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What is good design?

This question has come up more than once in recent months around our company.  As we have seen a flurry of design opportunities present themselves this summer, the discussion as we prepare to present to the client usually gets around to this idea of ‘good design’.  The designer, the sales team and the client always seem to have differing views of good design.

The discussion of what makes for good exhibit design is a continuing conversation – one that never seems to be definitively decided between these three groups.  Personal experience, education, and individual preferences and sensibilities formulate one’s unique perspective on what good design is.  These individual observations just add to the ongoing dialogue.

It seems that for the average person, the value of good design is more of an ephemeral thing than an element of real consequence.  You can’t live without basic necessities; however, for most of us, quality design is not one of them.

Good design is, after all, totally conceptual, not a substance that can be touched and held or summed up with a calculator.  Completely subjective to the beholder, I would argue that good design is more akin to a human feeling than any tangible object.  And that is exactly the problem.

I can recall numerous instances where I have presented a design that I thought was absolutely spectacular and the client viewed it nonchalantly and then chose another design.  Or when my main contact and I have both agreed that the design was perfect for them only to have the senior executive select another company’s design because he ‘liked purple.’

Unfortunately, good design is not something that can be easily agreed upon and is not fully appreciated or valued by the average person in the same way as something more concrete.  We tend to value things that are quantifiable.  Quality exhibit design is not only difficult to quantify but for many, is just plain difficult to even recognize.

The challenge for designers is to take the needs and wants of the client and transform them into a physical manifestation of those needs and wants – to make the ideas come to life.  It must be a balance of what the designer considers ‘good design’ and what the client requires in the space.

We’ve all seen exhibit designs that are absolutely stunning in their appearance; yet they do not answer the basic requirements of the client.  In this case it is not important that the designer feels it captures the elements of good design; if it doesn’t meet what the client needs, it doesn’t matter.  The opposite is also true: We’ve seen exhibits built that have responded to the checklist of items that have to be in there, but they are turn-your-head-away ugly.  The challenge is finding the balance between the two.

There is an important element to this process that can’t be neglected.  As an industry that typically does not charge in advance for design, (that’s another subject for another column) the ability to sell the project to the client is an important element of the equation.  It may be an award-winning design, but if the client won’t buy it, so what?  We must be able to respond to the clients needs, educate them along the way and then provide the solution that meets those needs as well as provide good design in the process.

So what is good design?  It’s a solution that meets the requirements set out by the client, creates an environment that responds to the elements of good design – as agreed upon by those involved – and sells.  Simple, right?

See you on the show floor.

Jim Obermeyer has been in the tradeshow industry 29 years, both as a corporate trade show manager and exhibit house executive.  He is a partner in the trade show and event marketing firm Reveal.  He can be reached at jobermeyer@revealexhibits.com.

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