Designing for the Trade Show Environment
I had to break out of my two-dimensional comfort zone and conceptualize in terms of “environment.” I also had to think BIG. This was not a two-inch logo, this was a six-foot logo.
It’s a rare treat for a designer to see their work blown up on a wall sixteen feet high, but I recently experienced that elation with the design of my company’s new tradeshow booth. It was well worth the hours spent agonizing over a compute, wondering and hoping that the flat, dislocated images on my screen would elegantly snap together and form a 20’x20’ trade show booth.
Actually, the whole experience was kind of an adrenaline rush.
The company I work for garners the majority of our business through trade shows, and part of our growth includes a brand new trade show presence that is larger, pricier and generally more kick-ass than our old ones. We were using a trio of 10’x10’ booths, but we found ourselves getting lost in the sea of signage at larger events. Naturally, we had to up the competition.
We contacted several companies that specialize in large-scale graphics and booth design. The bidding process took months. After the initial contact, receiving renders, meeting with vendors, deciding on a final design and getting everyone on the same page, we had burned over two months off our schedule.
Add to that several weeks of CAD design time that included more than one afternoon-long marathon conference call, and it was a solid three to four months before construction even began. That being said, the final result was worth the effort. Some highlights of the design:
- 20’x20’ footprint. Four times larger than our previous designs.
- Six large plasma screens running looping Flash demos. Several machines have a wireless mouse and keyboard for quick access to a completely loaded demo environment for quick, manual presentations. There are five actual computers in the booth, all connected wirelessly.
- Dedicated reception area.
- “Private” conference area. This is like a miniature living room in one corner of the booth: a chair, coffee table and sofa face a 42” plasma screen, which is accessible by a DVI cable and tiny KVM switch so a salesperson can give a demo from their laptop.
- Huge branding effort. The two largest walls are 16’ high and 6’ wide. Everything is doused in our corporate colors, lifestyle pics and massive logo impressions. One wall is solid orange (Pantone 130) and should be clearly seen across the show floor.
While the vendor was in charge of the physical booth design—the actual CAD work—I was brought in as the graphic designer, responsible for wall signage, messaging and color placement.
Since I do not work in 3D, it was hard to conceptualize a physical area, and I constantly found myself concentrating on putting myself inside the space and seeing what would work best. For instance, if one wall was solid orange, would the other walls be different enough for a person to distinguish from a few dozen feet away? Would the signage be legible from an angle? Are the logos big enough? Should we have any interior graphics at all or leave the walls white? Maybe we should have a fishbowl with a goldfish on the reception desk?
I had to break out of my two-dimensional comfort zone and conceptualize in terms of “environment.” I also had to think BIG. This was not a two-inch logo, this was a six-foot logo. These pictures were three feet wide. This one word is over a foot long. Would the graphics be too small? Too big? Would they work at twenty feet and twenty inches?
There was more than one technical headache, not the least of which came from Adobe Illustrator. The files were RGB, graphics were 150 dpi and embedded directly into the file (no linking nonsense), and all fonts were converted to outlines. I am actually convinced the program has a memory leak. From a fresh open on my 2Ghz machine (with 2GB of RAM), I could save the largest file in less than three minutes; after about an hour of working, saves slowed down to ten minutes and performance was abysmal. Closing the program (not even rebooting the machine) would fix everything. I also experienced random crashes and stupid little bugs, like guides locking right after I unlocked them.
I have always thought of Illustrator as a buggy, bloated program that Adobe desperately needs to rethink from the ground up, and this experience cemented my conviction. I am slowly understanding why people who use CorelDRAW speak so derisively toward Illustrator.
Besides my frustrations with Adobe’s software, the whole experience was a rare treat. After all, how often does the average designer get to see their work looming sixteen feet in the air? Not nearly enough, I think, and it gives trade show designers—people who do this full time—a newfound respect.
Update 2004-09-25: Now with pictures: