cloud, but advances in fabric
architecture, CNC routing technology,
and more make it possible for trade
show exhibits to follow the lead of these
formidable organic structures. Getting
attention on the show floor is often as simple as stepping out of the boxy-booth norm. So consider the shape of things to come and opt for undulating curves instead of right angles.
Even in an expo that generated 200 tons of garbage per day, there were some designers who took Green to an intensely verdant level. The India Pavilion, built with tens of thousands of low-environmental-impact bamboo poles, now ranks as the world's largest bamboo dome. 8 Additionally, a complex grid of ropes and wires with close to 150,000 plants and herbs covered the 115-foot-diameter domed roof. 9 While the herbs acted as a carbon sink, scrubbing and even scenting the surrounding air in one of the world's most polluted cities, a small roof-mounted "windmill" and solar cells generated energy for emergency lighting.
Built from the steel remains of a boat scuttled in Shanghai's shipyard, Denmark's two-story velodrome 10 was Green in more ways than meet the eye: Its white-painted exterior reflected 60 to 85 percent of the sun's rays that hit it (compared to the 20 percent that a dark façade would bounce back), thereby reducing the energy needed to cool its 5,900-square-foot interior. The 3,500 perforations in the structure's exterior were filled with LEDs that not only lit it up like a Christmas tree at night, but generated only about 4 percent of the heat of incandescent bulbs and required only 3 percent of the electricity. The holes' ventilation also cooled the pavilion in a country where an estimated 60 percent of energy is used for air conditioning.
Sponsored by a Chinese air-conditioner manufacturer, the Broad Pavilion 11 used just 20 percent of the energy other pavilions of a comparable size required. The building accomplished that feat due to a series of passive solar-design techniques: exterior shading, 6-inch thick insulation, and triple-layered nonmetallic framed windows. Another energy-conscious structure, the Japan Pavilion employed solar energy-collection batteries hidden inside the double-layer membrane that covered the structure. The pavilion also collected rainwater via funnel-shaped tubes 12 built into the roof. The brown water was then sprayed on the pavilion's exterior surfaces to keep temperatures inside the space cool and comfortable.
Not only was the Shanghai Corporate Pavilion 13 constructed of recycled CD jewel cases, whose thermoplastic material can be melted down and reused; its roof featured a 17,000-square-foot solar heat-collecting tube that could heat the water inside the pavilion to 95 degrees Fahrenheit.
The Expo's Green efforts were often as varied as the
pavilions themselves: Finland constructed part of its glacier-shaped pavilion with 25,000 injection-molded shingles made from recycled paper and plastic, while Vietnam built its entire 10,764-square-foot structure from 80,000 bamboo poles. 14 Now that the Expo has run its course, the poles will be reused in building schools and other social-welfare projects in Vietnam.
From exhibits made of recycled - or recyclable -components to energy-efficient LED lighting, Green practices are already making their way onto the trade show floor. Expo 2010 reminded us that the Green trend is here to stay, and is likely to drive designers to push the envelope a bit. But showing up with recyclable flooring and a bamboo plant is unlikely to earn you Green cred when the exhibit next door is a carbon-neutral structure that aids the environment by producing far more energy than it uses. The future is emerald-hued, my friends. So get on board the Green train before it passes you by.
Synchronizing 3-D film with physical effects such as wind, rain, and movement, 4-D presentations originated with Walt Disney Co.'s "Captain EO" in 1976. Propelled by advancing technology and retreating costs, 4-D presentations are now entering the mainstream with efforts such as "Oil Dream" in the 44,050-square-foot Oil Pavilion. 15 Showing on a large wraparound screen to 250 guests at a time, the eight-minute film made by the "Avatar" movie-production team traced the history of oil from the dinosaurs whose fossils became our fuels to the explorers who braved wolf packs to find the "black gold." Wind storms on screen translated into your hair blowing as if cruising down the highway in a convertible, and swarms of bees in jungle scenes seemed to nip and buzz your ankles. When giant pythons crawled onscreen, the serpents seemed to slither underneath the theater's seats.
Before viewing the 11-minute 4-D film inside the Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp. and General Motors
(SAIC-GM) Pavilions, guests buckled themselves into padded chairs. While the smart cars in the film careened like the Jetsons' space mobile over a futuristic landscape, the seats moved, mirroring the on-screen bobbing and weaving. The seats also vibrated at the Information and Communications Pavilion's "Dream Big" show. Here, a 71-by-38-foot IMAX-style screen with 32 panels formed an enveloping media canopy over visitors' heads. The presentation, created by BRC Imagination Arts, also offered
computer-controlled snowstorms, bubble cannons, 16 and synchronized rain showers that turned what might have
been a mediocre movie into a motion-picture masterpiece.
Like many of the other trends, 4-D theater isn't likely to rock your world overnight. But just as we saw a smattering of 3-D theaters popping up at trade shows over the past few years, we expect a handful of 4-D theaters at tech- and auto-related shows throughout 2011. And since 4-D effects can run the gamut from a few hidden fans that give viewers the effect they're flying through the air to far more technical applications, we expect even small-budget theaters will begin looking to the fourth dimension for ways to make their presentations - and their messages - that much more memorable.
Touchscreens and Interactives
First developed in 1974, interactive touchscreens are the electronic visual displays that react to touch, motion, or sound within their display area. Popularized by hardware/software combinations such as Microsoft Surface, the screens were widely used in a variety of ways at Expo 2010. Some pavilions simply used Microsoft Surface, adding design embellishments to evoke their respective histories. Shendong province, the birthplace of Confucius, placed the screens inside 4-foot-long stone-like scrolls, 17 which guests could use to find our more about the moral and political philosopher's impact.
Others used touchscreens in even more inventive ways. Built from the remains of an old factory, the China State Shipbuilding Corp. Pavilion 18 let attendees navigate a cruise ship on a 103-inch plasma screen, 19 designed by GestureTek Inc. Later, guests could design their own ships on similar screens in the pavilion.
Designed by Kingsmen Shanghai Co. Ltd., the pavilion representing the Chinese province of Guangdong built a "sky curtain" 20 into its 5,000-square-foot pavilion's ceiling and wall that towered nearly 20 feet over attendees. When visitors clapped their hands, a small sapling on the sky curtain's screen flourished as if watered by the noise, expanding into a giant tree and then, with more sound feeding it, multiplied into a thicket of timber.
In the Brazil Pavilion, guests competed in an interactive soccer game with virtual football players on an LED screen. After a number flashed on the screen asking the guests to call it, participants dialed in, then connected to a player. Visitors then controlled the players from their personal cell phones, using their cell-phone keys to maneuver players right and left to kick the virtual ball and score goals.
The Information and Communications Pavilion didn't need goals to score with visitors. When guests entered the building's Welcome Lobby, staffers gave attendees a handheld device 21 they carried with them during their visit. The devices coaxed attendees to use the touchscreen interface to create a "Dream Profile" of advances in telecommunications technology they most desired. In the pavilion's two movie presentations, the devices let you request information on telecommunication topics and even communicate with the on-screen characters.
Touchscreens and various self-serve kiosks are already being used by exhibitors as ways to increase interaction and distill product-related information. Smart exhibitors are finding ways to link those touchscreens and interactive elements into their lead-retrieval devices, allowing them to personalize follow-up communications and track what each attendee explored on the interactive interface. Expect more touchscreens and interactive elements on the trade show floor as attendees seem to appreciate this self-service approach to information.
The heir apparent to experiential marketing, immersive
marketing completely envelops attendees in your brand.
Few did that more overwhelmingly at Expo 2010 than the State Grid Pavilion. 22 Sponsored by China's major electrical utility, the pavilion features a 49-by-46-foot theater dubbed the "Magic Box." Once visitors crowded into the cube-shaped room, the entire surroundings - walls, floor, and ceiling - morphed into one mega-screen. 23 Totaling 112 LED panels, the room engulfed attendees in a five-minute-long visual extravaganza where they appeared to crackle through electric wires, speed across a desert, and even leap off Mount Everest-high cliffs. The visual whirl was so intense that handrails had to be added in the theater to keep dizzy guests upright.
If attendees felt swamped by the State Grid Pavilion, they
were swallowed whole in Saudi Arabia's 17,222-square-foot IMAX-screen-theater called the "Treasure Cinema."
Visitors coursed through the largest movie screen on the
planet standing on a conveyor belt that harked back to
General Motors' "Futurama" exhibit at the 1939 New York
World's Fair. Adrift in a cavernous space, attendees
felt as if they were floating above the Earth, surrounded by images of desert, space, and geometric patterns.
Not all immersive designs needed cyclopean cineplexes to work their magic. The Russia Pavilion was modeled after the charming fairy tale, "The Adventures of Dunno and His Friends." Visitors strolled through scenes replicated from the book, including flowers such as daisies, and primroses blown up to titanic proportions. 24
The challenge for exhibitors is, of
course, creating an immersive space
on a show floor where your brand - and only your brand - dominates
the audience's reality for the duration of their visit. While you're unlikely to have the control these pavilion designers had over the light levels, scents, and sounds inside their spaces, start creating immersive environments by controlling what you can. Enclosed exhibits and spaces allow you greater control over light levels and the cacophony of the trade show floor, and simply canceling out as many of those ambient cues can go a long way toward creating an immersive space that's all about your company and the experience you want attendees to have.
Projection technology and techniques have advanced since motion pictures with recorded sound were shown for the first time to the general public at Paris' Exposition Universelle in 1900. From those View-Master-quality displays, we now have projection technology that begins as art and ends as magic. The China Pavilion offered the latest proof of this with its digitized replica of artist Zhang Zeduan's famous painting, "Along the River During Qingming Festival," painted almost 1,000 years ago. 25
Magnifying the original work's 0.8-by-17.3-foot dimensions to a proportionately correct 20-by-420 feet, the recreation depicts 1,068 people working and playing with almost supernatural realness, including shopkeepers manipulating the abacus, seers telling fortunes, and monks begging for alms. Using a proprietary technology, Chinese technicians and animators segmented the painting into a series of "tiles," then redrew each tile in animated, 3-D format at an ultra-high-resolution so that multiple projectors could project it on the large, flat display wall.
The quiet, understated elegance of ancient China was matched by the noisy disunity of modern Spain. In the Iberian country's middle exhibition hall, between a flamenco dancer 26 and a giant robot baby, 27 cutting-edge movie director Basilio Martin Patino communicated his nation's culturally splintered state by splitting a seven-minute film among several screens in the darkened hall. Twenty-five Barco CLM HD8 projectors flashed scenes on five rectangular screens of mixed sizes and set at alternating heights around the hall. 28
Italy's video projections were as stylish as its transparent-concrete exterior: Fabric video walls running nearly 10
feet high and some almost 20 feet long, slanted around 10
degrees toward and away from visitors just like the walls
in traditional Italian villas. As rear-mounted projectors ran
film montages of Italian cities and architecture, the driving
notes of Vivaldi and Verdi filled the air like alluring aural incense.
The beauty of large-scale projection
is its ability to create fully immersive environments using little more than light.
The stark-white Austria Pavilion was segmented into various vignettes, including a forest area. While the area
itself featured only white-painted walls and flooring, when the projectors lit up, the space was filled with
trees and gently falling leaves. Successfully combining the trend toward touchscreens and interactive elements
with projection technology, another vignette in the Austria Pavilion featured
pond-like projections on the floor. As attendees stepped through the space, fish appeared to nibble at their shoes.
From an exhibit-related standpoint, projection makes a lot of sense. It can be used to create immersive environments like the ones mentioned above, or it can be used to feature images, text, or videos without the need for full-fledged theater spaces or bulky, text-heavy graphics panels. Plus, a little projection magic can quickly - and effectively - turn a boring back wall into a dynamic attention-drawing attendee magnet.
Extending visitors' encounter with your brand beyond the brief time they're in your booth is a challenge. At Expo 2010, some countries took an interactive and therefore more involving approach than others, such as websites dedicated to their pavilions. The website devoted to the United Kingdom's "Seed Cathedral" 29 builds on what guests learned there, including extensive background on the designers, structural engineers, and fabricators. Surfers can take an interactive tour of the pavilion the Chinese nicknamed the "Dandelion," with further info offered, for example, on the "Light Rain Engines" that sprinkled "raindrops" of light on the pavilion floor, or the types of seeds (e.g., the Maidenhair tree and the coffee plant, among the 60,000 varieties) in the antenna-like acrylic tubes 30.
Focusing on strengthening its bonds with the Chinese who visited its pavilion, the Swiss posted a site with updates in German, English, and French, but with a photo contest and mobile games in Chinese only. Surfers can cruise right into the SAIC-GM Pavilion 31 site, which aims to build a domestic demographic who will steer into the traffic-jam-free future in an SAIC- or GM-made car. Chinese primary students and middle schoolers could send in their essays on the future, with winning entries tabbed for an upcoming book, while college students who devised the most intriguing ideas for the "Our 2030" competition won a Chevy Volt, among many other prizes.
When attendees exited the Information and Communications Pavilion, they may have left the building for good but they didn't leave their dreams behind. After visitors entered their "Dream Profile" of futuristic telecommunications technologies into the handheld interactive consoles they carried during their tour, those wishes were stored on the pavilion's website. Afterward, attendees could log on to the site, retrieve their dreams page, communicate with other attendees, and even win prizes.
From simple show-specific microsites to personalized URLs (aka PURLS) to full-fledged virtual extensions of trade shows and events, extending the experience outside
of your booth - and outside of the dates of the trade show - not only means registered attendees can further explore your brand and its offerings, it means people who weren't able to attend can virtually visit you as well.
As exhibit and event professionals, you know how important it is for information to be presented in a clear manner that can be quickly digested by passersby. But that info needs to be even more succinct in order to be successfully conveyed when upwards of 50,000 people a day are filing through, speaking myriad languages. So many designers opted for easily recognizable symbols and visual metaphors versus text-heavy graphics to communicate their key messages.
Italy decorated its pavilion with universally recognized symbols of its industry and culture but cleverly heightened their impact by placing them in unusual contexts: An entire 30-piece orchestra 32 was attached to a vertical wall, seeming to transcend gravity, while four mannequins on the main floor, each 11.4 feet tall, stood like giants stylishly clad in Dolce & Gabbana, Versace, Prada, and Zegna fashions. A room promoting the country's peerless pastas comprised dozens of fettuccines, gnocchis, linguines, and more in museum-like displays under a ceiling made of grains and roses, 33 while a chandelier of nearly 20 chairs 34 in 1950s modern and 1960s pop-art styles hung in an area highlighting the country's design expertise.
Inside the Urban Planet's double-helix-shaped pavilion,
designed by Triad Berlin Projektgesellschaft mbH, a ceiling-high, see-through cylinder swirling with H²O was studded with spigots. 35 Each of the roughly 40 faucets, representing countries from China to the United States, was sized according to how much water that nation consumes. In another area, 5-foot-high hourglass-like tubes were stocked with ores, such as steel and copper, sifting through them like grains of sand, visually demonstrating how fast the minerals are vanishing. In the area devoted to Earth, a 105-foot-diameter globe 36 called "Blue Earth," appeared to dissolve and reform into layers signifying the metastasis of transportation and energy and how those needs deplete our resources - all with a graphical power text alone could rarely equal.
As simple as the Urban Planet Pavilion was elaborate, the 3,500-square-foot World Wide Fund for Nature Pavilion used ingenious visual aids that communicated its ecological message. The pavilion, designed and fabricated by EWI Worldwide, used five 21-inch touchscreens 37 with black-and-white Flash-based games to demonstrate how Green choices affect the world in areas such as forestry, transportation, and recycling. Users could, for example, drop a carton in a trash can or a recycling bin. If you chose the latter, the game showed trees being chopped down and sad pandas trying to survive. But if you chose the former, the screen filled with pandas enjoying their lives.
While exhibitors are unlikely to experience the epic challenges the designers and organizers responsible for the Expo 2010 pavilions faced, there are more similarities between the World's Expo and trade shows than there are differences. So we anticipate that exhibits and events, just as they have for more than a century, will incorporate the aforementioned trends into their DNA, and wait with bated breath until 2015 when the world once again comes together - this time in Milan, Italy - to set a new standard to which the industry can aspire.
For more of EXHIBITOR's coverage of Expo 2010 in Shanghai, China, visit www.ExhibitorOnline.com/Expo2010. E