For exhibit and event professionals  

Why Work With a Lighting Designer?

September 7, 2011 By Editor

The costs may be too great if you don’t
by Chris Virtuoso, MC² Design Director

Chances are you’re employing lighting in your events and exhibits, but are you maximizing the effect of these magnificent assets? When I work on new exhibits for our clients, our designers are used to me harping on the importance of lighting the renderings properly and ultimately, if built, planning a theatrical experience with a lighting designer.

For me, trade shows are theater and, at a minimum, need the elegance of a properly lit set. When let loose, a creative lighting designer can literally make magic in an otherwise commonplace space. I’m not downplaying the power of good architecture — but when lit well, an exhibit becomes energized, like a magnet. It has so much more draw and excitement that its value to its owner makes the additional cost a nonissue. It’s sad that many clients don’t understand the value of lighting and consequently don’t budget for it.

We frequently work with Paul Fine from Fine Design Associates Inc. for our most challenging and important shows and many times for our “A” clients like Canon, Verizon and Samsung. Although we’ve worked with many lighting designers, Paul’s approach fits with our design sensibilities, and he has more real-time solutions than anyone else we know. He’s also a good communicator who keeps the details all buttoned up, so it’s easy to stay on the same page.

We involve him from the start — that is to say, from the earliest stages of our designs. We believe lighting is so integral to our design process that it must have a voice as we prepare our concepts.

For many people, lighting is an afterthought, where the designer is asked to light what exists to enhance and support the architecture and messaging. But when considered upfront in the planning, lighting design can, at times, be the single most important element in the exhibit’s presentation.

Not everyone is in the position to build a new exhibit and incorporate a lighting designer, which then begs the question, “How can I use lighting to enhance what I have?” When this is the case, I suggest you consult with an expert, and here’s why.

Just adding lighting fixtures may brighten up your space and bring some needed attention to certain areas, but consulting with an expert will make you aware of all the possibilities open to you and allow you to make some spectacular choices. You’ll also be informed of all the necessary tactical details you may not otherwise consider such as install times, power requirements, load-in schedules and interfacing with your I&D vendor. Like all experts, a good lighting designer saves you from the perils of inexperience.

Paul Fine has retrofitted a number of designs with spectacular results. For example, on one occasion, we were required to integrate more aggressive lighting than was originally planned with an additional, heroic feature — projected AV. We thought from the outset that these two requirements could be in conflict, given the close proximity of fixtures and illuminated surfaces.

Paul created a blended mix of soft and hard illumination that enhanced the projected AV surfaces and used lighting to paint color and texture where added emphasis was needed. The end result was integrated and didn’t conflict with the AV technically or with the messaging. The real solution was achieved in the communication and planning between Fine Design and our AV supplier. Their coordination eliminated any concerns we had.

Great lighting can only be had through the efforts of an experienced, credentialed designer. As with all aspects of managing an exhibit or event program, managing the participants can be one of the biggest, most critical challenges. The ideal situation is when all project and asset managers are communicating well.

Fine Design is a great example of an MC² outside vendor that we call a partner. From our perspective as designers and builders, a partner looks out for you and your client first — knowing that without successful delivery, there may not be a second chance.

About the Author

Chris Virtuoso is a design director for MC² and a graduate of industrial design. He began his career working as a project manager for Lincoln Scenic Studios, a large New York City scenic shop. While there, he worked on projects that included “The Cosby Show,” “Sesame Street,” the First Annual MTV Awards, numerous soap operas and many TV commercials. He then moved into freelance design for exhibit houses and industrial projects as well as residential interiors. Later, as design director for a New Jersey-based exhibit company, he lent his talents to clients such as the NBA, NHL, TWA Airlines, Mitsubishi Lithographic Press, USA and Warner Bros. Consumer Products. Chris then joined MC² in 1999 and has been applying his 25-plus years of experience as account executive, senior account manager and now design director.

For more information, visit www.mc-2.com or check out our blog, MC2Talks, at http://MC2Talks.mc-2.com/. Follow MC2 on Twitter @MC2_Exhibits and @MC2_FastTrak and fan MC2 on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/MC2Exhibits.


  • I come from a film production background so I loved your article about how “planning a theatrical experience with a lighting designer” can accentuate the attendee’s experience and draw them more to a certain exhibit. Thank you for emphasizing this!

    What about hiring a lighting designer to give that theatrical experience but to the whole show floor! Has anyone ever done this? Would it be terribly expensive for the show organizer?

    I believe shows with certain themes could definitely benefit from this and creating a specific mood may contribute to create for the attendees an atmosphere that enlivens their “shopping senses”. I’d love to hear what you think about this idea.

    Warm regards,
    Susana Sánchez Seabrook
    Show Director/Manager, CEM
    Mexico City

  • Write a Reply or Comment

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *