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Exhibit booth banner used as centerpiece of booth design.
Example of a banner based exhibit booth design courtesy of McNamara Florists, Indianapolis, Indiana Example of a banner based design.
Printed translucent Chameleon ™ banner used as a base of tradeshow booth design. Photo courtesy of McNamara Florists, Indianapolis, Indiana

Secrets of Guerrilla Exhibit Booth Design

How do you design an exhibit booth?


Maybe you own a small company without someone to handle events and exhibition booth design. Maybe you are in a department in a larger company and are charged with designing the exhibit booth. How do you design an exhibit booth?

3 M’s of exhibit booth Design


Your first thought (after budget) about booth design ought to be, “What do I want this to do?” Not all booth displays have the same purpose. Some booths are intended to sell, others to support a brand; others collect leads for future sales and finally others are simply ways to convey an idea to the public. Whatever this purpose the booth must convey this to the people passing by. This is the Message. Don’t try to obscure this message. Sales booths sell. Customers want to know that when they come into the booth.

Once you know your message you will incorporate that message in the design by adding elements that support that message. For example: Visa/Master card logos support a ‘sales’ message. But for now just keep it in mind.

Message is supported by the physical design and layout of your tradeshow booth. This layout is the second ‘m’, Movement. Consider the amount of movement and the type of movement within a tradeshow booth. Does the customer need to stop and view products? That drives a display area that is bigger. Does the customer need to sit down to transact a sale?

Last but definitely not least of the ‘m’s is Memorable. If your booth doesn’t draw people to it you haven’t done a good job of design. If your booth doesn’t stick in their mind, you’ve not done the best job.

There we are…a tradeshow booth worth its salt is Memorable; conveys a strong Message; and is designed for the Movement needed to conduct the transactions within.

Making a tradeshow booth memorable


Think back to every tradeshow that you’ve been to. Chances are that the most memorable booths were the big ones in the center of the show. They probably had floor to ceiling banner-style displays. Chances are that the memorable tradeshow booth had colors that were brand colors associated with their products (for example Kodak booths were yellow and black while Fuji film booths were green and white). Many more sophisticated booths had movement on projections screens strategically placed in the exhibit booth. Memorable booths might have had a twist about the layout design of their booths so that they looked different—maybe curved walls, or translucent walls. Some of the booths might have had a featured guest speaker talking about using their products. Some may have had a really great giveaway product that tied into the theme of the booth.

If we list the things that make a booth memorable they tie into your senses:

  • Sights: Tall colorful banner displays. Signage that captured the eyes. Trademark colors. Movements of live speakers or Rear Projections Screens.
  • Sound: Music, especially trademark theme music. Video with sound effects. Live presenters.
  • Movement: Unusual curves in the walls. Strange booth floor plans. You might be directed by the booth design to take in the booth in a prescribed order.
  • Taste, Smell, Touch: Give aways are frequently sensual. Sometimes memorable tradeshow booths incorporate some subtle sensual touches.

Low cost alternatives in tradeshow design


Almost all of these memorable booths that you remember were costly. But if you remember a few smaller booths, you will notice that they too incorporated the senses. It doesn’t have to cost a fortune to make a tradeshow booth memorable. Make sure that colors are bright and emphasize your brand colors. If possible add a tall attention getting banner to draw people from other aisles. Announcing your presence with tall banners in a color or especially with signage printed on them is a big plus.

Making your booth different by design can mean curving walls or using displays at differing heights. If possible include interesting things at the back of the booth that might cause people to linger. A video playing in a loop on a rear projection screen can add movement to even a one-man tradeshow booth.

If your message is “sales” of a certain product, consider having people sign up for a drawing in the back of the booth. Or direct exhibit attendees to check out the sales offer at the back of the booth.

About budgets in exhibit booth design


Budget is a dirty word to many. But it doesn’t need to undercut all efforts. Budget will first define the size and location of your tradeshow booth. Most of the time the next step for people is to pick out furniture and carpet—don’t yet. If you follow the standard tradeshow design pathway, you will end up with the standard tradeshow booth.

For years I designed stage sets. I picked up a little quick thought process based on budget. To me, shoestring set design budgets were ‘paper’. Medium size budgets were ‘cloth’ and large budgets were ‘built’. A paper budget didn’t mean a bad design, it just meant cheaper materials. Is your budget ‘paper’, ‘cloth’ or ‘built’?

If you can afford a larger two story structure that occupies the center space in an exhibition center, chances are you aren’t reading this article. You’ve hired a designer. But the lower edge of the ‘built’ budgets might be reading this article. For you, you may want to look at a wide variety of structures (see complimentary article on pre-built solutions). However remember that the principles remain valid. You want to incorporate the prior elements of Message, Movement, and Memorable into a built design.

If you consider yourself a ‘cloth’ designer, you may have a modest budget but wanting to reach into more elegant booth design solutions. The term ‘Cloth design’ is not just a metaphor. Consider large banners, preprinted with signage. Consider light tricks on translucent cloth banners or cloth walls.

Example #1: A gobo projector is a small inexpensive projector. (About $75-- projects about a 12 foot image). Use this to project your logo or the word SALE on a large banner hung from the ceiling. This can be your entire booth.

Example #2: Also using a large banner hung from the ceiling but this one gathered at the bottom have two different colored lights one from the front and one from the back. Occasionally have one automatically turn off, thus changing the color. Note you can ‘gel’ lights to different colors inexpensively.

Example #3: Hang a fabric wall that is the backdrop for your booth by bringing a cloth ‘wall’ and segments of pre-bent aluminum fit to set up as a set of pipes bent in a specific shape. Place one assembled pipe in the top of the wall and the other in the bottom. Your wall can be formed into a spiral, a waveform or even a cylinder. With lighting this can appear to be marble, glowing walls, have logos on it, etc...

Note that in all of these cloth designs we prefer a translucent scrim material that we manufacture and can print inexpensively called Chameleon Scrim. To see more about this material…

There are other cloth materials you may want to consider that we don’t manufacture. Consider various curtain materials. Consider fabric premade structures out of basically spandex. These tend to be more expensive and custom, but are valid tradeshow solutions.

If you consider yourself a ‘paper’ design it’s because your budget is limited or your time is. Don’t despair, get creative. Paper can be used to be printed signage. So paper banners, or signs can be used. I’ve seen very beautiful corrugated paper used as a booth background (this paper is a special type used by designers—not just cardboard. It is available in several colors through Sam Flax.). While the booth was hauled in on a roll, discarded after, and was relatively inexpensive—it was beautifully executed, classy looking. They layered different colors of corrugated paper with cut designs. Also look for props that are products. Consider using product boxes for display surfaces. Many product boxes are preprinted and already emphasize brand colors. If the boxes are unattractive, they can be covered with a drape. Booths can be as simple as well framed posters on easels. The posters can consist of offers or selling points. The easels are easy to set up and can be easy to transport.

Be careful with ‘paper’ designs and all exhibit designs that fire codes are considered.

Where to look for materials for exhibit booths?


For prebuilt components, or for display fixtures you may want to consult our directory for designers. If you choose after consideration to consult a designer, you can consult our directory of designers. These are starting points, we don’t endorse any in particular just list these resources for your convenience.

For more information on types of exhibit booths, popup booths and for more typical ready-made display solutions you might want to consult the companion article: Ready Made Exhibit Design Solution Types.

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