Anyone who’s attended a trade show can tell you that they are essentially competitions for limited amounts of attention, and all that one-upmanship can be a little overwhelming. Fortunately, there is a definite method to trade show madness. We’ve outlined tips on pre-show marketing, preparation, booth staff training, lead generation, and guerilla marketing.

In this post, we’re going to build off these previous articles and dive deeper into how your trade show booth design in particular can elevate you (maybe even literally) above competing exhibitors. We’ll show you how their loss is your gain with both 2D and 3D design ideas.

2D Trade Show Booth Design Ideas: Graphics

As suggested in a previous post by trade show design expert Tim Patterson, the overall goal of your trade show booth graphics is to attract the right attendees to your booth with a brief and bold statement. Especially for younger, lesser-known brands, it’s important to remember that using just your company name will not usually achieve that purpose. Attendees aren’t likely to play a guessing game as to what your brand is all about; they’ll just move on to the next booth.

Here are some tips for being briefer, bolder, and more relevant than other exhibitors:

1. Use clear, eye-catching copy to qualify booth traffic.

As a rule of thumb, try to create a 6-word tagline that a reader can interpret within 3 seconds. Keep it honest, and don’t make it too abstract. If you’re a young brand, your brand name can be secondary to the tagline, as it will ultimately be more effective in drawing people to your booth. By stating clearly what your brand is about, you’ll also find that the people entering your booth are attendees who are actually interested in your brand/products.

2. Choose one main thing attendees should remember.

What do you want attendees to remember after the show when they think of your booth? Your top pick may change from show to show. If you’re launching a new product or have a new way to solve a pain point, for instance, you will probably want to promote that fact.

3. Display your choice on the back wall.

The back wall is the focal point of small- to mid-sized booths. Use it to convey the one thing you want the audience to remember about you. Larger booths may have an extra point of reference or even two back walls (if it is on the corner of a row), but it will always be a top piece of your booth’s graphical “real estate.” Use it wisely.

4. Use digital graphics for a big advantage, but keep the message clear.

Digital graphics shown on display screens are not yet as pervasive as traditional printed graphics. They can do a great job of attracting attention simply by showing changing images, like your logo or videos of your product in action. Variety and on-screen action are powerful tools, but try overwhelm people. Focus on sending one strong message.

5. Integrate QR codes with print graphics.

You can give traditional print graphics a bit of an upgrade by including QR codes, which are barcode-style images visitors can scan with their smartphones. Scanning a code sends their smartphone’s web browser to a page on the Internet like your website, an online product description, an interactive experience, or Youtube video. Make sure that the “experience” they are led to after scanning the QR code is high-impact.

6. Use a limited number of static images.

Apart from your corporate logo, try to avoid using too many static images (e.g. photographs) around the booth. Think about how graphics are done on billboards. It is necessary to use images that “hit hard” in just a second or two because that’s all that people have to glance at them. There’s a time and a place for collections of images (e.g. your product catalog) but your booth graphic design is not one of them. You may also decide not to use any images at all.

7. Use a limited number of bright colors.

The rule of thumb is to use an absolute maximum of three colors. Again, the focus is on getting a simple message across in the least amount of time. Using a lot of different colors can make the booth feel “busy” and confuse the main message.

8. Respect empty space.  

The overall rule of thumb for booth design graphics is that they should be 40% empty space. That’s right––almost half of your graphics space should be totally blank. That is because what your message does not say is just as important as what it does say. Remember, you only get one shot at being memorable. Don’t clutter your booth with extraneous information.

9. Use your graphics’ height to attract visitors from all over the trade show.

You may need to have three main types of graphics, depending on how far away attendees can stand from your booth: long-range, medium-range, and short-range. You should place long-range graphics as high as possible within trade show regulation limits. Medium-range graphics go above eye level, around 6 – 8 feet above the floor, while short-range would be 5 – 6 feet above the floor.

10. Make your text legible.

Sans-serif fonts like Helvetica are generally considered to be the most easily read. Of course, your brand’s style guide will dictate some of these font decisions, but remember not to use more than 2 or 3 different fonts at the same time. As for size, a good rule of thumb is to add an inch of height to the font for every foot away that viewers will stand. If you want visitors to read your text comfortably from 10 feet away, for example, add 10 inches to the font size.

3D Trade Show Booth Design Ideas: The Space

Your booth’s 3D design can be just as important (if not more so) as graphics when it comes to attracting attention at a trade show. To use a quick analogy, think for a second about why many people are drawn to look at an expensive sports car on the street. Is it because of its red paint job, for example? To a certain extent yes, but its sleek body design and the way its doors open vertically are just as important attention-getters. Here’s how to make your booth more than just three walls and table:

1. Don’t be stingy when it comes to investing in booth design (layout).

Although cost will always be a factor, don’t ignore the potential return on investment of having a well-designed booth that gives people something to talk about. Consider focusing on “quality not quantity” by investing a little more in design and cutting back on the number of trade shows you attend to save on exhibitor and travel fees.

2. Build in inexpensive technological conveniences.

In a previous post, we suggested offering visitors a way to charge their smartphones in your booth. Why not offer them free WiFi as well, to use while they wait? Better yet, put a QR code (as suggested above) next to the charging station, so they can link to your website in the meantime. Providing this convenience is likely to become easier as wireless phone charging becomes more popular in the future. (You may have seen that technology in a Starbucks, for example.)

3. Use “real world” materials like wood wherever possible.

They lend an air of warm, welcoming authenticity to your booth.

4. Take a utilitarian approach to private meeting areas.

It is a good idea to be prepared for meetings. Consider designing a semi-private area like a small lounge that can also be used throughout the normal course of the trade show by visitors stopping by to charge their smartphones, for example.

5. Use physical elements to complement the booth’s graphics and vice versa.

Examples might be to have shelves or racks built on to the booth’s back wall that are integrated with your graphics there, or to have fans blow wind into streamers at the top of your booth. Freestanding digital display screens can also form extra “walls” to guide visitors through your booth.

6. Don’t forget lighting.

Apart from simply making the booth more welcoming, good lighting can draw attention to unique parts of your booth’s architecture or graphics. LED lights can be placed around the edge of graphics, for example, to provide consistent backlighting without interfering with the overall presentation.

To conclude, it’s important to remember that a well-trained, highly motivated booth staff can handle just about any trade show mishap, including a poorly designed booth. If you absolutely must make difficult budgeting decisions, prioritize investing in people. Just remember that the real magic happens when the right people are given the right resources. A good booth is definitely the right resource for any team.