EN meets the industry’s stand designers, who are helping change the face of exhibitions around the globe.
Everyone has seen at least one exhibition stand that completely blows them away.
Whether it’s the design, the scale or the ingenuity, exhibition stands have never been more innovative.
For this feature, EN sat down with John Sanders, head of strategic client engagement, GES EMEA; Lesley Russon, managing director, ShowOff Display and Chris Criscione, managing director, Equinox Design to hear about the latest developments in the world of stand design – and to learn their favourite thing about working in the sector.
Tell us a bit about your company – who are you and what do you do?
LR: ShowOff Display was established in 1992. We specialise in the design and build of exhibition stands at venues throughout the United Kingdom and Europe.
JS: We are GES, a leading global full service provider for live events. In the UK alone, we work with over 30,000 individual exhibitors annually – from entrepreneurial start-ups with a 3m x 3m shell scheme through to 5,000sqm pavilions for national trade delegations.
CC: We’re Equinox, and we’re a worldwide exhibition stand design and build company. We’re based in Leeds, and have been since I formed the company in 1983, when I realised there was a need to have the whole stand design and build process brought under one roof.
How has stand building changed over the years?
JS: Some of the fundamentals have remained the same – we still create architecture – but it’s about much more than that, just creating beautiful structures is no longer enough. The form has to have function, not just on a practical level, but in terms of creating the customer’s journeys within the space. Combining the physical with digital to create those journeys and that engagement is central to what clients want these days.
CC: When I first started in the trade, 44 years ago, the basic was an 8x4 panelling, with a chip paper covering, available in different coloured paint. If you wanted an upgrade on that, you could get a felt finish. Today the world of exhibiting is like I could never have imagined when I started out as a young designer. We live in a superb, creative world and it’s exciting every time you walk in to an exhibition hall, wherever you are across the globe.
LR: The industry has become more sophisticated, as designers and stand builders compete to win clients. Clients themselves are ever more ambitious, stand designs and structures are becoming bolder and more innovative, and stand builders are challenged to create structures, which, just a few years ago, would have been unthinkable.
Has new technology had any impact on stand building?
CC: Definitely, technology is moving so fast at the moment. But we’re at the forefront of this and we’re responsible for bringing the newest and most exciting forms of technology to our clients’ stands. This keeps us ahead of the game, and keeps our clients ahead of their competition at any exhibition or trade show.
JS: The world has changed, yet the world stays the same. What we build has changed dramatically and technology is the new material. We are seeing an increasing emphasis on creating modularity in structures to create brand consistency across events. Yet some of the fundamental skills remain the same, quality and detail will always be important.
LR: The advent of CAD drawings and CNC machines has transformed what can be built. Previously, contractors encouraged the use of stock stand building materials. Some still do, but for those relishing a challenge, the technology is there to explore more challenging ideas. After all, once exhibitions stop being visually fascinating, their attraction will wane and we’ll be left with the aesthetic desert of the shell scheme, and where’s the appeal in that?
What kind of conversations do you have with clients in the lead-up to an event?
LR: It is absolutely essential that the client understands the design. The stand isn’t there to gratify the designer, it’s purpose is to promote the client and the client’s products or services, so no matter how eye-catching it may be, the stand itself plays a secondary role. Our philosophy is that visitors, perhaps familiar with previous stands by the client, should be impressed and intrigued. What will attract them to the stand, what will make them step on to it, what will make them explore, what will turn them from visitors into customers? The client should be involved and informed throughout the lead-up to the show. It’s a big investment, and not an opportunity to be squandered, so we discuss in detail their objectives, offer them the benefit of our experience, and engage them in the process of refining the design.
CC: Well the lead-up to an event can be quite distressing for the client. Even though we keep our customers updated throughout the entire beginning-to-end process, our conversations at this point can often centre round their worries and concerns, and it’s our job to reassure that Equinox have got everything under control. We’re here to absorb our customers’ stress, so that they just arrive on site to be welcomed by the finished stand, exactly how they envisaged it; happy and excited to start the show.
JS: Many and varied. We start with the brand; current and upcoming campaigns, and go from there working through the space and into the detail. Depending on the scope, these conversations may cover anything from content creation, logistics (product, staff and customer) to catering and customer events. We pride ourselves in delivering joined-up solutions and we think beyond the stand to ensure the client has a successful and effective event.
Is there a case study you’d like to share?
JS: Brightstar at this year’s Mobile World Congress is a good example of what we deliver. The client had a 500sqm double deck space and wanted to wow the audience. We used dynamic lighting combined with digital content to create an ever-changing external space. The space literally woke up every day of the show; changing colour with the rhythm of the day.
LR: We are very proud of the stand we designed and built for Rosewood Pets. Rosewood had previously been working with the same stand design and build company for 10 years and decided it was time for a change. In 2016, ShowOff pitched for the contract and took the time to go into detail about the vision for revolutionising the company’s exhibition stand. Rosewood was so pleased with the stand design, build and installation that it has just awarded ShowOff with a new contract for their forthcoming exhibitions.
What challenges do you face when building a stand?
CC: We thrive on all the challenges that a stand build project brings. Whether that’s a late enquiry with a short timescale, a last-minute change to a brief, or making sure that the materials we use for a build are suitable for the climate they’ll be used in.
JS: Time, cost and physics are the three key challenges. Ever shorter build times mean that we need to be smart in what we design and also how we manufacture and install. Budget is always stretched. A bigger budget usually doesn’t mean we have spare money to play with. All clients want to maximize their budget and stretch it as far as they can.
LR: Ensuring all details large and small are handled. Planning that all elements of the stand has been project managed – prior, during and after the show.
What is your approach to being environmentally friendly?
JS: We take our environmental responsibility very seriously. For our stand builds, the materials we use are recyclable and the option of using recycled products is also available. In 2016 we recycled almost two million sqm of materials, and realised recycling rates of over 95 per cent across the board – then at the EN Awards earlier this year we were truly honoured to be given the ECO Award! A true testament to the hard work we have put in over the years to make our work as environmentally friendly as possible.
What’s the best part about working in the stand building sector?
CC: It’s the people. When I meet someone for the first time, and we talk about what they want to achieve, and being a designer I can see what they’re wanting to achieve. We then take that journey from small sketch to realisation together, and that’s a buzz.
LR: We consider exhibitions as disposable architecture, adventures in design that explore shape and form and colour, and we find that exciting. No two stands are ever the same, no two clients are ever the same, and we derive great satisfaction from handing over a stand that gives the client the sense of a job well done.
JS: I think we sometimes forget how lucky we are doing what we do. The opportunity to be creative, work with some very cool and bright clients and create some really exciting experiences is something I think sometimes we take for granted.