Tradeshow and Exhibit Thoughtleaders
"The goal of education is the advancement of knowledge
and the dissemination of truth."

John F. Kennedy

Meet our Thoughtleaders: An Interview
Sarmistha Tarafder by Gordon Nary

Return to Sarmistha's Webpage
Thoughtleaders Main Page

Gordon:  When did you join the Skyline family and what are your primary responsibilities?

Sarmistha:  A long time. More than 15 years.  Design, Marketing and Technology. Now that I am writing about it and give it some thought: it just might be a fun take on the DMT molecule.


Gordon:  Let's start by discussing design. One of my favorite design quotes is by Jim Henson  in his book It's Not Easy Being Green: And Other Things to Consider  when he wrote “Simple is good.”  Could you comment on the role of simplicity in design?

Sarmistha:  Simplicity is a much sought after and talked about precept. I think, it is much overrated in the general sense of term.
Or, perhaps, in our complex and over abundant lives, our sub-conscious aspires for something that is easy, less complex and manageable.
But, Simplicity is something that is not achieved by making, something easier or less complex. Take away all the details and all the complexity, what you are left with is something very boring and neolithic.…… Can you imagine the Blue Mosque of Isfahan stripped off its details, its textures, its diverse Kufic scripts, the exquisite arabesque patterns.. 
Simplicity embraces exactly the right details, the right difficulties, the right complexity, but because everything is tied together in a common sense of purpose , you are left with a sense of clarity, and a sense that everything belongs exactly where it is. Simplicity is achieved when everything means something.  Clarity, purpose, and intentionality form the triangulation of the concept "Simple". It is not what you take away, it is what you have to add to this recipe to make it clear purposeful and intentional.

Gordon: What are the principles of great design?

Sarmistha:  I go back to the tenants of simplicity as the building block of a great design. What is a purpose behind the design. (problem that it ill solve), Is the purpose clear to the end user and finally the intention of the designer… Why you are doing what you are doing?  Great design happens when you define what great means pertaining to your product, and then nail it

What are the functions of great design?

Sarmistha: Great question- Design, often is thought to be about form, style, and how things look, but it’s also very much about function, or what something does. 

Great design should lend to a great experience. Design is not just about the space or the product created, but also about the way that creation makes us feel, think, or learn.It’s about the human response to the things we make for the world.
Great design should please the heart. Should have an emotional appeal. Today we are increasingly designing for the right brain by focusing on the emotional aspects of design and by asking “How will it make people feel?” in addition to “How will it look?” and “How will it work?”
Great design should have the element of repurposing or sustainability built into it. “It’s not good design if it’s bad for the planet” is the mantra of the sustainable-design movement, which encourages designers to consider the impact their creations will have on the environment and people.
Great design fosters growth and wider bottom line. Great design (along with its 2nd cousin, real innovation) is a powerful competitive advantage for companies that have learned how to do it consistently and creatively.

Great design sparks the imagination, inspires humanity and motivates us to make an evolutionary leap. By asking “What if?” By making unexpected connections. By applying new technologies. By turning to nature. And also from each other, through crowdsourcing and open innovation.

Gordon: What have been some of your most challenging design projects?


Sarmistha: Whenever the purpose of the design in not in alignment with the intention of the design (designer), I have encountered challenges. 
When design brief mentions about creativity, functionality, cheerfulness, innovative…all under the sun we usually have challenges. As a designer, it our responsibility to challenge the client and staying on purpose. When we fail to do so, the design design process become lengthy and burdensome.


Gordon: Let's switch io Marketing. What are some of the more common challenges in establishing an effective Tradeshow and Exhibit Marketing program?


Sarmistha:  As some one looking in from the outside, here are my observations:

  • For years direct mail and print advertising were the main methods used to promote conventions and exhibitions. Today, with the burst of technology there are different approaches and varied strategies. The crux of marketing still remains the same though. You have to deliver the right message to the right audience. The difference being- today you need to know how and when your audience would like hear from you. If I base myself on the assumption that your audience does attend trade shows, then I would like to proceed.

  • Often times the budget and the operational demands might seem quite daunting. To that I say:

       Target Your Audience and solve the challenge of exhibit space and budget

  • Objective goals

       Hoping that you have a record of your prior trade show attendees, send out an evaluation form by asking who are
       really interested in purchasing what you have to offer in the next 6 months. 
Use that number to determine your
       exhibit space requirements, budgets
, and operational demands

  • Subjective goals

      Check out competition, brand awareness, conducting focus groups, dispensing education: For all this, you do not necessarily have to
      have an exhibit space. Think about more in terms of abstraction. Send out a c-suite as a key note speaker. Seek out a sponsorship
      program for the venue. Send out business development people to scope out your adversaries. Host a private networking group and get
      a pulse of the industry that you are in.

  • Lack of a plan often prevents us from reaching a certain goal. So the answer is always have a clear offering of a structured plan. Your clients will love you.

      Have a Plan for your Attendees and solve the challenge of keeping a consistent brand theme before and after the show

      The saying goes 'don't make me think', 'make it easy for me', 'tell me what to do'. In other words, plan out the necessary
      steps that your prospect has to embark on in order to make the journey from visitors to leads to customers to promoters.


       As Donald Miller of StoryBrand Workshop says, "A plan isn’t necessarily a product, it's just something a customer can get their minds
       around quickly in order to understand what you offer. A plan sets your brand apart and makes working with you extremely clear."

       For Allstate insurance, it’s the Allstate value plan. For Little Caesars, it’s 2 for 1 pizzas.  For CarMax, it’s a no-haggle pricing policy. 
       For Dollar Shave Club, it’s a monthly subscription for razors.


Gordon: With the explosion of new technologies , especially in the area of communications, do you have any predictions on how technology may affect the tradeshow and exhibit industry in the next ten years?


Sarmistha:  I take my clue from the Pulitzer-prize winning author E. O. Wilson.

In an interview with NPR he mentioned that “The real problem of humanity is the following: we have paleolithic emotions; medieval institutions; and god-like technology. And it is terrifically dangerous, and it is now approaching a point of crisis overall.” Until we understand ourselves, “until we answer those huge questions of philosophy that the philosophers abandoned a couple of generations ago—Where do we come from? Who are we? Where are we going?—rationally,” we’re on very thin ground.

First we have to define why we are going to trade shows. Truly, in this day and age we can hold virtual events and be done with it. But, I think that will not pacify our neolithic emotions. Scholars say that during this period for the first time time  we began to think of ourselves as separate from the natural world which is sometimes in opposition to us and which we need to control. An enormous communal effort was required for "Cosmic Maintenance" and thus we see the beginnings of organized religion. This urge to bond with other people who share our values is very strong within us. Hence, we see the existence of trade fairs since the ancient times. In India fairs have been reported as far back as 4000 BC.(source:Trade Shows in the Globalizing Knowledge Economy) In the 19th and 20th century the organizational model of the fair changed substantially. Now called trade shows, they have become prime places for exhibiting 'available capabilities'. These events are now seen as idealistic settings for learning, exploring and experiencing, offered through physical immersion of a certain product. Now, online visitors travel offline to be part of an outer space exploration. To promote its "Avatar"-themed gaming machines and online DoubleDown Casino social game, International Game Technology rolls the dice on a $3.3 million exhibit that sends visitors into outer space, and then spins them on a revolving platform where they compete in high-stakes slots. (source:

The way I see it, technology is here to aid us. It should raise the overall standard of trade show exhibiting. Now, trade show managers are required to produce high-value, in-person events that meet attendee needs in ways not available via wireless. Show design and format will be driven by evaluation of engagement and on-site experience. Will “hosted buyer” formats become the preferred show model? Will “gamification” be a necessity for all show configurations? Will “apps” become the engagement tool that drives the on-site experience? 
The good thing is technology does not sleep. That means, you can reach your target audience any day, any time, any platform.
I circle back to Wilson. As a brand, we have to be clear on some tough philosophical questions: why we are in business? (as Simon Sinek would say 'to make money is the outcome of being in business it does not answer the why') who we are? where do we come from? and where are we going? So, you see I go back to the spiritual aspect of our material self.


Gordon: With all of the rapid changes in technology, do you foresee and significant conflicts  in the tradeshow and exhibit industry between the younger and more tech-savvy members of the industry and the older members?


Sarmistha: This is a great question. Remember, I was talking about our emotional need to hang out together.

Often I see young folks in a restaurant all huddled together but, each of them is glued to one's own device. That intrigues me.

It tells me that if we can make the experience of hanging out together more stimulating than what their device can provide for, we just might overcome any if not all conflicts between the generations. Each generation is of the opinion that the subsequent generation that follows them are way too enabled. I believe that proves we are on a steady path to progress. Does it not? 
Our younger generation who are addicted to technology– we have to find a way that disorients them and compels them to be present. How do we do it? We need to make them co-creators of the exhibiting experience. These tech savvy youngsters view their world through a set of virtual tools. Provide them with experience that makes use of all of the senses and above all, be in the business of mentoring your young folks.


Gordon: You are a remarkable talent and I appreciate the opportunity of working with you and featuring some of your exceptional articles on our website


Sarmistha: Thank you Gordon. Thank you for having me. It was a great exercise for the intellect.

© 2014 by Tradeshow and Exhibit Thoughtleaders