From the early days of cave paintings and engraved images on stone tablets, graphics have been used to grab people's attention. Today, visual presentations are still crucial if any event is to be successful. Everything from photographs, videos, company logos, diagrams, numbers and symbols appear on walls, canvas, computer screens and even promotional staff to create that much-coveted wow factor.
The world of event graphics, whether for a product launch, exhibition or experiential activity, has changed enormously over the years, and technology is increasingly being used to give organisers and brands the stand-out they crave.
The transition from slides to using computer software, for instance, means graphics and text can now be changed minutes before an event, or even during it. Plasma screens are also regularly hooked up to DVD players to run complex graphic sequences on a loop.
Moving images will certainly liven up an event. Videos can mark the start of an event or be an attention-grabber to tell attendees something is about to happen. Moving graphics can also rejuvenate guests who are starting to lose interest at an event, and can convey statistical information or messages in an interesting way.
"The movement of graphics attracts people's attention in an environment that might otherwise be still," says Pete Ellison, studio manager at graphics and animation agency First Image. "They provide visual stimulation that arouses interest and can bring an event or brand to life."
First Image produced a series of graphics and visual sequences for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft launch in the United States and at seven venues around the world. The sequences, entitled 'How will you travel through life?', featured footage, photos and graphics representing frozen moments in time, with a specially composed soundtrack.
Experiential events aim to change consumer behaviour and attitudes towards a brand. The strength of the graphics will dictate how a brand stands out in any live environment, so they must be carefully thought out during the entire creative process, from the conceptual stage to final production. The consumer should enjoy a visual and physical experience.
At experiential agency RPM, creative director Neil Hooper says that in cluttered environments such as retail, graphics can subtly reinforce a company's presence or scream it out loud, depending on the brand's personality. "The graphics need to enhance the experience and not be just a 'badging' exercise," he says. "At experiential events the brand must be represented beyond the logo, with graphics used to add layers of texture and meaning to the experience." He cites the example of work RPM organised for the Sky Festival in Manchester.
There are also many additional graphic elements that clients and designers must consider when planning an event. The graphics are likely to be used in everything from email, advertising and direct marketing before, during and after an event.
A good graphic designer will analyse the target audience so he or she knows how to approach the event brand. "This is vital if the right colours, font and images are to be used and the right message conveyed," says Chris Townsend, managing director of design consultancy TA2, which helps agencies pitch for event business by providing a combination of digital technology and traditional hand-drawn sketches to show organisers how their event will look.
At consumer and trade exhibitions, strong graphics, whether moving or static, can be the difference between having a busy stand and sales staff being left twiddling their thumbs.
Equinox Design sales and marketing manager Carl Criscione says the lines are blurring between stand design and graphics. He points to new technology that allows wallpaper graphics on walls, large banners or even graphics on fabric, linked to clever lighting that shines through non-solid walls. "Our aim is to create graphics that will have such an impact people will want to spend more time on a company's stand," says Criscione.
Equinox has devised exhibition graphics for clients such as Fujifilm and Dunlopillo, and Crisioni warns clients not to think of a stand wall as an A4 piece of paper that must be crammed from top to bottom. "You cannot use graphics to replace sales people, so don't use too much text," he says. "People do not 'read' stands in that way. A graphic should purely be a way to start a conversation with the sales team."
Bad graphics can be one of the reasons an event fails to meet its objectives. Claire Morgan, managing director of Signstage, is amazed event companies and agencies can still get it so wrong. "We see unsuitable typefaces, bad layout, poor design and awful production, yet it costs the same to do it well," she says. "An event must look as good as the products being promoted are claiming to be."
So how much time do graphic designers need to work their magic and produce something that will whet the appetite and excite visitors at an event? Martin Workman, head of graphics at MCM Productions, worked on the media launch of Honda Earthcar and devised graphics for a Royal Bank of Scotland gala dinner attended by 600 staff. He says he can receive as little as two weeks' notice about an event. "This can be tricky, but there is always a corporate look you can work with to help you come up with ideas quickly," he adds.
Workman prefers to have direct contact with clients rather than have graphic ideas translated by agencies. Two examples where MCM's relationship with clients has been strong include a Guardian event at the Labour Party Conference, where the media company wanted a vine look with floral images stretching across the walls and the floors, and an event for Warner Bros, where MCM produced a nine-metre, stained-glass panel that featured images of films the company has produced.
"Some clients, such as banks, tend to be quite corporate and conservative when it comes to event graphics, and there is room for everyone to be more creative," says Workman.
Richard Smart, director of Colorset, which produces event graphics for companies such as Boots, Sky and Harrods, believes clients are starting to demand innovation. "They are responding to alternatives to traditional graphic panels and banners. These could involve printing onto a rigid material such as glass or creating 3D shapes from acrylic," he says.
Indeed, whether the event is for staff, customers or the general public, it would seem that graphics companies are becoming more and more adventurous, and not shying away from doing something different. Just look at what those cavemen started.
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DOS AND DON'TS
Our seven featured experts on what to remember - and avoid
- Don't try and cram in too much information or text to static or visual graphics - people won't read it. Graphics should only complement other parts of an event.
- Do make things bold, especially if using computer screens. Can people at the back of the room see things clearly?
- Do try and use music where possible to create more impact.
- Do make sure the graphics are interesting. If they are not interesting to you, they won't be to your audience.
- Don't be scared of trying something different.
- Do take time to think about what colours best suit your brand. Psychedelic colours rarely work for brands.
- Don't clutter a stand or stage with too many graphics. Keep it clear and simple.
- Don't make motion graphic sequences too long. People's interest wanes after about three minutes. Ambient sequences played on a loop in the background work well at events.
- Martin Workman, MCM Productions
- Carl Criscione, Equinox Design
- Claire Morgan, Signstage
- Richard Smart, Colorset
- Chris Townsend, TA2
- Neil Hooper, RPM
- Pete Ellison, First Image