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A look to the future of stand design

We meet the creative brains driving forward global exhibition stand design. 

Chris Litchfield, creative director at Rapiergroup, says that being a 2020 Winner in the World Exhibition Stand Awards has added “real authenticity” to the company’s achievements. Rapiergroup won a Diamond award in the Best Feature Area category at the 2020 WESAs for their client SWIFT Discover’s stand at Sibos.

“We trust our process, our skills, experience and instincts, but the recognition that comes from being a winner in the WESAs is confirmation of what we believe in.”

As far as adapting to the coronavirus work culture, Litchfield says: “We literally adapted overnight to remote working. Fortunately, we had invested in the technology that meant all of us could do our jobs perfectly all through lockdown.

“We have all sharpened up our communication skills, but we have now got to a point where we would like to see each other face-to-face. Teams and Zoom are no replacement for the real thing!”

Litchfield believes Covid-19 is here to stay, something which has big implications for the way the company approaches stand design and experiences.

“We have lots of different ideas on how we could design environments and experiences, but each situation will need to be approached as bespoke and unique. Defining strategy for user/visitor experience from the outset will be more important than ever before.

“From that design will be about meeting the objectives of that strategy, and doing it safely and within whatever restrictions we need to work to.”

Like most, Litchfield predicts events are going to have to become more hybrid. Limitations on travel and scale of physical gatherings, will mean a different approach, he says, “but the potential here is truly exciting, and it’s the way the industry should be heading anyway”.

He sees an opportunity for a much wider reach to a truly global audience and models that can be more sustainable.

“There are opportunities for operating events within local regions, and then harnessing technology in order to bring them all together, to make something bigger. The potential here is enormous.”

There may not be a place for just designing a typical stand, Litchfield believes and says, “We will need to think cleverly about the true purpose of each stand we design, and the experience it must offer. We will then need to create designs that deliver on that, but work within whatever restrictions we are facing. Simplicity in design will be the key to this (easier said than done!).

“In the future, we shouldn’t just be designing for the physical exhibition hall experience. We should be designing environments that need to be fit for a much wider reach.”

And Litchfield says he is looking forward to things being different.

“The challenges we face are solvable, and I’m looking forward to embracing them… Despite the big hit our industry has encountered, we have the opportunity to make something better as a result of it.”

He adds that we need to think carefully about the purpose of stands, we need to think more about the bigger picture and where a stand sits within a wider customer/user/ visitor experience.

“Then we need to deal with the physical environment we are operating in, and a global situation that is continually changing. The trade show stand can still be a sound investment that offers tangible, valuable and relevant experiences, but it’s time for us to really challenge ourselves on why and how we create them.”

Evolving to a new level of stand design

Richard Bartlett, MD and creative director at Evolve Creative Solutions, a 2020 Winner at the World Exhibition Stand Awards, tells EW about talent, trends and how to build for the future.

It’s been a difficult time and Evolve MD Richard Bartlett says being a multi WESA 2020 winner means a great deal and shows the diversity and talent not only at his agency, but also across the entire industry.

Evolve’s THQ Nordic Stand at Gamescom 2019 picked up a diverse set of top awards including: Best Storytelling, Best Stand at a Games Industry Event and Best Stand 201-500sqm. For Bartlett that signifies Evolve’s ability to be in tune with both the creative intent of THQ Nordic’s game titles and, more importantly, what the target audience at the show wanted to see and experience.

“It has been a real challenge,” Bartlett says of working from home. “We have found that keeping communication levels high with our staff, suppliers and clients has paid dividends and we will come out of this pandemic as a more efficient company.”

The team, he says, has also used the time as an opportunity to research and diversify. Evolve has also been working closely with UK industry associations ESSA, AEO and AEV to support Project Confidence, helping to create a roadmap for the safe re-opening of event venues. I

n terms of what changes can be expected in future stand design, Bartlett notes that countries and regions are all developing their own guidelines and he is anticipating new design and build regulations for each show hall.

“There is no guarantee that the guidelines will be consistent across regions, which is going to be challenging to global companies like Evolve,” he notes. And Bartlett expects big changes to everything from basic exhibition hall access, build and breakdown regulations, visitor numbers, stand access, catering, even the types and format of product displays.

“We have to find ways to merge the creative and retail focus of a stand with the new reduced level of social interaction, and still make visitors want to come to the show,” he adds. He acknowledges extreme restrictions on social interaction are forcing organisers down the digital events route and, in the short term, expects monitored visitor numbers, dedicated hygiene points, thermal entrance scanning and controlled visitor flow.

Diversification into a mix of virtual and physical offerings can only benefit clients and visitors, however, Bartlett believes and is confident we will get back to “amazing physical events with full social interaction, which is what we all want and our clients demand, but I think Covid-19 has changed the event landscape forever and potentially for the better”.

A plethora of directives is likely to make the real impact on stand design hard to predict, says Barlett: “We are looking at quite a large number of safety protocols, like registration of all visitors, wider aisles, clear one way routing, floor markings and the inclusion of hygiene zones with face masks. The emphasis is on minimising human contact, so one of the biggest challenges for our design team is going to be the development of presentation areas that avoid large numbers of people and allow for screen guards between activities.

“Protocols can easily be incorporated into a design, but what won’t change in stand design is the need for clarity from the venues, client understanding and development lead times that allow us to integrate these elements succesfully into the stand design.”

In terms of how the tradeshow of the future might look, Bartlett notes a future stand for the gaming sector will be very different from one for the aero sector. He believes physical and virtual technology will merge and drive every aspect of future stand design.

“Increasingly we are pushing to create more immersive brand experiences, moving stands away from traditional retail models. I can only see this trend gaining pace and can see a time where a stand will be more like a multi sensory step into a company’s brand, its values and product offer.”