Shop To Showfloor:Staying Ahead of the Design Curve with AR, VR, AI and More by Cynthya Porter
Each year, exhibit design professionals throw down their bets on what trends will dominate the trade show industry during the coming months to help exhibitors stay ahead of the design curve. Predictions for 2018 varied widely, with some saying booths would get more simple while others said they would be more elaborate, and some saying signage would get bolder and brighter while others said the trend would be for graphics that are understated and simple. There were a few points on which exhibiting experts generally agreed, however, and trade shows so far this year seem to be proving those predictions to be right on the money.
Grass, wood, moss, rusted metal, and embossed surfaces have all been on the decorating scene for a while, but they are getting an update to something that is more industrial chic than antique or rustic looking, design professionals say. “I foresee 2018 being the year for bold sophistication,” says Ingrid Adolphs of Perfect Surroundings Intl., a national spokescompany for CORT Events. “Marble stays. Mixed metallic finishes will remain but silver will be taking the back seat and copper, brass, and bronze will take on more important roles. That said, muted earth tones like rose and terra cotta are also on trend, but I expect to see them paired with unusual combinations of geometric and tribal pattern, colorful accents, and faux fur, velvets and leathers.”
Found objects painted bold colors, black lacquers, and vibrant contrasts are all in the mix as well, experts say, as are industrial-looking accents that give an exhibit an aura of genuineness and honesty.
Now more than ever, professionals say, exhibitors need to figure out how to make attendees feel something positive if they want to be remembered beyond the show floor. “Whether you consciously think about creating an experience or not, you, your stand team, and your stand create an experience with every visitor who comes near to or into your stand,” says publisher David O’Beirne in his experiential design blog for Exhibitors Only. Bearing that in mind, he says, exhibitors must be purposeful about the impression attendees walk away with.
Experiential design can be as simple as a touchscreen display that attendees can explore or as elaborate as letting attendees choose the lighting and scents in the booth during their visit. “But an experience in an exhibit should tie into the brand story somehow or it’s just a ploy that serves little purpose and will be forgotten,” says Char Livingston, a designer at Signess Exhibits. “It used to be that trade show attendees were passive receivers of information on the show floor. But now, millennials in particular want to interact with their environment, and the more you let them do that, the more likely they are to remember you.” Also important, she says, is that the experiences be social media-worthy because many millennials equate experiences with status and they like to share them. Savvy exhibitors will harness that passion for social media by making it as easy as possible for attendees to not only share, but also tag them.
Themes are back with a vengeance in 2018, experts say, driven primarily by a growing desire among exhibitors to be seen as unique. But also, Amy Benes writes for exhibit house Nimlok, themes are more often being seen as a way to fully integrate a brand campaign into the trade show environment. “In the age of integrated marketing, more and more marketers are carrying campaign themes through to their trade show booth and trade show marketing program,” Benes wrote for the company’s trend outlook blog. “Advances in fabric applications and extrusion frames allow for more creative, brand-embodying exhibit designs that can better translate an overlying campaign theme.”
Strategists at Gilbert, a New York-based experiential design firm, agree. “Trade show booths with a theme will retain their edge,” the company wrote for its 2018 outlook. “While vendors will want to make sure that their booth reflects and enhances their brand, it pays off to be somewhat daring during theme selection. Create a theme that draws attendees in because consumers want to visit exciting, bright, and captivating booths.”
Though they say it is moving in more slowly than originally expected, industry experts still anticipate virtual reality and augmented reality to take a better foothold during the coming year. What may change, however, is the way in which it is used. “As new technologies make waves, exhibitors rush to include them in their stand design to make an impact,” says Kate Denny, a senior account director at U.K.-based Rapier Group. “But gone are the days when every event would feature at least a couple of virtual reality headsets in the mix. Today, tech usage is shifting from gimmicky to creative and functional.”
Another technology expected to come into its own – just as soon as exhibitors understand how to use it – is artificial intelligence (AI). But the AI at hand is much more Siri than “Space Odyssey 2001,” with strong potential for its functionality in helping booth staff access data on the fly. “Artificial intelligence tools can process, analyze, and present data far faster than humans, making them a potential gold mine for exhibitors,” says Jill Anonson, a manager of event solutions at ITA Group Inc. “Imagine being able to pull detailed company, product, or client statistics instantly on the show floor–you could instantly tailor your conversation to match booth visitors’ company size, industry, or product interest.”
The inherent risk of adding AI to an exhibit is that it could potentially usurp the human factor if it is relied on too heavily during client interactions. Using it as a resource for rather than a replacement for staff is the key, many said. “While artificial intelligence likely will not replace booth staff in 2018, there is a potential for the technology to make your staff more efficient on the show floor,” says Anonson.
Beyond those four common themes found in many predictions, there are a few other areas that figured prominently in the industry’s discussion about 2018 and beyond. The use of creative lighting is expected to become a thing, printed literature is expected to go away, and the matter of sustainability is expected to impact both booth design and the tchotchkes being given away.
But experts also agree that while they are only postulating what will be on the rise in the industry, the thing they know for sure is that the playing field of the trade show floor is changing and everyone needs to be ready to change with it. “As a highly connected society, visitors are expecting information to be conveyed in novel and innovative ways,” says Adam Dembovsky, sales manager at the South African firm Set Squared (Pty) Ltd. “The information you deliver is equally as important as how you deliver it: attendees are looking to be wowed.”
Wowing attendees, Livingston says, comes from both capturing their attention and telling them your story in a language they understand which, she says, helps deepen the relationship. “Some trends, like colors or design materials, are about style, while others are guideposts for how the industry is fundamentally changing because of the people in it,” Livingston says. “Companies have to consider their resources and their audience and decide where their investment should be. It could get expensive to chase every design trend that came around, while it could cost a company a lot if it dismisses the trends for how attendees want to interact at trade shows today.”