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Open Your Eyes to Ideas – Marlys’ TradeShowTips Online No. 169

Too often exhibitors draw their design inspiration for next year from the exhibitors around them at this year’s show, including competitors. Problem is … the attendees have seen it all before! The truth is there’s no shortage of places to look for ideas in your everyday life. All you need to do is change the way you see things. This month’s feature article will get you started, and we’ll continue the focus on exhibit design in September’s Strategy of the Month in the Exhibit Marketers Café.

By Marlys K. Arnold

Because this monthly e-zine is in tandem with my blog-cast, we have an abbreviated version of the article here, but simply click the link to continue reading on Trade Show Insights — or you have the option to listen to the article. While you’re there check out the new features, including a weekly round-up of exhibit industry news on Fridays. I encourage you to bookmark or add it to your favorite RSS feed reader. — Thanks for being a loyal reader! Marlys

7 Great Sources for Exhibit Design Inspiration
Prefer to listen to this article? Click here!

A few years ago at the EXHIBITOR Show in Las Vegas, I coordinated a field trip called “TSI: Trade Show Investigation.” I led two teams of exhibitors (investigators) along the Strip, stopping at New York New York, the Venetian, and other locations to “gather evidence” of things they could use in their future exhibit displays. The idea was to cause participants to stop and examine the elements around them to discover what makes a place engaging and memorable.

Want to do your own TSI field trip? Here’s where to look:

  • Retail stores – Because an exhibit booth is essentially a temporary store, it’s no surprise that many of the designers of exhibit displays also design for retail. So why is it that so few exhibitors study how retailers use their store windows, signage and merchandise displays to attract attention and create a desire to purchase? Walk the sidewalks of virtually any shopping district and study the windows that grab your attention. Is it the colors or props used? Perhaps there’s an element of surprise or whimsy? Or maybe it’s the big, bold signage that catches your eye. Make notes and analyze why it works.
  • Museums/Galleries – If retail stores are one parent of trade show exhibits, museums are likely the other, and they too often share the same design houses. But while retail displays are typically static, museums are created with a focus on interactivity and engaging the visitor in a story. Color plays a role here too, along with lighting and often multisensory elements. How can your booth tell a story and invite exploration?
  • Hotels & Restaurants – For those who exhibit often in major cities, spending time in hotels and restaurants comes with the territory. But how frequently do you use that as an opportunity for research? The truth is that today’s hospitality climate is highly competitive, and even hotels that aren’t high-end are taking steps to brand themselves and create welcoming environments. If you’ve ever been to Vegas, you know that hotels there pull out all the stops to impress guests and create loyalty. From the moment you walk in the door, you feel you’ve been transported to another continent or time period (or both). In addition to the atmosphere and multisensory elements, the hotels and restaurants also have multiple activity zones. In hotels, there’s the lobby and front desk (welcome area), the business center (work area), ballrooms (entertainment area), and of course the restaurant, which also has its own zones for entry, eat-in, take-out, and more. How can you incorporate these ideas in your booth?

© 2013 Marlys K. Arnold

Exhibit marketing strategist Marlys Arnold teaches exhibitors and show managers how to improve booth traffic and the number of qualified leads through workshops and consultations. Drawing on her unique perspective as both an exhibitor and a show organizer, she is the author of Build a Better Trade Show Image, host of the Trade Show Insights blog-cast, creator of the ExhibitorEd Success System and founder of the Exhibit Marketers Café. Request access to her free video series, “7 Mistakes Exhibitors Make (and how to avoid them)” by going to

Where do you get inspiration for booth design?

What are YOUR thoughts on all this? We’d like to hear your comments!


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