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5 Places to Look for Trade Show Display Ideas

Looking for trade show display ideasWhere do you look for trade show display ideas for your next display design?  How about places where extra effort has been applied to make designs that stand out quickly.  Here are 5 places to try for ideas and inspiration:

Trade Shows   Gee, what a novel idea, look for trade show display ideas at a trade show!   You’ll be there anyhow, right?   At minimum you’ll look very closely at your competitors’ trade show booths to see how they differ or match your own marketing messages.   Now, take that heightened scrutiny and apply it to non-competitors as well.  If you can, walk the show before it opens, guessing which designs will pull in the most people.  Then come back during show hours to see if you were right — and see which booths actually do pull in the crowds.  Then try to discern why they were so successful.  Even better: walk a show outside your industry, so you can see how completely different exhibitors design their displays.     

Billboards   Billboards are best when designed to quickly communicate a single message, with big, bold images, and not much text.  Walking by 10-foot trade show displays at 3 miles per hour is similar to driving by a billboard at 60 miles per hour, because you only have a few seconds to get the message.  If your boss wants to overload your trade show display design,  take them for a drive, and ask them to count the words on the billboards that get their attention.  If you’re lucky, they’ll get an “aha!” moment, and you’ll have a new ally in making a more simple and effective display design.   And you can ask your boss to pay for lunch.

A Mall  While billboards can inspire inline exhibit ideas, retail stores provide inspiration for island trade show exhibits.  Walk a mall and see how individual stores within the mall have designed the signage to get you in.  Once inside ask yourself, how have they designed their space to handle traffic flow?  Identifying departments (just as you would identify divisions)?  Product merchandising?  Even look at color choices, suface materials, and how their staffers engage and talk with you.   Treat yourself to some new shoes while you’re there.

Magazines   Although magazines are made for reading at a more leisurely pace, ads within magazines are made to get your attention fast.  Look for ads that have engaging, simple designs.  What imagery did they use?  How did they handle the headline?  Is most of the text big?  And look beyond the ads, to the page layouts of the articles themselves.  Designers often create a more billboard-like first-page spread for longer articles, especially for the cover story.  Check out the typography, the color combinations, photos and illustrations, and textured backgrounds.  Once you start looking at magazines this way, you may forget to actually read them!

Online   With just a few clicks you can search for trade show exhibits and harness a bounty of images online.  It’s a quick way to look at lots of exhibits without leaving your desk.  To help your online search, we’ve photographed thousands of our client’s trade show exhibits, and put 450 of our best in our trade show display photo library, searchable by size and vertical market.  We’ve also put over 1,200 high-end renderings in our trade show exhibit design portfolio.  Just remember that online images tend to be small, two-dimensional, and lower resolution, while real exhibits are larger and meant to be experienced at a human scale.   Online is a good place to get ideas, but there ain’t nothing like the real thing.

About the Author

Mike Thimmesch is the Principal at Thimmesch Marketing. For over 25 years, he has created and implemented innovative marketing, lead generation, and exhibiting strategies that profitably grow company sales and brand awareness. Mike rose to Director level at Skyline Exhibits, where he helped generate over a half million leads, resulting in over $1 billion in sales. He published 11 industry white papers and eight exhibiting books, presented over 100 trade show webinars, and wrote over 200 exhibit marketing blog posts.

4 responses to “5 Places to Look for Trade Show Display Ideas

  1. Hi Mike,
    I am in the start up stage of a medical/bariatric surgery company. I know what marketing is all about. We will probably be going to trade shows in 2010. What is the best way to get started with trade show exhibits.
    All the best,
    Ray Larson

    1. Ray,

      Here’s the short-list action plan: Figure out your objectives first, as that will dictate your exhibit design, both its shape and messages. Know how much you have to spend for all your trade shows, as that will determine how many shows and what size spaces you can take — your booth space costs should be about 1/3rd your budget. Research potential trade shows on or, and see which trade shows have the best concentration of your target audience. Perhaps you have a business partner that is already exhibiting at some of those shows you can partner with in your start up phase. Start thinking about who will be your ace booth staffers, and how you can track and measure the results you create. And if you are going to only one show, highly consider renting your exhibit to conserve cash and allow flexibility for your quick evolution.

  2. 2 more great places to look for Trade Show Display Ideas is at art exhibits and museums. Attend college art exhibits or visit local art galleries. Another nice place to look for ideas is at the theater. See a show and study the stage design and get great ideas of what works and why it works. It’s also a perfect place to get lighting ideas as well.

    1. Richard,

      Great additions to the list. I don’t need many excuses to go to the art museum, but you’ve given me a good one. Our local Minneapolis Institute of Arts has a new show coming, The Louvre and the Masterpiece. Many thanks!

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