The Future of Exhibit Design
Bemidji students inspire industry professionals
eConnections speaks with Philip Lauzon, MC2 creative director
Most of today’s exhibit designers come from an industrial, architectural or interior design background. But the times are changing.
At Minnesota’s Bemidji State University, students can earn a bachelor’s degree in exhibit design. Each spring, industry professionals evaluate the students’ portfolios. One of this year’s judges was Philip Lauzon, MC2 creative director. Below, he discusses his experience at Bemidji, the changing world of exhibit design and what industry professionals can learn from the university’s students.
eConnections: What are the categories for the exhibits you review at Bemidji?
Philip Lauzon: They can be traditional trade show exhibits, mall installations and more. For select projects, the students chose their own clientele, and they presented their three best works.
One student designed a mall kiosk environment for EOS lip balm. It had a unique feature — egg-shaped pods that looked like the lip-balm container. For the mall kiosk assignment, the guidelines appeared to be relaxed, and the students were allowed to design creatively to match their chosen brand.
eConnections: When you review a student’s exhibit, what elements of its appearance do you concentrate on?
Lauzon: I look to see if it tells the brand’s story, and it’s an environment where visitors can connect with the company, not just the next cool material, technology, shape or architecture for architecture’s sake. The integration of products and the journey the exhibit provides are important, too — how an exhibit immerses a visitor in an experience.
Other factors I look for are rendering quality and the ability to sketch. Many students go straight to the computer and avoid drawing, but in our business, raw thumbnail sketches really enhance presentations.
Additionally, video can be a powerful presentation tool, and when used, the best animations tell the story of a space by bringing the viewer in, not just spinning around the exterior.
Beyond visuals, I concentrate on the presenter. I look for confidence and the ability to passionately convey a great idea. Designers today aren’t just sitting at a computer all day; now, they are a critical part of the sales and information-gathering process.
eConnections: What do you look for in the content?
Lauzon: Our industry has moved from merely building exhibit architecture to creating canvases for media and content. Being able to fold technology into a space is very important. Technology is critical in any exhibit; it brings a space to life.
eConnections: How relevant is the narrative?
Lauzon: It’s essential to have a good story behind the space that represents the brand and product. Without a narrative, an exhibit can be a cold, empty space.
eConnections: How is technology changing?
Lauzon: Every year, we see new exhibit technology, like big LED video screens and 3-D projection mapping. Screens and billboards that come alive are replacing flat posters. I’ve also seen fully digital spaces with massive video walls and projection surfaces.
At a show, you may feel like you’re too busy to get out of your own space and walk the floor, but you have to so you can stay on top of the new technologies and the environments your competitors have created.
eConnections: What recent trends in exhibit design have you noticed?
Lauzon: Fabric has become the go-to material, especially for larger exhibits. People are using it to create walls that look solid but aren’t. Large sheets of fabric are light and less expensive to ship and allow you to change the look and theme of your space quickly.
Color has also been a key trend over the past few years. Exhibitors have switched from cold, corporate colors to bright, candy colors, reflecting a more optimistic time. Whimsy is apparent, too, thematic pieces that are one-off just for the fun of it.
Lighting’s become more critical, too, with even the smallest exhibits getting a more sophisticated look by controlling the ambient light or spotlighting products.
Plus, exhibitors used to put out tons of product to attract visitors. Now, they count on narratives and storytelling with a great media presentation to entice visitors into a space.
eConnections: How can exhibit/event professionals stay on top of these kinds of trends?
Lauzon: In addition to walking the show floor, keep your eyes open in day-to-day life and take pictures with your phone for later reference. Also, look for interesting design elements wherever you go or while you watch TV. For instance, I like to watch live performance shows to see the set and stage designs.
Many online sites can also help. Watch a TED.com inspirational talk every day. Or go to the design blogs like notcot.com or join several different design discipline groups on LinkedIn.
eConnections: Based on what you’ve seen on the show floor, what lessons do you think professionals could learn from design students?
Lauzon: Forget what you know. Students don’t always know what works, so they come up with different, fun things. Plus, experienced designers may repeat a step or detail too often just because they know it works.
The students have a drive, a hunger, a sparkle. They get so excited about everything. Try to rediscover those qualities, and push yourself to be creative.
Philip Lauzon, MC2 Southwest creative director, oversees all dimensional design solutions in coordination with clients’ existing brand standards, corporate marketing efforts and targeted event objectives. Prior to joining MC2 in 2009, he was the owner and principal designer of SpatialArt Studios, a creative resource developed for the live event and exhibit community. Previously, Lauzon was the senior designer at Exhibit Dynamics and principal of creative strategy at Phoenix FORMations, Inc., guiding all creative endeavors at both companies.
An accredited CTSM speaker, Lauzon has co-authored and presented several sessions at Exhibitor show and ExhibitorFastTrak, including the currently scheduled Collaborate. Create. Succeed. Maximize Results Through the Power of Design.