Trade Show Booth Design: A How-to Guide

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Here’s how to know if you’ve failed at your trade show booth design:

image of people trying to figure out what you do

If you hear this phrase at your trade show booth, it means that you failed – big time! It means that everyone working that booth is going to waste precious time simply explaining why you are there and why you are relevant to the person standing in front of you. It also means that you are missing out on traffic from all the people who are legitimately interested in your products or services but simply won’t stop because they don’t have the time to ask that question. You’ve done a bad job of trade show booth design. 🙁

For your tradeshow booth design to be effective, you should have an idea what the company does – from 100 feet away.  This means two things you should always do and one thing you shouldn’t (I’ll get to that later).

Design Tip #1: Say what you do

Sounds a little silly, but it’s why you are there. Pretend for a moment that the world doesn’t revolve around you and your company, what would the text on your booth mean to them?

A good exercise is to limit yourself to a post-it note.  What can you fit on a post-it note (that you can still read) that explains what you do, who you do it for, and why anyone should care.  This is what needs to be on your booth.

Hint: Use only one post-it note.  When you put more than one post-it note in a room they tend to rise against their corporate overlords.

post-it notes attacking a very silly man
When you get complacent, that’s when the post-it notes attack.

If you’re lucky, sometimes this statement is already on your website or your other marketing materials.  Include it on your booth.

For example, my cousin has a company that makes boat shoes. If he had a trade-show booth he might use the following:

Two Degrees (his company’s name)
Remarkably Comfy Men’s Deck Shoes

Ooh, see – not so hard.  I know what they do (deck shoes), who it’s for (men), and why I should care (they are not just comfy – remarkably comfy!).

Design Tip #2: Your booth should match your brand

I get it, sometimes we like a little flash and pizazz, but your booth and decor should always make sense in context of what you have to offer, otherwise your message won’t resonate.

Let’s go back to my cousin’s company. At Two Degrees they utilize sustainable materials and, as part of their mission, they protect 1,000 feet of endangered habitat for each pair of deck shoes they sell. Here are some ideas that would work for designing their booth:

  • Use natural materials (or at least things that look like it)
  • Colors that mimic nature
  • Hero images of their shoes
  • Images of a casual lifestyle (they aren’t for sports)

These things work together to create an overall message that makes it easy for passers-by to understand who you are.

trade show booth design with an organic aesthetic
A booth more like this
trade show booth design with a modern aesthetic
Than this

The Worst Trade Show Booth Design

Feel the need to tell everyone all the things you do on the walls of your booth? Please don’t. Nobody has time for that.

I did not make this up:

trade show booth design gone wrong

See all the white dots? That’s text and I’m guessing nobody read it.

If you can’t describe who you are and what you do without vomiting lots of words at me, chances are that the conversation we’ll have at your booth won’t be very fun either (and therefore may never happen).

Trade show booth design is tough, and to do it right takes a lot of planning and time (especially if you have multiple people within your organization that need to green-light it before you can start). One of the best ways to buy yourself more time is to start with a set list of events for the year and a clear budget so you know what you can spend. Check out our ebook on trade show planning to learn more.

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We hope you also enjoy our ebook, Building A Better Trade Show. It’s our step-by-step guide to finding new opportunities, creating a budget, and planning for success.

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