Cathy Bond looks at dramatic developments in the use of graphics on
Exhibition stand designers have a new job on their hands. Having
harnessed the power of the digital revolution, it’s time now to force
clients to think less about poles, hinges and panels and more about the
sheer impact of colour, size and razor-sharp definition.
It is still a stand’s ability to smack the passing delegate between the
eyes that counts, whatever the cost in time and effort spent designing
and setting up a crowd-puller.
One newcomer to the market, Stiff Displays (UK), believes it has found
the answer in a system that is virtually a graphic and nothing else. ‘It
forces people to think about the fundamental image,’ says operations
director Clive Friend. ‘We keep having to tell them that this isn’t a
But who can blame clients for getting bogged down with the
practicalities and forgetting that a design solution cobbled together at
the last minute is never going to look like anything else?
Exhibitors have been fed some mind-boggling facts about the technical
age. Digital reproduction is held up as the wonder weapon which will
ensure that no-one need ever again go through the lengthy, costly and
labour-intensive photographic process. And as for computer-generated
graphics, it’s as easy as desk-top publishing - isn’t it?
‘Technology has speeded up the process of turning the job around, but
not the first stage of graphic design, which is thinking about the image
and putting the message in,’ says Theresa Bearcroft of Nimlok.
‘Yes, we can run prints overnight, but that’s the final stage. A lot of
work is needed before that to put the corporate message and graphics
together. Some people think digital imaging will solve all their
problems and are shocked when they realise its limitations.’
Design and print processes have been transformed by some key
developments in recent years, chiefly driven by computer technology.
Being able to manipulate an image on screen has the potential to slash
production times - and costs - while new electrostatic and inkjet
printers turn what’s on the computer file into high-quality, large-scale
Put into context, digital imaging and repro have brought together all
outlets for the corporate message, whether in advertising, point-of-sale
promotion, direct marketing or exhibition displays. Everything can be
accessed from a single source - the computer disk.
This makes it easier for companies to use proven creative work across a
wide range of marketing disciplines. It should also prompt them to think
of more imaginative solutions for exhibition displays, where true
innovation is hard to find.
It’s exciting, but it’s baffling, too. Stand designers will discuss
endlessly the merits of inkjet against electrostatic printing or the
advantages of various RIP software, which transfers images from computer
to printer. ‘Each has its strengths and weaknesses,’ says Friend.
‘Digital imaging and large-format, high-resolution printing means the
sky is the limit - but, as usual, it depends on what you want,’ explains
Craig Farman, managing director of Quartz Presentations.
‘Sometimes it’s cheaper and just as effective for exhibition purposes to
use conventional photography and computer-cut graphics.’
A recent project for the University of Westminster by Clip Display
Systems bears this out. The university had ordered a range of Clip’s
Trimesh equipment to promote the opening of a new campus site, with the
graphics devised by the university’s in-house design team using both
artwork on disk and conventional photography.
This was the most cost-effective method, says Carol Homden, director of
corporate communications, who adds that the choice of stand was as
important as the graphics in terms of visual impact.
‘Trimesh echoed the new building’s dramatic steel and glass
architecture,’ she explains. ‘It’s portable and it’s capable of some
interesting configurations. So much of what I had looked at was
inflexible or uninspiring.’
Homden’s solution was a happy fusion of stand and graphics, but not all
exhibitors are as content and would like to make new technology work
harder for them.
‘Technical developments come into their own when you start to weld or
merge images, fade text or put in a lot of computer-generated graphics,’
says Farman. ‘It’s a learning curve. Both clients and designers are
becoming more adventurous.’
But clients without in-house design facilities of their own - or access
to digital imaging, for example, through their advertising agencies -
must rely on the best advice from design houses. And this is an area in
which exhibition equipment suppliers are keen to get involved.
Academy Expo has responded to the demand for more complex graphics by
setting up its own graphics bureau, Visionary Images, to cater for both
stand buyers and customers looking only for design skills.
‘The turning point for us came when we installed electrostatic digital
printing some two years ago and now we’re pushing back the boundaries of
technology to see what it can do,’ says marketing manager Steve Hill.
‘Complicated images at a greatly reduced cost are now within reach of
many more people.’
He cites Academy client British Airways, which requested a display
showing different facets of business without resorting to the usual
assortment of tastefully arranged shots. Academy generated a merged
montage on computer. South African Airways then saw it and wanted the
same, as did Hilton Hotels and Derry Foods.
‘We had just bought a range of brands from Van den Burghs, including
Wall’s meat products and Mattesons and we needed to get the message over
to the trade quickly,’ says Ben Cole, marketing manager of Derry Foods.
‘We could have set up a huge photoshoot of everything - but that would
have taken ages to get right. Digital merging of the different shots
captured brand identities and also got over the idea that everything was
linked under the Derry brand.’
Marler Haley ExpoSystems has launched a digital graphics service and
according to marketing services manager Paul Jackson, ‘it’s used with
our Veloce pop-up system 99% of the time’.
Jackson points out that electrostatic printing means that individual
panels containing sections of one image can be produced to match
exactly, to make large-scale displays.
Big graphics grab attention, he says, ‘and there are more options on
finishes, too. Gloss is now popular - it puts over much more light and
colour. But fashions change. Something might be eyecatching simply
because it makes a stand conspicuous in a row of others that look much
Dave Jopson, head of stand distributor Access Displays believes that
clients’ expectations will rise as they are able to experiment with
images themselves, using hardware and ever-cheaper software.
One client, Hampshire County Council, produced its own powerful graphics
for a large-scale display using the Nimlok Compact system, inkjet
printed by Access to produce single images up to 7.5m wide.
‘They used a lot of historical cues, such as King Arthur and
Winchester’s heritage as former capital of Wessex, to sell Hampshire as
a business development area,’ says Jopson. ‘The council has a graphics
department, but I think more people will play around with images
themselves, even if they subsequently hand it back to us.’
‘The only danger,’ warns Hilary Bates of Nomadic Displays, ‘is that
people could forget the power of the simple image. There’s always the
temptation to do too much, simply because it’s possible.’
Stiff’s flexible new system
In 1994, two photographers stumbled on a display system from Sweden
using a patented method of laminating electrostatic prints. In effect,
the image is the system. There is no seperate framework acting as a
clotheshorse for graphics.
Don Fraser and Clive Friend quickly negotiated distribution rights and
Stiff Displays hit the UK market in September 1994.
‘The stand is rigid, but it can also roll up and re-roll and it won’t
fall apart,’ says Stiff’s Howard Fancourt. The laminated sheets are
joined with integral magnets and will pack into a golf-bag sized
Motorola ordered a Stiff display for an internal roadshow and two of its
international divisions were so impressed they requested replicas.
‘It has more visual impact,’ says Fran Puddefoot of Motorola’s European
product marketing division, ‘and unlike most frame systems, it can be
put up, taken down and carried by one person.’
As the graphic is the main part of the stand, however, changing the
image means replacing much of the product itself. Nevertheless, Fancourt
claims that it can still compete in cost terms with pop-up or modular
Successful exhibiting is all about balancing a range of needs from
visual power to portability and easy construction - and increasingly,
the capability to expand and transform equipment into displays for other