A large company once commissioned a stand from the agency that gave
the cheapest quote. It collected the stand a short time before the
exhibition was due to start. To the company's horror, there were
shocking spelling mistakes, the Pantone colours for the logo and
corporate identity were wrong, the scanning was appalling and the panels
didn't line up. The client was distraught and it ended up costing a
frightening amount of money because another company had to be found to
do the whole job again in less than a week.
It doesn't have to be that way, according to Photobition marketing
manager Rob Kelly. "Think about the graphics before anything else and
cost it into the design of the stand," he says. "Always use a graphic
The downside of computer-aided design (CAD) is that everyone thinks
they're a designer. If you're serious about producing a professional
stand, don't give the job to the office junior."
Out of the dark days
Things have improved from the dark days of the Seventies when the height
of sophistication was to have a scantily-clad model decorating a new
"It certainly gets attention, but very much the wrong type," says
Furneaux Stewart design director Laurie Stewart.
Other examples of design howlers have included carefully designed stands
which clients then covered with pot plants to make them "a bit more
Stewart believes the key to a successful stand is an integrated design
process. "Whoever designs the stand should also design the graphics," he
says. "Get the project manager, the 3D designer and the graphic designer
together from the start."
Excellent production with quality materials is key. "It is essential to
embrace new technology and invest in equipment," says ETC managing
director Neil Fraser. He believes that with a good concept, a tight
brief, and a good computer operator anything is possible. "Understand
what the machines can do," he says. "When you have a quiet moment,
experiment with finishes and formats - you'll be astonished at what you
Nowadays, the cost of hardware is plummeting, and companies can access
sophisticated kit without having to break the bank. Printmax from
supplier PCG can put a large format colour print package in your hand
for as little as £118 a month, for example. Sophisticated
laminating machines are also available for use in-house and these cut
the cost of outsourcing.
The problem with this is that it allows almost anyone to set themselves
up as a graphics house. "For £20,000 you can buy a printing
machine put it in your garage and start churning out graphics," says Key
Designs managing director David Miall. "But that doesn't mean you're a
graphics producer. We get absolutely exasperated walking around
exhibitions by the quality of some of the prints."
But how can professional companies stand up to the fly-by-nights?
"Cowboy outfits have a huge impact on proper companies and it is
essential to be ahead of the game in terms of technology and investment
in equipment," says ETC's Fraser. And Stewart adds: "Just be careful
about who you work with."
Coming back to the fold
Key Designs won't even tackle the cowboys on price. "It's just not worth
it," says Miall, who has had clients come back to the fold after a bad
experience. His advice to clients is to be diligent. "Always visit the
graphics house," he says. "Don't buy graphics over the phone."
Clients should also get full-size samples made from their own data
files, as well as a smaller piece from the finished article to check for
problems such as bitmapping. "You have to take into account viewing
distance, types and depths of colours, the size of the imagery and
whether the artwork is of sufficient quality to enlarge to a three-metre
image - library shots often aren't," says Photobition's Kelly.
However, not everyone thinks the democratisation of the industry is a
bad thing. "High quality visuals can be produced without much skill
provided you have the right type of equipment," says Hunt Graphics
direct marketing coordinator Steven Green. "It's patronising to assume
that people who work in a company don't understand the needs of that
Hunt supplies a mix of equipment and backs this up with training and
technical support. However, he concedes that the finished product "still
depends on the quality of the design concept."
Experienced graphic designer Peter Ashley insists designers are crucial
to the image of a company. "Our job is have great ideas and translate
those ideas into effective and exciting communication," he says. "Even
the smallest space can be enhanced by a good idea, well executed, with
quality materials - and it needn't be expensive."
Furneaux Stewart put together Citroen's presence at the Fleet Show 2001
at Alexandra Palace, which as well as the stand included an
attention-grabber at the entrance featuring two cars on a digitally
It included a Tri-Wonder animated graphic backdrop. "It gave movement,
three images and three messages in a restricted space," says
Giant Exhibitions director Carole Cozzi is keen to warn of the dangers
of overdoing it. "Effective graphics doesn't mean overbranding, it means
the right graphic, in the right place, at the right time," she says.
The key is to remember that visitors won't read everything, and need to
be steered through the stand experience. "Stands are not just about
plinths and platforms - every single thing must reinforce the value of
the brand, the product and the overall marketing strategy," says
Photobition's Kelly backs this up. "Work out where the walk-on and
walk-off points are going to be and exactly what message you want to
Make sure something catches their eye at every point," he says.
Money isn't everything, but clients must make the most of their
exhibition budgets. Here a professional design company can be
invaluable. Giant Graphics director Gary Sullivan argues that companies
are often hamstrung by their lack of knowledge. "Many companies,
particularly if they are unfamiliar with exhibiting, assume that they
are very limited by their budget, and are therefore very narrow-minded
in their approach," he says. "Our job is to open their eyes to other
Make your cash go further
And there are ways to make that cash go further. "Being very expensive
you'd think people would look after graphics," says Miall. "But they'll
stick them on the wall with Velcro and then rip them off, which quickly
makes them pretty tatty."
The solution is to finish them properly in the first place, using
techniques such as encapsulation, and to spend some money on carrying
cases. These have been available in the US for some time and are now
finding their way into the UK market.
"Of course, cost is important," says ETC's Fraser. "Check the invoicing
structure and the deal very carefully, but don't let the cost detract