Wide-format Graphics: Designing trade show displays


Images courtesy Accenta

By Sherone Black
As the trade show season winds down for winter, there is no better time to take a step back and consider the materials displayed at these events. Signage, banners and booth graphics are often the first point of contact for new customers searching for products and services. As such, it is important for sign shop clients to ensure they are conveying the message they intend to. This is a question not only of wide-format printing and substrates, but also—and fundamentally—of graphic design.

To those unfamiliar with the field, a sojourn into the graphic design side of display marketing can be confusing at best and frustrating at worst. And terms like ‘choke,’ ‘crash,’ ‘creep,’ ‘burn,’ ‘widow,’ ‘bleed’ and ‘dagger’ can certainly make it seem like a negative place!

Nevertheless, it is important for business owners, marketing planners and exhibitors to gain a basic understanding of graphic design so they can boost their brand presence on the sales floor at trade shows and other special events. The careful composition of logos, imagery and text can ‘tell a story’ at a glance, which is vital in an environment where attendees only see such messages for an average total of three seconds.

Fortunately, they do not necessarily have to get it right the first time. Exhibitors, particularly the most budget-conscious among them, often choose to invest in sturdy, long-lasting banner display stands that are designed for ease of use via the swapping out of quick-change graphic panels. For them, the convenience of updating the displays’ messages far outweighs the initial costs of the units.

Whichever path they decide to take, however, there are some tried and true design approaches that never go out of style.


The venue needs to be taken into consideration to help optimize a display’s visibility.

Optimizing real estate
Graphic design is a continually evolving art form, where what is trendy today will seem outdated and/or overused a year from now, but good design always starts with ‘real estate’—that is to say, the blank canvas on which artwork will be printed to create a banner, sign or backdrop.

As this is where the brand image will ‘live’ for passersby, it is important to use the space wisely. First and foremost, it is important to give content room to breathe. Overcrowding a display will only create confusion, muddy the client’s message and alienate the potential customers with whom he/she is trying to connect.

Indeed, the phrase ‘less is more’ is nowhere more accurate than in the context of graphic design. Impactful design has a visual ‘rhythm’ and a natural flow that help make a message a pleasure for people to read. The urge to cover every square inch of space with images and text should be resisted. Customers will be grateful for a cooler, clearer design.

Measuring effectiveness
The phrase ‘user experience’ (UX) has become common in the world of online design to describe how people interact with a website, app or other property, but the concepts behind UX trace back to the industrial revolution and are relevant across multiple disciplines, including the design of trade show banners and signage.

The traditional metrics deployed to describe a system’s usability include efficiency, effectiveness and basic subjective satisfaction. As these terms suggest, a design should entice audiences with a pleasing, economical layout of words and impactful imagery, while increasing brand awareness and the potential for a return on investment (ROI).

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