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Simple Is Good: Six Tips On Designing for Trade Shows

“Thinking about design is hard, but not thinking about it can be disastrous.”
Ralph Caplan

So many misguided but well-meaning exhibitors work diligently to cram the entire content of their company brochure onto a 10-foot trade show display wall. However, they are forgetting a key piece of information: the trade show floor equals sensory overload. Assaulting the senses of show attendees will not help you stand out from the other exhibitors. A graphic design that is visually striking will, on the other hand, get you noticed.


Think of your booth as a billboard and the aisles as expressways. The attendees (being the vehicles on the expressways) are concentrating on navigating the aisles, and a cacophony of other things. They are not going to notice you and your bland designs. You have to design your graphics to be interesting enough to catch and hold their attention for more than a couple of seconds.


Stand out visually. Use unique graphics or an unusual display to capture the attention of visitors. Visit any local expo yourself to see what other companies are doing with their booths, and go from there. Get your design and marketing staff in on it. Also, pick the brain of the person who supplies your displays and prints your graphics.

Follow the printer’s design specs. Before you get too far along on your designs, contact the printer and get the design specifications. Specs vary by printing method and the even by the printer itself, and you’ll avoid extra set-up fees by sending a file that’s ready to go.

Keep text brief and easy to read. People aren’t at the show to stand and read your booth. They have a lot of ground to cover. Keep it simple–convey who you are and why you’re the best at it quickly and clearly. Don’t use fancy, hard-to-read fonts.


Use eye-catching graphics and color. You only have a few seconds to capture the attention of your prospect walking the aisles–and a bland booth won’t do the trick. Use unique images and innovative designs to draw the eyes of prospects. And don’t be afraid of color; not everything has to be blue.

Plan versatility into your displays. Does the size of your booth space change from show to show? Purchase displays that you can reconfigure to accommodate different spaces. Many pop-ups for 10×10 spaces are designed to be linked together to form a longer wall if needed. Design the graphics so they also work this way. Modular displays are built to be reconfigurable. In addition, you can supplement your displays with retractables (which come in many sizes), or other smaller displays.

Enhance your main display instead of reprinting it. Most companies use a large display to anchor their booth, the graphics of which contain a more broad characterization of the company’s identity. As space allows, you may want to consider supplements like retractable banner stands, so you can have detailed information about a new product or show specials, for example. Perhaps you want to draw people to your booth from afar; an overhead banner might be what you need. Many options are available.

Remember: Billboard, not brochure!


“What about confusing clutter? Information overload? …The quantity of detail is an issue completely separate from the difficulty of reading. Clutter and confusion are failures of design, not attributes of information.”
Edward R. Tufte, Envisioning Information


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

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About Joan Weis