Exhibit Design Trends: New Tools for the Trade (Show)
Around this time every year, marketers and exhibit managers will begin to look at new and emerging exhibit design trends to help inform their next space on the show floor. While it’s important to be aware of the latest and greatest when planning your exhibit program, it’s even more important to understand how to make trends work for your exhibit.
eConnections spoke with Chris Virtuoso, national design director for MC2, on the biggest trends in exhibit design and why he believes trends should be looked at like tools.
eConnections: What are the biggest exhibit design trends today?
Chris Virtuoso: There are a lot of exciting things happening on the show floor today. The biggest trend, by far, is the emergence of event tech – Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), Artificial Intelligence (AI). These aren’t just buzzwords. These technologies are transforming our industry by creating new and exciting ways to bring experiences to life and support a smarter exhibiting program. However, technology is not the only tool for that. Oftentimes, what can be equally effective, is following the old adage–what’s old is new again. That is, bucking the trends and standing out in a crowded sea of the latest trends. In the end, you have to make the trends work for you.
Another big trend we’re seeing is the continued shift from storytelling to storydoing.* We are seeing more and more exhibits where the attendee is not just a passive participant – they’re engaging with all the senses. It’s a more tactile experience. This idea touches on my roots as a scenic designer. The idea of having a stage upon which to experience a story. If not at a tradeshow, then where?
Finally, two more major trends we’re seeing evolve are the Instagram-ready experience and data-informed exhibits.
How do trends drive exhibit design?
Simply put, trends do not drive the design. Trends are tools. In designing an exhibit, there are many different puzzle pieces. The designer has to figure out which ones to use, and which ones to leave out.
Often times, marketing teams see really cool technology on the show floor and think they need to incorporate that into their exhibit to be innovative or relevant. But you have to look at what the end goal is. What you are trying to accomplish or tell – that is what, specifically, you are looking to achieve, not having a trend for trend's sake.
So you have to ask yourself: What are the best tools for this exhibit? If you are using a trend just because it’s a trend, it may not be serving you in the best interest. I believe that if it’s enhancing the exhibit, go for it. But if it’s not, become a leader by doing something different. If everyone incorporates the same trend, the exhibit looks like everything else. So you can’t let that be the driver for exhibit space.
In terms of event tech – AR, AI, VR – where are these technologies going and how are they being used? How important are they to the brand experience?
As I said, these aren’t just buzzwords. AR/VR is incredibly important and will (continue to) have a major impact on our industry. As the technology develops, it will help deliver more memorable experiences.* However, these technologies are to be thought of as tools, only to be used in service of the proper story or message, not be THE message!
Across industries, brands and companies are designing products, food, and beverages, restaurants even, to be “Instagram-ready”. What is that and how important is it to the design of an exhibit experience?
This is becoming more and more relevant; especially when the engagement is coordinated with a data capture campaign of some kind. The power of having images shared on social media is great and is implemented easily, but it is important to keep the image relevant to furthering the intended message, brand or campaign so that the “hits” can be used to support ROI.*
Speaking of ROI, it seems event tech is allowing for more sophisticated data capture. How can this data drive exhibit design?
Data is an interesting subject. It should be captured from every activation* in order to enable the event coordinator to learn what was successful or not, the record number of hits per activation, understand dwell time and see what the audience responded to. Using the data gleaned from a tour, experience or activity is powerful and a key to future tweaks to program planning and understanding various audiences.
Exhibit design trends come and go, but they aren’t your message. Trends are the means, not ends in themselves. When used effectively in your exhibit’s design, the latest trend can be an impactful experience that tells the story of your brand – prompting conversations, reaching all the senses. But ultimately, it’s your message that will attract the attention – and wallets – of potential customers to your brand.
Chris Virtuoso, National Design Director, MC², manages creative content for all tradeshow, events, live marketing, and permanent facilities projects throughout the network. His experience includes project management, account management, and business development with a extensive knowledge of our processes. He brings an aesthetic eye to all projects, that integrates his experience of estimating, logistics and presentation technique to each project.
*Case study examples of exhibit design trends
Storydoing: Michelin’s show floor simulator
VR: Toyota’s Mirai activation at the Boston HUBWeek
Instagram-ready event: Toyota’s activation at the Environmental Media Awards
Cumulative data capture: Mack Truck’s exhibit at the Mid America show