principles of exhibition design

While art and attraction certainly play a major role in the design of an exhibition space, science should be the dominant discipline at play. Good looks are grounded in their ability to attract the attention of the right type of consumers; assets are added for interest and engagement and sensory elements for their ability to stimulate. But it seems the thinking behind the layout of an exhibition is often not based on the principles that can deliver increased cut through and consumer engagement but instead by what fits in the budget or can be reused from last year’s effort.

The principles of design is not a new concept, in fact Steve Bitgood and Don Patterson espoused their power as long ago as 1987. They believed that successful exhibitions should be built in answer to three key aspects of design:

  • The characteristics of the exhibit object
  • The characteristics of the exhibit architecture
  • The characteristics of the visitors

And while the language feels “so 80s”, they raise some valid and still very relevant points. In fact, while delivery has matured in look, execution and engagement the principles that underpin ‘good practice’ remain the same and when employed today can guarantee an exhibition space that delivers.

the characteristics of exhibit object

Simply put, this principle centres on the design components of the exhibition stand. There are seven factors to be considered in this phase:

  • Size – and it does matter. The bigger the object, the greater the dwell time
  • Movement – greater attention is paid to those stands with motion. A static display or stand doesn’t engender the same response as one with moving parts
  • Novelty – unsurprisingly, components of your exhibition stand that are new or novel attract attention. Doing things differently helps with cut through
  • Intrinsic interest – tapping into what is intrinsically interesting to us all secures attention. The ability to see something or someone rare, access to something valued or famous all pique our interest and drive desire to attend
  • Stimulating the senses – the eyes are not enough. Ensuring that your exhibition stand engages the senses beyond sight is a proven way of increasing engagement. Think smell, sound, taste and touch
  • Interaction – it’s no secret that understanding, learning and engagement is increased when consumers do something for themselves. Hands on participation is key to increasing dwell time as well as driving word of mouth through experiences that provide talking points and “Instagram” moments
  • Excitement – the most exciting exhibits become talking points and shared experiences for the audience in turn driving social interaction, conversations between strangers and a bigger and more memorable engagement

the characteristics of exhibit architecture

These are the more traditional positioning aspects of exhibition design including:

  • Visibility – the more visible you are, the more attention you attract. This is not just about prime positioning but about standing out from the crowds – think height, width and colour
  • Proximity – play where the people play. Be best positioned to take advantage of the crowds and as close to the action as you can afford
  • Positioning – while the eyes aren’t the only sense to be engaged they must be prioritised when considering positioning. Place your key attraction or messaging at eye level – this is what attracts attention and draws in your audience
  • Realism – the exhibition needs to feel real to consumers. By placing the product in a real environment they best understand how it works and its importance
  • Sensory overload – while sensory stimulation is key, overload is a detractor. Ensuring that these all work together, harmoniously, and the stand doesn’t become too busy is pivotal to ensuring attraction

the characteristics of the visitors

Knowing your audience well allows you to deliver an experience that is relevant to them. It shows you know and understand them and means you can tailor to their needs and wants.

  • Demographics – research your audience to develop a consumer profile. Age, gender, socioeconomic status, life stage, dependents and ethnicity should all be detailed
  • Special interests – the interests of your audience and your ability to relate to these will determine your penetration with the audience. Choosing the right place, time and opportunity to exhibit helps with this
  • Satiation – unsurprisingly attendees tire as they work their way through exhibitions. Grabbing their attention early on and positioning yourself close to the entry help combat this
  • Social influences – humans, by nature, are influenced by others. Exhibitions aren’t exempt from this, the presence and behaviour of those on the stand influencing those who walk by. Crowds attract crowds, engagement encourages others


principles of exhibition design