Making an exhibition of yourself

Derek Green Thursday, February 08, 2018

If you were to ask 100 graphic professionals what the most rewarding part of their job is, I suspect a high percentage would answer that it was watching their ideas evolve from roughly drawn concepts into finished physical items. I can clearly recall the heart-stopping moment I had, in 1990, as I walked out of London’s Hammersmith tube station to be confronted with work that I’d recently completed for a contemporary music organisation. As I surveyed the billboards in from, my grin must have been a mile-wide. I believe that the first time anyone sees their work mass-produced and publicly displayed as a professional designer, is always a special moment.

Screen grab from BBC website in 2010 showing Humanist Society of Scotland poster

I remember reading an interview with Lynn Trickett in Creative Review many years ago. She talked about the first series of stamps that Trickett & Webb was commissioned to design by the Post Office. Once the stamps were released and in the public domain, Lynn said that her mother finally felt that she had “made it” as a designer.

Parents never seem to loose pride in what their creative offspring produce. As a child progresses through its artistic career, colourful primary school paintings attached to the fridge door segue into Pinterest boards showing published work. For me it was the image of a typographic poster that I’d designed for the Humanist Society of Scotland to coincide with the Pope’s visit to Glasgow – and featured on the BBC website – that was the catalyst for my folks to contact and congratulate me on what I do.

Illustrated visual of the Dee Two exhibition stand for Spring Fair 2018

As designers, we meander from one project to another and remain focussed on the purpose and impact that our work has to have with its intended audiences. However we sometime forget the effect that our own work can have on ourselves. Last summer [gawr-juhs] produced a few design concepts for Dee Two’s Spring Fair exhibition stand which, at that time, was 8 months away. We drew-up initial plans and visuals of how the display units would be positioned, in order to maximise the floorspace, ensure products were shown to their best, and make the space inviting for visitors. We also knew that the display graphics would be developed later in the year, in parallel with the design of client’s new product catalogue. Once Dee Two were in agreement with our proposals, they purchased additional display units, and took advantage of their large warehouse facility to practice setting up the stand at actual size in readiness for the show. 

Photo of the Dee Two exhibition stand at Spring Fair 2018

Fast forward to last weekend, when I travelled to the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham to attend the Spring Fair and support Dee Two. If you’ve never been, then let me say that this exhibition is big. Really big. Every hall at the NEC is in use, and every hall is a labyrinth of stands with companies keen to sell their products or services. So I wasn’t surprised to lose my bearings almost immediately after entering the Fashion, Jewellery and Luggage section. Knowing their stand number, I navigated my way towards Dee Two. Suddenly I experienced a moment very similar to the one I’d had in Hammersmith twenty-eight years ago. There in front of me was the stand, looking resplendent, and very close to the visuals we’d created last year. 

Photo of customers on Dee Two stand at Spring Fair 2018

I spent a fascinating day observing visitors as they approached and interacted with the Dee Two stand and its staff. Certainly our thoughts in making the space feel more ‘retail’ and less exhibition appeared to work. Positioning two central displays at a diagonal, ensured products were immediately visible from all approaches, plus it eliminated that ‘invisible barrier’ that visitors to trade shows are often frightened to cross. Varying the heights of units along the side and back walls also created visual interest, as the displays of products cascaded beautifully in both directions. 

Before departing the show, the owners of Dee Two – Mary & David Davis – and I all agreed that their stand had been much busier on the first day of Spring Fair than it had been on the same day in 2017. For me, it will be interesting to learn whether this display assisted in generating new sales for them throughout the show. If it did, then I would consider it to be a successful project.

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