For exhibit and event professionals  

You Look Familiar But …

April 13, 2010 By Editor

How to use color to make your exhibit “pop”

by Caroline Meyers, MC² Creative Services

You Look Familiar But ...

Whether you're in the planning stages for a new exhibit or you're looking to revitalize an exhibit that's been around for a while, color is always a great place to start, regardless of your budget. And the changes don't have to be major.

For instance, if your company's brand colors are making your exhibit look outdated, of course, you can't change them. Just don't overwhelm the exhibit with these colors. Highlight them instead.

2010 Colors of the YearPantone has chosen turquoise as its fashion color of the year for 2010, citing “the serene qualities of blue and the invigorating aspects of green,” evoking “thoughts of soothing, tropical waters and a languorous, effective escape from the everyday troubles of the world, while at the same time restoring our sense of well-being.” If Pantone's record holds true, turquoise could be the big exhibits/events color in 2011.

Color Marketing Group, an international organization of color design professionals, named Mardi Grape, “a sophisticated crossover between purple, brown and gray,” its 2010 Next Color. CMG predicts this “purple [will be used] as a neutral for the very first time” this year in a variety of industries.

As MC² Northeast Design Manager Vince Addison explains: “When we work with a client, we don't inundate the exhibit with that company's colors. For example, we may use a corporate red to complement other colors, such as grays or neutrals, and to accent areas they want people to focus on, like a new product. Color is great for attracting attention.”

Color can also create a unified message. Although your company may have corporate colors, you don't have to restrict yourself to these precise colors. Expand your vision and look at other members of the color palette. Then make slight variations as you update your exhibit, always keeping the original color palette in mind. By combining the standard shade with its variations, you can create a varied color scheme while maintaining the feel and look from your Web site to collateral to marketing efforts to the tradeshow floor.

Senior Graphic Designer Brendan Dooley, MC² San Francisco, says, “We look at the palette and colors clients are using that speak their brand and tone. We stay with those colors and palette. But we stray from these to find accents when needed.

“If clients have existing colors, we find the color palette to set the tone or meet the theme of their shows.”

If you want a more drastic change to your color scheme or can't decide what accent color is right for you, how do you know which to use to give your exhibit the most up-to-date look? Use Pantone Fashion Reports to find out about the latest color trends. It provides its fashion color of the year, and the events and exhibits industry often follows what fashion does the year before. (If you work with an exhibit house, a designer can provide expert counsel on a color selection that's right for your brand.)

Light me up

Cycling through LEDs on a predetermined schedule changes the color palette of an exhibit.

Lighting also provides a dramatic effect at a remarkably reasonable cost. Today's LED lighting is thinner, lighter and more affordable than before, making it the newest addition to the industry toolbox. With LED lighting, you can change colors easier and less expensively. Plus, with different colored lights, you can change the look of individual products or your entire exhibit multiple times at one show.

MC² Chief Marketing Officer Rob Murphy has seen this firsthand: “With one client, we placed LEDs all around the exhibit, which had white subsurfaces. We cycled through colors on a predetermined schedule, so the color palette changed. People actually gathered around to watch the effect. And it didn't cost a fortune. LED lighting is extremely affordable, so even companies with small booths can afford it.”

Dealing with the material world

Not so long ago, it seemed like every company wanted an exhibit that said high-tech, with lots of metal and glass. But what was once the newest thing has gotten old. Now, more exhibitors are going for the natural look and feel of cork, woods and bamboo. These surface materials are warmer and more luxurious than metal. And they have an effect on color, looking more natural than metal does.

Fabrics are also a new trend to consider. They provide a relatively inexpensive large color field. They weigh significantly less than other materials, reducing shipping costs. And lighting on neutral-toned fabrics can create powerful, saturated colors hard materials can't approximate.

According to Design Director Chris Virtuoso of MC² Northeast, “Samsung made definite changes this year [at the Consumer Electronics Show]. Its exhibit had organic, sinuous lines, yet it was monochromatic, so it appeared light and current. Neutral materials and lighting added a modern feel.”

“Green” goes with everything

With the environment and green efforts in the spotlight these days, adding eco-friendly elements to your exhibit can be a good idea. Fabrics and colors come into play here, as well.

Today's exhibits are more organic, with fabrics, grass cloth, earth tones and shades of green. Fabrics convey an eco feel. Plus, if they have a pattern or texture, they don't need to be printed, saving on inks — and printing costs.

What if earth tones and greens aren't in your palette — how do you say “green” then? Stay with your defined palette, but tone down the brightness for more of an eco feel.

The road to change

So, where should you begin when you're ready for a color change? Do a deep dive into your company's culture and brand. Decide on your goal, what you're trying to convey. Often, it's quite simple — making your exhibit homey and comfortable, warm and accessible, so visitors will stick around longer. Remember, you want to invoke people, not provoke them.

Sometimes, with so many options to choose from, you may be tempted to make your design — or redesign — more complicated than it needs to be. Color can be a simple but very powerful tool to make your brand “pop” on the show floor. And by adding lighting and natural elements, you can update your brand — quickly and inexpensively — while maintaining your corporate identity.


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