A Comprehensive Guide to Graphic Design for Trade Show Displays – Part 1

A Comprehensive Guide to Graphic Design for Trade Show Displays

As the trade show season winds down for winter, there is no better time to take a step back and consider the materials displayed at these events. Signage, banners and booth graphics are often the first point of contact for new customers searching for products and services. As such, it is important for sign shop clients to ensure they are conveying the message they intend to. This is a question not only of wide-format printing and substrates, but also—and fundamentally—of graphic design.

To those unfamiliar with the field, a sojourn into the graphic design side of display marketing can be confusing at best and frustrating at worst. And terms like ‘choke,’ ‘crash,’ ‘creep,’ ‘burn,’ ‘widow,’ ‘bleed’ and ‘dagger’ can certainly make it seem like a negative place!

So what do you, as business owners, marketing planners, and exhibitors really need to know about graphic design in order to boost your brand presence on the sales floor, and trade shows or events?

The careful composition of logos, imagery and text can ‘tell a story’ at a glance, which is vital in an environment where attendees only see such messages for an average total of three seconds. Fortunately, they do not necessarily have to get it right the first time. Budget conscious exhibitors quite often choose to invest in sturdy, long-lasting banners and displays like EuroStand and Supreme which feature quick-change graphic panels, because the ease of swapping outdated messaging for event goers far outweighs the initial cost of the unit, but whichever path you decide to take, there are some tried and true design tips that never go out of style.

A Comprehensive Guide to Graphic Design for Trade Show Displays

Optimizing real estate

Graphic design is a continually evolving art form, where what is trendy today will seem outdated and/or overused a year from now, but good design always starts with ‘real estate’—that is to say, the blank canvas on which artwork will be printed to create a banner, sign or backdrop.

As this is where the brand image will ‘live’ for passersby, it is important to use the space wisely. First and foremost, it is important to give content room to breathe. Overcrowding a display will only create confusion, muddy the client’s message and alienate the potential customers with whom he/she is trying to connect.

Indeed, the phrase ‘less is more’ is nowhere more accurate than in the context of graphic design. Impactful design has a visual ‘rhythm’ and a natural flow that help make a message a pleasure for people to read. The urge to cover every square inch of space with images and text should be resisted. Customers will be grateful for a cooler, clearer design.

A Comprehensive Guide to Graphic Design for Trade Show Displays

Measuring effectiveness

The phrase ‘user experience’ (UX) has become common in the world of online design to describe how people interact with a website, app or other property, but the concepts behind UX trace back to the industrial revolution and are relevant across multiple disciplines, including the design of trade show banners and signage.

The traditional metrics deployed to describe a system’s usability include efficiency, effectiveness and basic subjective satisfaction. As these terms suggest, a design should entice audiences with a pleasing, economical layout of words and impactful imagery, while increasing brand awareness and the potential for a return on investment (ROI).

A Comprehensive Guide to Graphic Design for Trade Show Displays

Enhancing visibility

Of course, when designing signage for a specific trade show, the venue should also be taken into consideration. The client’s name and logo will both need to enjoy prominence on the trade show floor. For maximum visibility throughout the venue, the higher up they can be positioned on banners and backdrops, the better. Even beautiful graphics will have no impact if they are installed at waist level, where they will be obscured behind milling crowds.

Similarly, brand visibility is increased when all display components—including pedestals, tables and free-standing structures—are printed with graphics. The overall ‘sign system’ needs to be taken into consideration at the design stage.

A Comprehensive Guide to Graphic Design for Trade Show Displays

Communicating quickly

As mentioned, in a trade show environment, a sign or display has a grand total of three seconds, on average, to connect with attendees. This is why the careful composition of logos, imagery and text is so important. There is very little time for people to evaluate a message before making the crucial decision to (a) stop and learn more about it or (b) take a pass and move on.

The designer’s goal, then, is to make the most of those three seconds by sparking a meaningful consideration of the brand with just a fleeting glimpse. This can only be achieved by using images and text sparingly—choosing graphics that clearly illustrate the message and text that concisely explains what the brand is about.

A one-sentence tagline is ideal. If any further information absolutely must be presented about the client’s products and services, then a short bullet list may be considered.

To ensure a design will be effective, it should be tested with colleagues by showing it to them for only three seconds, then asking them:

  • What did you notice?
  • What did you like most about the design?
  • What did you not like about the design?
  • What was its message?

There is a lot to cover when it comes to graphic designing for trade show displays and we’ve only skimmed the surface with Part 1. Part 2 of this post will be covering what goes into choosing the colours used and the preparation and printing of the graphics. You won’t want to miss it!