Complete A-Z Guide to Exhibition Stand Design
We’ve explained every term, acronym and quirk relating to planning, designing and managing an exhibition stand design project.
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Complete A-Z Guide to Exhibition Stand Design
The essential A-Z of exhibiting! We’ve explained every term, acronym and quirk relating to planning, designing and managing an exhibition stand design project. From the different types of exhibition stands you can have, to what RAM is; we have it all covered.
Aluminium exhibition stands
Many of the stands in big events are aluminium. These are the major components of modular systems, reusable, recyclable and cost effective; a great way of making a large impact stand without the use of timber.
Your audience at an event will be the key deciding factor of your messaging, space, budget and reason for attending any event. Get these things right and your exhibition space will be a success.
Lights that are attached to the top on an exhibition stand to light up the face of graphics and walls.
If you plan to use vinyl graphics on the floor of your stand, they will need to have an R (Anti Slip) rating for approval in exhibition halls. Your exhibition designer will be able factor this into the production of the stand.
All exhibition stands will have branding on them to a greater or lesser degree. This can be as printed graphics, vinyls or as digital messaging.
Buy VS hire an exhibition stand
Bespoke exhibition stands
Larger bespoke or custom stands enable the exhibitor to be able to create a really engaging space for your audience to fully experience your brand, your people and your products. Typically, a high-end exhibition space, but they can be delivered for almost any budget if you work with the right exhibition stand or exhibition booth designer.
Booths and stands. Are they the same thing?
Pretty much! In the UK, an exhibition stand or exhibition space usually refers to a space only area in an exhibition hall, whereas a booth is typically a space in a shell scheme. Europe and the USA tend to refer to all exhibition spaces as booths regardless of location in an exhibition hall.
A “back wall” is (pretty much) as the name suggests. Usually, a back wall is the back of a shell scheme exhibition stand that backs onto an ‘open on three sides’ space in a exhibition floor plan, but can also be a back of an neighbour’s stand behind yours. If you don’t have a back wall you will need to provide one as using a neighbour’s is generally frowned upon…
A fabric, acrylic or a translucent wall that has lighting inside it making graphics and images really bright and punchy.
A good exhibition brief is the start – and often the most important part – of the design process for your stand or space. Getting this right from the outset will save you time and money. We’d recommend you read our post on writing an exhibition brief. It will give you all the hints and tips you need to write a brief like a boss.
Don’t forget to include examples of previous stand design & builds and stand ideas you like in your brief too.
Balls (other variations available)
An often used term at an event when you’ve not used a checklist and have forgotten an all important part of your stand. Prevent use of this particular word.
Business design centre
An event space designed by Satan himself. You will struggle to find a venue that’s harder to exhibit at (except maybe Truman’s brewery). Key features are awful parking, horrible delivery spaces and a lift the size of a postage stamp. If you are exhibiting at this event, which is actually a nice event space when you are set up, get someone else to do it for you…use a contractor.
Custom built exhibition stands
Custom builds are designed and built specifically for the needs of a particular event and space. Many custom built stands are timber based and require a large amount of trades, time and cost on site to construct.
(Also see artwork.) Creative describes the design process of your exhibition stand and may include the plan, design and artwork for your stand. If you get asked, “Is the creative approved?”, this actually means: “Is the ‘design/look/artwork good to go?”.
You’ll find lots of stand ideas throughout this post. If you’re looking for something in particular, drop us a line!
Specifically, coffee machines on exhibition stands!
Exhibitions are practically fuelled by coffee. Ever been out until 2am on the town and then back on the stand the following morning at 8am? Trust me, you’ll need a coffee machine on the stand. We’ve seen the results of teams and customers not getting their coffee…
Conference exhibition stands
Depending on the type of venue, conference exhibitions can vary wildly in their size and design. Conferences held in small hotels and small event spaces are often simple tabletop events that are normally set up on the day of the event by the exhibitors. Larger venues can often be a mix of self-built stands, pop ups and custom stands fitted by exhibition stand contractors.
Carpets on exhibitions are often provided by event organisers for shell schemes as part of a package, in a range of colours to choose from. Space only stands can have carpets supplied by the event organisers, but it is fairly usual for stand contractors to supply flooring and carpets as a part of the exhibition space.
It is always worth checking with the event organiser before assuming carpets are provided. The majority of carpets provided aren’t environmentally friendly containing fibres that often can’t be recycled. At Motive, we give you the option to hire carpets made from natural fibres that can be reused or recycled.
A key part of EVERY event is a checklist! From the contractor packing list through to the exhibitors list of ‘must take’ packing requirements. An exhibition without a checklist is not recommended, so here’s our guide to the successful checklist.
Event organisers need to manage their events meticulously and it’s essential they know who is on-site at all times. You will need to give the organisers the heads-up as to who is going to be on your exhibition build team ahead of the day, so they can be issued with a pass.
An important part of the show is capturing your leads and recording your sales. Event organisers will often supply barcode and data capture solutions. You can rent tablets, take your own or just use a good old fashioned pen and paper. However you do it, just make sure you do!
Getting the right exhibition designer who can translate your brand into eye-catching designs is a key part to the success of your show.
Most large exhibition designers will provide concept stand ideas as part of the tendering process. The layout of the stand as a CAD will be the first part to approve. Once this is agreed, then we’ll start getting the stand design details nailed down, ready for final approval and your vision to become reality!
There are four common references you’ll come across:
Bespoke or custom
A custom built exhibition stand tailored to your exhibition space and target audience and totally unique to your brand.
Modular stands are a series of portable displays that are connected together to create one exhibition stand. The most versatile option⏤these can be reconfigured to suit the booked exhibition space.
A shell scheme stand is the most common type of stand assigned to exhibitors when an exhibition space is booked. It is a predetermined uniform space ready to be dressed with graphics.
Eco-friendly Exhibition Stands
Actually, it is startlingly difficult to do. Eco-friendly display stands and systems should reduce the impact of every aspect of the event. From the way materials are transported, to the way that materials are recycled or reused, ask your supplier how you can make as little impact as possible when you exhibit.
An eco-friendly, sustainable stand doesn’t stop at the three walls of the stand – it includes the amount of energy used to power your exhibition, the transport vehicles used, additional items such as carpets, giveaways and refreshments.
Hiring or reusing your exhibition stand for other events is one way to bring your environmental impact down. The stands on the right are modified and reused regularly.
Once you’ve booked your stand space, you’ll receive an exhibition pack from the organisers. This usually includes important paperwork for you to fill in and return to them. Definitely not one to tuck in a drawer and forget about!
End of Show
After the show exhibitors and self builds are often only given 30 minutes to clear their spaces. Yes, you read that correctly. They are given sole access to the lifts and the parking and drop off areas. After this period normally the doors are opened and contractors will arrive on site, the hall will rapidly at this point change from being an exhibition hall to a building site.
This is where using experienced exhibition stand builders is worth its weight in gold. After several days on your feet and a couple of nights entertaining (see below) you do need to ask whether the cost of subcontracting outweighs the hassle and aggravation of trying to get in a lift with a sea of contractors in hi vis and armed with power tools!
Everyone does it, you meet clients, colleagues, competitors and other exhibitors after the day’s show, meet at the pub, go for a beer or something to eat … then roll in at daylight the following day, thinking it was a good idea at the time. Remember to pack your paracetamol
Your package may come with electricty. It is worth considering whether the allocated 500w watts of power will be enough to run what you want.
Event organisers will often have a dedicated supplier and you can hire everything from literature stands to comfy sofas. This can soon add up £ wise. If you are self building it might be tempting to take your own, but be aware that you’ll need to deal with the logistics of this and will need a van. We can provide furniture as part of the exhibition stand build.
Fabric exhibition panels
Fabric exhibition panels give an option for a seamless graphic on your stand. These panels are usually attached to a modular aluminium frame and are under tension to give a nice neat finish.
Food preparation on a stand
There are, quite rightly, a lot of rules regarding the preparation of food in an exhibition hall.
You will need to provide heat guards between your customers and cookers and also need clean water and washing up facilities. All events are different and also the venues often have different layouts, so it’s always best to check the exhibitors manual in advance of planning your event.
Your exhibition designer might refer to ‘flats’. This is the term for timber exhibition walls that are wrapped with graphics and are used to create spaces and offices in the exhibition hall.
An almost mandatory part of the stand builders arsenal used to shift pretty much everything from flooring, graphics, tools to sandwiches and flasks across the country to exhibition venues. Flight Cases are rigid storage cases – often metal and on wheels to safely get your stand from A to B.
Festivals and outdoor events
Exhibition stands can pop up anywhere! Outdoor events or roadshows are perfect for being adventurous and creative with your exhibition stand and build. It will need to be robust and weatherproof to survive sloshed VIPs, wet grass and the great British Summer.
A good exhibition stand builder will factor the environmental elements into the creative stand ideas they present to you. They’ll also be thinking about the logistics of a festival, which are always fun. Prosecco anyone?
Space only trade stands will not come with any flooring at all. You will need to consider this as part of the exhibition stand design and build.
Depending on your booking and type of stand you may be given the option to hire carpet.
There are lots of options to consider, some more eco-friendly and sustainable than others.
If you plan to exhibit regularly you might consider flooring which can be reused and easily stored by your exhibition builders between trade shows.
Graphics are a major part of every stand or event and if done properly, can make your stand really pack a punch and stand out from the crowd. Graphics on exhibitions can be designed either by the exhibition stand designers or your own designers. Working in conjunction with your own designers and the stand design team will ensure those ideas can be built successfully and within budget.
A great way of getting interaction on an exhibition stand as crowds draw crowds and a game or competition will help draw people to your space. This then gives you the opportunity to be able to interact with your customers and visitors. They can also give your stand visitors a memorable experience that stays with them after the event.
A huge range of merchandise is available for giveaways. People are a little more conscious of sustainability, but a good set of useful, reusable merchandise products will give your visitors something to keep and keep you front and centre of their thoughts.
Almost an obligatory part of day two of an exhibition or event…Pack plenty of paracetamol (see above under ‘Entertaining’)!
How do I get people to my stand?
A little tenuous but one of the top questions we get asked! Creating an exhibition stand that delivers what your audience wants rather than what you want, is a top tip.
A stand that’s in a good spot, well promoted ahead of the exhibition, appeals to the audience, is easy to come on and off of, engage with (see games) and they can grab a freebie from (coffee, sweets etc.) is usually a good bet. You’ll find plenty of stand ideas through this post 🙂
Obtain the temporary use of (something) for an agreed payment.
The world of events is no different to normal day to day life. Do the maths on a bit of equipment or a display stand. If you are only going to use it once it’s probably better to hire it. Hiring is also a much more sustainable eco-friendly approach to exhibiting.
“If I had a £5 for every time I had forgotten a high viz and spent a £5er on high viz I’d be a lot better off”
During the shows themselves you can wear what you like (within reason) and you won’t need a hi-viz jacket, but on build up and breakdown days all contractors, exhibitors and staff are required to wear hi-viz. The events and halls know that you are likely to forget these, so will charge a small fortune for them. Always better to take a few with you.
Hospitality – keep your team and visitors fed during the event
You may be able to book catering by the venue ahead of time. These ‘drop and go’ deliveries direct to your exhibition stand are perfect for morning pastries, sandwich platters and drinks to keep staff and visitors fed and hydrated. They may also provide coffee machines, water coolers and disposable glassware and cutlery.
Interactive Stand Ideas
Interactive stands similar to games (see above)
Island Exhibition Stand
An island exhibition stand is a space only location in a hall that is open on all sides, once your stand is built, especially if you are using raised flooring, you will have an island in the middle of the hall to show off your brand. Not sure what stand space you need? Read this guide
Installing an exhibition stand
Depending on the size, complexity, venue and type of construction installing your stand, the ease of construction for you will vary largely.
Installing an exhibition stand can take days or minutes. Without a doubt, the logistics of getting in and out of the venue will be a consistent challenge regardless of type or size. Using an exhibition design company will instantly take this worry away.
Similar to coffee machines and water bottles, a juice bar can offer something a little different for your customers to take a little time out of their day. You can only drink so much coffee in one day.
Either for joy, or off the top of a tall object. This can depend on the success or failure of your event.
Killer exhibition stands
Can be either: “Wow that looks killer!” or: “this part of your risk assessment doesn’t seem right to me and your stand will fall over!”. Either way both can be resolved by appointing an exhibition stand design team who knows what they are doing.
Clever lighting can enhance your display and make your products and brand a focal point. It can make smaller products appear larger and can pack a punch, particularly when you make good use of colour to wow your visitors.
Portable and lightweight exhibition stands are ideal for a startup and can be used across many different venues. Roller banners are the best example of this and do have a part to play, as do pop ups and tension fabric systems.
A key part of any show is to get the exhibition stand lighting right on your display. Used correctly it will show off your products, make your stand eye-catching and enhance your brand. On all custom and bespoke stands, your exhibition stand builder will be able to advise the best options available to you.
LED (Light Emitting Diodes) are cheap, long lasting, low voltage lights that can be used to enhance illumination on your exhibition stand. Commonly used for lighting on plinths, display cases and signs, these are nearly always 12v and are easy for an exhibitor to buy and use and will reduce your carbon footprint if used instead of traditional lighting.
LED Wall (also see Video Wall)
A super, high impact, LED wall will really make you stand out from the crowd. Available from most large exhibitions businesses as a rental unit, a specialist team will work with the exhibition construction team and install the screen as a part of the display.
Normally supplied as a rental unit, a modular exhibition stand is most commonly made of aluminium elements (modules) that come in set sizes and shapes.
These modules are then joined together by a specialist team, almost as a giant grown-ups’ lego set. To this the team will add fabric or rigid graphics to clad the system and fix lighting, monitors and other items to provide a high impact, reasonably priced solution.
If you want to exhibit at multiple locations with different stand dimensions or looking for reusable sustainable alternatives, then modular stands are perfect.
Meeting Spaces on a stand
Always worth thinking about if your dream client walks onto your stand and wants to have a chat; where are you going to talk to them? Think of this as a part of a brief if you think you’ll need it and ask your exhibition booth designer to configure this into your layout.
Machinery on Exhibition stands
Machinery can bring plenty of challenges for both the exhibitor and the exhibition stand builders. The sheer logistics of getting the vehicles in and out of the show with the amazing help and support of the venue (see traffic officer), can almost be a job in itself.
Narrow exhibition stands and spaces
The ultimate challenge for a designer, narrow stands can be a great way of saving money on your exhibition space, but you’ll need to work carefully with the designer to make sure you make best use of every sq cm of space.
Birmingham NEC, is possibly the most well-known exhibition destination in the UK. It’s not the only exhibition location in Birmingham – there are eleven of them.
Outdoor and festival exhibition stands
Larger events often can be outside. Outdoor exhibition spaces are subject to a lot more stringent specifications than internal construction, and calculations must be made for wind before sign off for a space is granted. ALWAYS use an exhibition builder for external events involving structures.
Organisers of trade shows are an unusual breed and have the organisation skills of a military planner and the patience of a saint. They will be on hand to help and support an exhibitor through the process and help and guide through each step of the way. Watch for increasing levels of anxiety and shortness of patience as the d-day approaches.
Planning an exhibition stand
Planning an exhibition stand is for the uninitiated a pretty large undertaking, our guide will help you start this.
A list of names and contact details you and your team have collected at the end of your event. This is the list you will need to follow up on to convert your leads into sales or orders.
Trade show exhibition halls may offer you ways to collect this information digitally. If you need help and ideas, then our team is always on hand.
Yes really. You’ll be expected to submit the details of the vehicles you are bringing. The contractor (or you, if you’re doing it yourself), will be given a time slot when you can unload. Expect a lot of sitting around, waiting for the call…
Project management fee
Most larger exhibition stand design businesses will charge something as a project management fee. One look at the vast amount of paperwork that is associated with an exhibition stand ‘build and dismantle’ and all of a sudden, you will understand why this is a chargeable item.
From parking permits, contractor passes, electrical orders, RAMS (risk assessment and method statements) and a whole raft of other items, a project manager will ensure all the dull paperwork is dealt with and your stand is delivered on the day.
Brochures, product sheets, giveaways… What promotional materials will you need to produce to match your stand, and how will you display them? We offer exhibitors a range of brochure stands they can hire, but it’s worth factoring these in during the stand design stage, so they don’t look like an afterthought.
P!ss up in a brewery
A poorly executed exhibition stand can often be described as this.
Reusable Exhibition Stands
If you want to get the absolute best out of your custom exhibition stand or booth and the most bang for your buck, work with your supplier to design a system that can not only be reused, but can also be re-used for multiple configurations. Modular stand systems lend themselves to this perfectly.
Normally, these are finite, unless you are in marketing in which case they need to be infinite, especially on the day of your event. Plan the teams you’ll need for set-up and stand management ahead of time, including who will cover their work whilst they are gone for a few days. Use a contractor to build and dismantle, it will take some of the hassle away.
RAMS (Risk assessment and method statement)
All ‘space only’ and most modular shell schemes will require RAMS to be submitted and approved by the event organiser prior to commencing build. Your exhibition stand builder should deal with all aspects of this for you and it will be included in the project management fee.
You might get asked if you want this on your stand. What does it mean? Rigging is often used on large projects to be hung from the ceiling of an event hall. This gives your brand visibility from 360 degrees across the hall, and will help clients to find you from a long way away.
It’s not a cheap option, as specialist fitters are employed by the venue and it’s compulsory that these venue approved contractors are used. Organising this is not a five minute job and if you are really considering it, speak with your stand supplier who has experience of this and they will deal with all aspects of the process.
See RAMS (above), and mandatory paperwork for all exhibition builds and dismantles.
Shell scheme systems (usually Octanorm in the UK) are supplied by event organisers for smaller booths or stands. This is normally fitted by external contractors for the venues and will be one of the first parts of the exhibition construction.
Shell scheme systems are often supplied as packages that can include carpets, electricity and lighting.
Graphics can also be purchased as a part of the solution, but these are rarely produced by the shell scheme suppliers and are outsourced by them. They are heavily marked up, nearly always Foamex and it’s usually cheaper if you can source these externally. Contact us for environmentally sustainable and reusable alternatives.
Can you make a shell scheme look good on a budget? Get our list of do’s and don’t’s.
Sustainable Exhibition Stands
A huge subject and one that is very much on most buyers’ checklists! Make sure you read our blog post on how to make your exhibition stand more sustainable.
‘Space only’ in an exhibition hall is exactly this – rather than having your booth or stand in a shell scheme – the event organiser will just hire you a space in the hall. The rental price of this per m2 is usually cheaper, but you need to provide everything to go in this area. ‘Space only’ is nearly always supported by custom exhibition booth builders.
What’s the difference between shell scheme and space only? Which one is best for you?
Small Exhibition Stands
A small stand is not always a bad idea. They are cost effective and easy to manage and if they are expertly designed and well positioned, they can give as much wow factor as a larger stand for a much smaller cost.
Basic rule of thumb: if you are only exhibiting once or twice a year then a rental system is probably the best option cost wise. If you are planning on exhibiting more than this, we usually recommend a purchase. This also will give your finance team the option to capitalise this as an asset that will have advantages on your corporation tax bill.
Who you are going to take to the stand is a major consideration. A balancing act between getting enough people on the stand to manage all your client interactions and flooding the stand with your people so visitors can’t get on, is the challenge. Staff need to be lively and up for a good couple of days. It’s pretty normal for the marketing team to be on the stand also (sorry if you are in marketing, reading this and were hoping to dodge that bullet!).
Custom, modular and bespoke exhibition stands are nearly always undertaken by exhibition stand builders. With larger stands taking upwards of five days to complete, this is a major feat of construction, logistics and project management.
Stand build dates are always identified on your exhibitors manual. When you write your stand brief, this will be the first question your exhibition builder will ask you, so adding this to your brief will be hugely helpful.
You’ve done the big stuff so now, what will get your team through the day? A lightweight box with a first-aid kit, pens and pencils, stapler with staples, a variety of tape, scissors, extension cords and chargers, clipboards, rubbish bags, hand sanitiser, cleaning wipes, snacks, screwdriver, name tags and of course, emergency chocolate!
TV displays are a useful addition to your stand brief. If you have content that’s engaging, it makes sense to add this as moving images to your exhibition stand, to help draw in visitors.
Trade show stands
Trade show packing list
See ‘checklist’ above
A person outside an event wearing a hi-viz jacket, and a hardhat, sporting a large clipboard and often a large attitude to match, rarely seems to resolve any problems. In fact, they often seem to add to them…
An absolutely brilliant venue in which to exhibit: it’s cool, it’s in the centre of town, it’s vibrant, it’s a great layout and visitors love to attend events there.
Exhibition logistics for this venue though require military precision planning. It’s a truly awful venue to get in and out of with a van; there is no parking or waiting and the traffic wardens nearby book their holidays after a day of issuing parking fines.
If you are planning an event here…get someone who knows the venue to do this for you.
Three phase electrical supply
When you book your stand, you will be asked if you need power for your stand. If you just need to charge a phone and keep a laptop going on your stand, then 500kw will be fine. For more complex custom exhibition stands or power-hungry tech needs, you’ll probably need three-phase electricity. This does come at a price but we can advise you on what you’ll need.
Exhibition halls are busy places, and exhibition stand designers are very skilled at making their clients stand really ‘pop’. Your designer and team will need to work together to ensure that yours is not an Unidentifiable stand space.
Virtual reality is a great way of getting people to interact with you on your stand. It’s not an easy thing to produce and you will need a specialist to be able to provide this for you. It’s also a great way for your stand designer to show you your space before approval of the design concept. Motive Exhibition can provide this as part of the initial concept.
See LED wall
Vinyls (not the record type)
Vinyls are an important part of branding your stand and stand space. They are cut to shapes on specialist machines for your message and logo and are then applied to walls, cabinets and floors. Be aware that floor vinyls will need an R (Anti Slip) rating for approval in exhibition halls.
There are some serious logistics involved in bringing vehicles onto an exhibition stand. Working with experienced exhibition stand builders is essential. They will be able to manage the logistics and event paperwork.
Why attend and exhibit?
We always ask this first, and it often gets a blank look? Why are you attending an exhibition? It might seem obvious, but this is probably the most important question that you should be asking yourself.
Exhibiting is not a cheap or an easy option to manage, so you need to be clear on what a good event looks and feels like. What are you looking to achieve?: 50 more leads, more sales worth £100k, 10 great networking opportunities, brand exposure to 500 new clients, this list goes on, and it should ALWAYS be measurable.
Wood timber and MDF are a large part of many custom exhibition stands. Traditionally, this was the go-to for all stand manufacturers, but recent cost increases in production and storage after the event, along with a greater understanding of the environmental impact of this media has made many stand designers and builders move towards the use of modular, aluminium systems.
Tip: If your stand builder is using timber on your stand, ask to see if FSC (Forestry Stewardship Council) timber is used.
An X banner is a cheaper alternative to a roller banner. Ideal for small desktop events!
Often an accurate measure of when an important part of the exhibition stand project should have been approved or signed off by an event organiser! An accurate checklist and a Gantt timeline for your project will reduce any issues regarding timings. Timelines set by event organisers are often largely unachievable; they are (so don’t panic) normally a little flexible.
That feeling you get when Motive Exhibitions have delivered you an amazing event experience and you have smashed all your targets and the boss gives you a day off for being awesome!
Popular UK exhibition venues
Birmingham National Indoor Arena (Birmingham NIA), International Conference Centre Birmingham (Birmingham ICC)
Bournemouth International Centre (BIC)
Business Design Centre (BDC)
Chelsea Football Club London
Farnborough International Exhibition and Conference Centre
Harrogate International Convention Centre
Manchester Exhibition Centre
Manchester Event City
Our exhibition services
Whatever your budget or needs, our dedicated teams can make you stand out from the crowd and connect with your audience. We provide a whole range of exhibition services from bespoke custom booths, modular exhibition stands, shell stands or stand hire for any type of venue across the UK and Europe.
Get in touch
Whatever your experience, budget, company size or needs, let us take the stress out of exhibition planning for you. Contact us to find out how we can help you and your brand stand out to your potential customers.
David Hennessy is our Managing Director and co-founder of Motive Exhibitions. Based in St Neots we help businesses across Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire exhibit across the UK and beyond.