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

John F. Kennedy

Duane Hayes' Articles

Design as Communication

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If you want to understand Communication in a fundamental way, listen to a child report bad news such as the proverbial broken vase or poor test score. He or she
struggles to discover the magic words that'll minimize the damage to their freedom or allowance. This is communication in it's learning years.

Likewise, when a company markets itself, it wrangles over the right words for its advertisement. Untold hours are spent in front of dry erase boards, interfacing
through email threads, etc. all trying to find just the right language and the appropriate images to convey a message. Welcome again to communication! 

However, when this same company commits to exhibiting at a trade show, they frequently find themselves tripping over the right way to express themselves.
They have many exciting ideas that need to be conveyed. Through luck alone the results can be marginally successful. More often, though, the results present
themselves as awkwardly as the grade school child trying to explain that a vase spontaneously cracked to pieces on its own. Say hello to communication! 

Trade shows confront the corporate world with an entirely new language set. It's called Design, and it's spoken less predominantly with words, more-so with
elements such as Form, Scale, Color, Lighting, and Technology. Together these blend to create a language that can be as grand as a certain canyon in Arizona,
or as awkward as a CEO delivering comedy to mask a poor keynote speech. 

Let's face facts: the average business person does not speak the language of design. Don't doubt for a minute though, their fondness of successful design experiences!
When tasked with creating a new trade show exhibit, they frequently set themselves on a direction of recreating an instance of good design they've personally
encountered in the real world. They remember a logo treatment in a hotel lobby, an interactive theater at Disney, a 20-foot curved-glass canopy at the airport, and of
course the high-tech video screens they see on their cable network news. You can't blame them - the only design language they understand and try to convey is built
entirely on secular experience. People aren't passionate about things they can't comprehend, so they invariably get caught up in creation of a singular element in much
the same way an infant learning to speak will fixate on repetitive consonants. 

So it's time for the designer to take some language cues from parents and teachers. It's time to teach others how to both speak and understand Design as a form of
Communication. We should all strive to bring others up to speed any time a new design challenge is put forward. 

This is where it gets tricky. In an era where too many professionals are overtasked and fear becoming the scapegoat for an unsuccessful design strategy, important
design decisions are being made on simplistic reactions to rendered images - increasingly without discourse from the design team that pulled it together. An industry
that used to foster design partnerships between exhibit builder and client has been reduced to pricing bids and pretty pictures. Sound familiar? 

So what can we do? Here's a quick list of a few pointers to remind ourselves and our clients of to help push good Design (and subsequently good Communication)
forward: 

  1. Don't be afraid to commit to an objective. This means one or two dominant goals, not four, not seven or more weakly themed approaches to an objective. Sometimes
    this means not doing a few things you want to do for sake of space, or budget. Don't try to do too much. If you learned anything from pre-school, remember that
    combining more than three crayon colors almost always results in the most hideous shade of murky brown. 

  2. It's okay to admit that certain partnerships aren't working. In the interest of maintaining a good portfolio and reputation for quality, sometimes clients are best off
    buying off-the-shelf instead of custom. You can still be part of that process without vesting twenty or more hours of gratis design time.

  3. Challenge critical elements of the project and budget time and money accordingly. If you absolutely need to have a large multi-media presentation as the primary focus
     in your exhibit, then you absolutely need to spend the same amount of effort developing content for that presentation.

  4. Be honest with your budget. If your exhibit budget is really $25K including graphics, do not pretend to have your exhibit company design for $40K in the hopes of
    scoring a grander presentation. Everyone's time is worth more than the game that follows and the net result will never shine quite like you thought it would. 

  5. Have fun with the project! We work in an exciting, fast-paced industry which can become equally stressful trying to execute through budgets, deadlines, and last-minute
    demands. Let's keep focus on creating memorable events that celebrate the products our clients offer. The world economy is counting on us!

2013 by Duane Hayes