Which Comes First: The Booth or the Graphics?
How 2-D and 3-D design can collaborate for a better exhibit
eConnections speaks with MC2 designers Brendan Dooley and Saul Stokes
The age-old puzzler about the chicken and the egg is a mind-boggler without a clear resolution. But when it comes to exhibit design, determining whether the booth or graphics comes first is another matter.
To get the answer to this question — and find out about how 2-D and 3-D design work together — eConnections recently spoke with MC2 Senior Graphic Designer Brendan Dooley and Senior Designer Saul Stokes. Here’s what they had to say.
eConnections: Which comes first: the booth or the graphics?
Brendan Dooley: We always think first of creating a brand experience and how that will be best achieved. Working together and bouncing ideas off each other [2-D and 3-D experts] throughout the process keep us from thinking in terms of graphics or structure and which comes first. We think of both and how they work together.
We also strive to create consistency without necessarily knowing our clients’ future marketing objectives — how to develop elements structurally and experientially so they can accommodate changes in brand and messaging. In addition, we consider the shows the clients are going to and how they will be able to change the overarching message from show to show over the long run.
Saul Stokes: Things are always going to change, so it’s important to create enough visual space for future graphic work, such as a tall, large wall with a fabric piece for different types of printing. At the same time, we don’t want to “genericize” a design in order to make it future-proof.
Typically, you start to see a design aging within two to three years. By five years, it looks outdated because technology changes. For instance, not too many years ago, you had to design demo stations to accommodate tube monitors. Today’s thin screens take up a fraction of the countertop space.
eConnections: What happens when the 3-D design is complete before graphic design is addressed?
Dooley: Since most booths are designed for multiple shows and configurations with plans for future graphic areas, 2-D constantly reevaluates opportunities after the first show if the client is not reusing graphics. Whether the booth is being used for a different target audience (such as B2B or consumer) or different configuration, 2-D works to maintain brand standards and graphic opportunities on a 3-D completed structure.
In cases where graphic design is not budgeted or needed because the client is using an agency or its own in-house design team, 2-D works to create an understanding of graphic opportunities for them. It may involve helping the client understand dimensions, elevations and sight lines or simply graphic production methods and standards. Either way, the goal is to support fully integrated graphics in the 3-D environment, enhancing the attendee experience.
Stokes: Today’s 3-D designers might work on a project without 2-D interaction but most understand and implement exhibits that are a fusion of both design types. In many cases, we’re seeing 3-D designers with 2-D skill sets and vice versa.
eConnections: How do you handle agency-supplied graphics?
Dooley: Many times, an agency or in-house design department’s work heavily influences or dictates the structure. We work together to ensure the graphics and brand opportunities are understood both internally and externally, as well as how they can be fully utilized. To do this, we provide booth concepts, complete elevations and isometric views, production specifications and standards. Then, when we receive production-ready files, we review them to see how they apply to the elevations and structure to ensure quality and brand consistency.
If necessary, we show the placement of those files in an elevation format and, in some cases, a complete rendering in 3-D. In these ways, we help the client understand how the graphics will look on the wall, in the space and at the show, as well as how the graphics intersect with the existing structure.
It’s important for exhibit professionals to ask the right questions of their exhibit partners who will, in turn, supply renderings, drawings and elevations so they can see where the graphic opportunities are.
eConnections: What is the relationship between form and message?
Dooley: An exhibit’s function or message — the individual parts that show off the product in the most effective way — is more important than the form, which is the interaction with the brand from as far away as possible. By this, I mean when someone approaches the booth, the brand should be readily apparent. The messaging can change from show to show and vertical market to vertical market.
Stokes: I see a lot of attention being paid to the comfortable nature of an exhibit, the idea of creating a “home” for the booth workers rather than concentrating on the big picture. Sometimes, trying to implement these things into the design can work against a grand or bold idea. It might work to your benefit to give your designers the freedom to think “outside the booth,” even if it means sacrificing a bit of storage or comfort.
Dooley: Another way to think outside the booth is to know what your competitors are likely to do and where they’re located in the show hall. Often, companies use the same booth for different shows. Your knowledge of your competitors can be a benefit to your exhibit design — if you share it with your exhibit partner.
eConnections: What’s the function of a demo station header?
Dooley: In most cases, a demo station header acts as means of letting attendees know where to go to participate in a particular experience. The header also should provide a message, activate an interaction with a booth staffer and/or aid the staffer’s talking points.
Whether it’s a face-to-face experience, a simple demo or a media or product interactive, the header should be clear and uncluttered. But don’t get into the details of the demo; that’s the role of the booth staff or standalone media.
eConnections: How do graphics contribute to the focus of an exhibit?
Stokes: In the past several years, big changes have occurred in the exhibit industry. Graphic messages can now be very large, and line work and colors for graphics are at a point where the brand emerges from 2-D and 3-D in different ways. Graphics can be bigger and bolder than the architectural message, and it’s the synergy between the two that creates the focus.
Dooley: Part of it is the materials used. For instance, today’s fabrics are light and interchangeable, and allow a quick production turnaround. You can think much bigger with fabric. But whether it’s a simple message or large mural, the focus must be clear and coherent.
Stokes: Because printing and materials have changed, graphic design can tell a more relevant story than the architecture itself. With hanging signs and ribbons that wrap the perimeter of the booth, 2-D provides the form to hold the messaging and brand look.
Electronic media does the same thing, and it’s more relevant today, in large part, because of size and availability. Projection capabilities have come so far, we can now tile over a span and map a projection onto a 3-D structure.
eConnections: How does the collaboration of 2-D and 3-D experts add value to an exhibit?
Dooley: Collaboration allows us to take a better look at how the overall space can be used and ensure the brand remains consistent across multiple areas. We see a project from different perspectives and come up with solutions together.
2-D used to mean print, but now, it’s considered to be environmental branding. It includes not only print but also electronic media, fabric and other elements, and it incorporates different sizes and aspect ratios.
Stokes: The era of 3-D design being detached from 2-D is long over. The exhibit experience is, by its very nature, a 3-D experience. But to relegate 2-D work to post design is a big mistake. That’s why exhibitors should request both kinds of designers from the beginning, whether they’re creating an exhibit or updating an existing one.
Saul Stokes, senior designer for MC2, became a professional designer of exhibits and environments in 1997. He expresses each client’s message and brand with a bold approach to space and architecture across multiple platforms ranging from trade shows to corporate interiors, customer briefing centers and point-of-purchase displays, domestically as well as internationally. He understands brand hierarchy and the importance of marrying the multiple needs of a company’s marketing groups and products to a unifying, cohesive and well-thought-out concept. Stokes has designed for many top-tier clients, such as Cisco Systems, Samsung, Levi Strauss & Co., Logitech and Acer.
Brendan Dooley, senior graphic designer at MC2, develops, implements and champions clients’ brands throughout all phases of a project. He creates immersive customer experiences for events, executive briefing centers and exhibits, domestically and around the world. Dooley joined MC2 in 2006 and has over 15 years of creative and graphic design experience working with brands such as Cisco Systems, Levi Strauss & Co., Orange, Acer, Motorola, Polycom, John Deere, Symantec, Samsung, McAfee, Logitech, Sling Media, Hisense and LG Electronics. He serves on the board of art in Every Classroom, Inc. in San Francisco and has received an AIGA San Francisco People’s Choice Award for his illustration work.