Four Keys To Designing A New Trade Show Exhibit

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Let’s face it. Designing a new trade show exhibit is hard. There are practical things it has to accomplish, as well as physical limitations on its size and weight. You’ve also got a budget to deal with.

Then there are all the opinions on what it should look like from people at every level of your company. These criteria can baffle newbies and veterans alike.

So how do you deal with all those factors and create a trade show display booth that does what it needs to do, while looking great at the same time? Here are some suggestions that have proven to be helpful for our clients.

1. Get Clarity From The Start:
Since your trade show booth does need to do certain things and exist within certain limitations, find out what those will be at the very beginning of your design process. Nothing is as frustrating as being halfway down the path with your design and then having someone tell you it needs more storage, or it’s too tall.

You’ve got to begin your design process with all the information you can gather, from as many different sources as you can. Read the exhibitor manuals from your major shows and be sure your design will meet their standards. Speak with the people within your organization who’ll need to approve the design. Make certain your design will include their feedback and accomplish what they want.

Ask decision makers what they liked, and what they disliked, about previous exhibits. Don’t settle for generalities. Get specific, actionable feedback.

Determine what technologies you’ll be using in your new exhibit, so you can design that in from the start. Nothing looks as Mickey Mouse as slapping up a flat screen monitor on a wall with cords dangling out from behind it because it was an afterthought.

If you’ll be using digital signage, touchscreens, social media, or even proximity marketing (where messages are sent to the cellphones of people in the vicinity of your trade show exhibit), plan these things into the process of designing a new trade show exhibit at the outset. Don’t forget to plan space for the electronics that make all these things work. The same is true for the display lighting you’ll need throughout your booth.

2. Beg, Borrow And Steal:
Check out your competitors’ display booths. What are they doing better with their trade show exhibit than you are with your existing booth? The easiest way to do this is to walk the floor at each show and see what’s happening in other exhibits. Try to check out at least one display each time you visit the restroom or go for coffee or meals, if you don’t have one big block of time to scope out the entire show floor.

Have competitors incorporated a private (or semi-private) area for meetings with clients or prospects? Is there easy access to storage or the premiums they’re distributing? Does their product demo or presentation area look interesting and inviting? Have they come up with a better way of doing something you want to do? If so, lift it—but make it your own.

Don’t limit yourself to your own industry. Ask your exhibit company to take you to a show another client of theirs is exhibiting at in a different industry altogether. Look around for new ideas. Check out signage. Take notes and pictures. Ask questions. Develop useful intel.

And one more thing: don’t limit yourself to business, either. Attend plays and other theater shows and check out the sets and lighting for these productions. Often, you can discover a unique idea that can be applied to designing a new trade show exhibit to add a bit more theatricality or eye-catching flair.

3. Remember, Paper Is Cheap:
It’s hard to make changes to your design once construction has begun. So make your own sketches and floor diagrams to work out where everything needs to go. Take your top five trade show display ideas to your exhibit company to discuss them further. Ask them to create more detailed renderings of the best of these concepts.

Get buy-in from management with these renderings, so that any feedback that results in changes can be addressed before you move on to the more expensive phases of designing a new trade show exhibit, like 3D renderings or models.

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You’ll probably need those, too, to consider traffic flow, sightlines and dimensional restraints. But the more feedback you get earlier in the process, the fewer changes you’ll have to make to the 3D designs or, heaven forbid, the finished trade show exhibit.

4. Spend Plenty Of Time On Designing Your Graphics:
Your graphics can’t be an afterthought, either. They need to fit with your booth as a total package, not as something tacked on after the display has been designed.

Your exhibit graphics should harmonize with your marketing materials and product packaging. This helps create a consistent branding image.

If your booth is small, focus on one strong point in your graphics. Don’t try to say (or show) too much. It’ll only muddle the communication. Place text toward the top of your signage, so that people in front don’t block others’ view of it. Make sure text is large enough to be visible from twenty feet away. Don’t use a texture or a busy photo behind your text. It makes your message too difficult to read.

Your company name or logo doesn’t always have to be the biggest or most important element of your graphics. Sometimes, a killer positioning statement can create more interest and bring in more people. Telling people what you are is often more important (at least at first) than telling them who you are.

Remember, the best graphics don’t just attract people. They also disqualify those who aren’t your target market, so you’re not dealing with a booth full of non-prospects.


While there’s a lot you can do to help your company with designing a new trade show exhibit, you don’t need to do it all alone. Work with an exhibit company like American Image Displays that will help you determine the logistics of your display, provide 3D renderings of the design, and give you a wide range of choices in the look and feel of the exhibit you want. If you’re looking for a partner like this, give us a call at (888) 977-8076 or email [email protected]