Rule #1: Your trade show booth design must be second to your trade show booth experience.
Rule #2: There are no other rules. Your trade show booth design is fully scalable and customizable.
Rule #3: Rule #2 may have been a lie. Check with your exhibition for size/height and any other requirements.
You’ve decided to be an exhibitor at a trade show. We know all the things you shouldn’t do: hire booth babes, allow your staff to sit and play on their cell phones all day, wear high heels and hire booth babes. (Please don’t do that! Or any of these other trade show no-nos.)
Beware, don’t get too hung up on your trade show booth design at the beginning. First, there’s a few things you need to address. Number one, what are your trade show marketing objectives? Only once you understand how your trade show marketing drives the bottom line for your overall business plan, can you start planning your trade show messaging and display.
Your in-booth trade show experience should include an interactive activity. This will help attendees connect the dots back to your positioning and products. This could be a relevant game, a virtual reality installation or hands-on product stations. The more doing of your booth visitors, the more recalling they’ll have when they walk away. This is where your design skills need to be the sharpest.
It’s this trade show experience that is the most important factor in your trade show booth design. You’ll need to find a way to incorporate your activity into your booth space, first and foremost. Of course, you’ll also need to plan accordingly for your product displays or necessary monitors to show off your service offerings. If you don’t map out the interactive flow, your trade show booth will be higgledy-piggledy. Instead, design a smooth customer journey from brand discovery…to experience…to product handling.
After you consider the space requirements for your in-booth experience, think about designing your exhibit space for emotion. What emotional reaction do you want booth visitors to have? Is there an emotional feeling you’re trying to create? How will people feel when they interact with your brand experience? Based on this emotional response, you can begin to craft your visual and sensory appeal. What lighting, fabric textures, furniture or colors will elicit this precise emotional feeling?
When designing your trade show booth, don’t forget the walk-ability aspect. Will attendees feel comfortable walking into your booth? And what about dwell time? Will attendees want to stick around in this space, and is there an environment that welcomes them to do so?
As with all marketing, the experience, the space and the messaging all have to be designed for the trade show audience.
The main point is that if you jump too quickly to the trade show booth build, your design might miss the mark. Don’t let the build steal budget away from what you need to accomplish during the trade show. Flashy and fancy doesn’t equal qualified leads. You need to first design the relevant engagements, which will always outweigh how your booth looks. You could have the most beautiful, biggest and most expensive booth space in the expo, but if you’re not designing an experience inside that space, then you’re falling flat. You could build an elaborate castle, but it means bubkes if your booth visitors don’t leave your space feeling more connected to your brand. Your design don’t mean a thing if visitors don’t obtain a deeper understanding of how their lives will be forever changed once they sign on with you.
Trust me, blowing your budget on a trade show display without creating a full experience will always backfire. If you don’t produce results on your objectives, your trade show plan may get hit hard with budget cuts next year. And there it is again, the b-word rearing its ugly head.
Your trade show booth design needs to focus on your brand experience and the emotional response you’re provoking. Always start there.
Things to Consider
There’s always more to trade show booth design than meets the eye. Here are a few factors you need to weigh:
- Budget – how much of your trade show expenses should go to your build? Most exhibitors, according to Exhibitor Magazine, spend about 17% on design, graphic design, construction and production.
- Size of space – is your booth space a 10×10, a 10×20, a 20×20? Obviously, size matters. Height and even doorway size restrictions are things to take note of.
- Trade show schedule – how many shows do you exhibit at, and how many different sizes of booths do you use throughout your year? Design for re-use and scale whenever possible.
- Labor – who’s managing assembly, set-up and shipping of your booth assets? If this falls to your sales team, you’ll need to design for ease of handling.
- Marketing – how will your trade show convey your branding and positioning?
- Staffing – how many exhibitor staff will be in your booth? And how much “stuff” will they each be toting? It’s amazing how much space is required for coats, luggage, snacks…
- Maintenance – how long is the show? How do you plan to keep the booth looking top-notch each and every day? How to keep it clean and tidy?
Budget is at the top of the list, because it is usually the thing that drives your decisions. But don’t let it derail you. Staying focused on the attendees and the unique experience you’re designing for them still remain the most important design factors.
Inline v. Island
Beyond designing for the size of your space, you need to consider placement of your booth.
An inline booth, or linear booth, are the most common. They are arranged in a straight row, side by side, down an aisle. An inline booth would have one side (the front) open to trade show attendees. The sides and back of the booth usually touch another exhibitor’s booth. While most are 10×10 or 10×20, some exhibitors take out entire rows for more real estate. So you might find a 10×60, for example.
An island booth is usually a 20×20 or larger, often used by sponsors or large exhibitors at the show. They are often square and float in the middle of expo floors. All four sides are open, meaning it can attract traffic from any direction. Because they don’t bump up into other booths, they usually don’t have as strict of height requirements as inlines. Therefore, islands often have maximum visibility.
A peninsula booth is exposed to an aisle on three sides. It could either back up to inline booths or another peninsula booth. When it connects to another peninsula, that’s often referred to as a split-island booth.
A corner booth is an inline booth that is located on the end of the row, leaving it exposed on two sides.
A perimeter booth is a booth, usually inline, that is along the perimeter wall of an expo hall. Some studies show that perimeter booths get more passers by.
An end cap booth is positioned perpendicularly to a a row of inline booths, with its back against the outside sides of two inline booths. This leaves it open on three sides.
Depending on your in-booth experience, one style of trade show booth may work better than another. Plus, you know – location, location, location.
Once we know who we’re interacting with, how we’re engaging them, the size and space of the consumer journey, then we can get to the design details. The beauty is, everything is scalable. So whether you have a 10×10 inline or a 40×40 island, there are options for every exhibitor.
- Banner stands and table covers – even the most basic booth set-up can showcase your brand visually. Even on the smallest budget, you can support your trade show presence with quick, easy and lightweight signage.
- Pop-up backdrop wall with podiums – a very portable, do-it-yourself option is to use a pop-up backdrop wall with full-color graphics. Add in corresponding floor graphics, a hanging sign and matching podiums for a complete trade show booth kit. Compact size displays fit in carry-on cases that are easy to ship and store.
- Truss and beam system – aluminum truss and beam displays can be configured or reconfigured to fit many different booth sizes. Aluminum is more lightweight than steel and provides a great solution for building out a trade show structure. A lighting kit or sound system can easily be integrated into this style design.
- Modular designs – when you want a larger display but also want to save on shipping and drayage fees, a modular exhibit might be the right fit for you. This comes in lightweight components that can be installed on-site.
- Fully customized displays – to perfectly project your brand and meet your objectives, a fully customized display can be created specifically for you. The options, endless.
Our art team can help design any trade show space using a variety of hardware options. We also proudly partner with Caskey Group to produce, store, ship and set up trade show exhibits, no matter the size or complexity. Together, you’ve got a fully turnkey solution for your trade show booth design, experience and display.
Get creative with your trade show display! Consider elements that speak to your brand’s personality and values. Some examples:
- Greenery walls, made of plants and flowers, are a bold visual element that add texture and natural fragrance to your space.
- Pods or pop-up structures give you private rooms and unique spaces to design.
- Outdoor tents, even when used indoor, can provide a low-cost alternative to hardware while creating a glamping-style experience.
- Pallets and reusing other industrial materials is a trend in design, so why not work them into your trade show build?
- Tiny houses are also a trend, which can easily be custom-designed and built for your trade show needs.
- Large coloring walls provide a hands-on activity for kids of all ages.
- Murals, sculptures or other art installations can give your space a creative edge.
- Recreate a restaurant, lounge, office space, living room or other venue using the right mix of furniture and decor in your space.
- Balloon ceilings, flower petal walkways or feather tabletops use everyday items to create dramatic designs.
Your trade show booth design needs to represent how unique your brand is in the marketplace. A more creative approach to design can really help you stand out on the expo floor – and in attendees’ minds.
Your trade show booth design needs to bring all of the elements together: experience, function, price and scale. It’s no easy task. At the trade show, if your trade show attracts visitors, creates a dwell-able space, invites participation in your brand experience and delivers a memorable impression, then you’ve nailed it.
This article was written with a little bit of help from our friends at Caskey Group.