Partnering With Your Display Designer

Scott McMurray wanted to decimate the competition. He studied his competitors and identified their exhibit design flaws. “Their exhibits are sterile and uncomfortable, and I didn’t want that atmosphere in our new build,” says McMurray, a design specialist for Clarion Marine Audio, a Missouri manufacturer of marine stereo systems. After briefing his exhibit designers on the industry, he chose a design philosophy that incorporated elements from a high-end boat. “Because this is a niche industry, it’s hard for someone on the outside to get a handle on the right look and feel. That’s what I provided,” says McMurray.

The resulting 16-foot in-line exhibit is reminiscent of the interior of a Scandinavian-style boat, with brushed stainless steel and cherry wood accents. When the small exhibit debuted at the 2000 International Boat Builders Expo, attendees flocked to it. “Because the exhibit is comfortable and friendly, we met with around 500 designers and engineers (the people who decide which stereo brands are built into new boats),” says McMurray. “The exhibit’s clean lines and high-tech feel gave us an advantage over the competition and showed attendees that our products are high-end and innovative.” The new exhibit’s competitive design increased Marine Audio’s exhibit traffic of designers and engineers by 20 percent. “The exhibit blew the competition out of the water,” McMurray claims.

Design is a Competitive Weapon

If you want an exhibit that is a competitive weapon, don’t make your designers work in a vacuum. As a trade show manager, it’s your job to become a translator and educate the design team on the nuances of your company. “To create effective design, you have to understand how a company approaches problems and what’s behind its strategic marketing,” says Charlie McMillan of Connecticut-based The McMillan Group. Open communication will ensure you get an exhibit that is a 3-D representation of your company and not a structure with your logo tacked on. The result will be an exhibit that is a competitive weapon against your competition’s plain vanilla displays. However, before the first design planning meeting, you need to choose an exhibit designer who will deliver the goods.

Questions to Ask When Interviewing Design Candidates

Exhibit Designer Evaluation

  • Have the designers created complex and large-scale exhibit projects? (Ask for examples of direct experience.)
  • What is the designer’s motivation, inspiration, and philosophy?

Planning and Project Management

  • At what level did they contribute to the planning process on past projects?
  • What are their project management capabilities?

Understanding Trade Show Displays

  • What questions did the designers ask about your company? Were they relevant?
  • Did the designers communicate the objectives, image, and marketing messages of previous clients? Did they achieve the anticipated goals?
  • Are the designs applicable to the clients and their target markets?

Problem Solving

  • Were past designs effective overall? (Designers should be able to list actual results relative to the client’s goals.)


  • Are the designs dynamic? Do they create impact?

Budget Responsibility

  • Did they provide a way to cut costs (drayage, shipping, installation and dismantle)?
  • Did they meet the budget in all cases shown?

Display Graphics

  • Are the graphic solutions creative and flexible?
  • Do the graphics clearly communicate what was required?


  • Were the designers involved with engineering details and to what degree? For example, will they produce engineering and fabrication documents or will this be left to the fabricator?


  • Have they ever done international work to the scale of your company’s activity? Does their work demonstrate an understanding of international markets?

Overall Reaction

  • Are the designers honest?
  • Would they make good partners and work with you to achieve your company’s goals?

For more information about trade show or event marketing, give us a call or Contact Us. We welcome the opportunity to assist you with your next show.

Article Author:

Mel White

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