Grand Designs

One of the biggest potential headaches for exhibition stand designers is the need to show the design to the client, explain the thinking behind it, and get approval.

The process can be time consuming, especially when there are different people on the client side whose input is required and – in the case of multinationals – might not even be in the same country.

Recently, however, CAD (computer aided design) systems have been introduced which go a long way to simplifying the whole process.

“The traditional problem when presenting to clients is their inability to visualise the finished product,” says Lois Jacobs, chief executive of live event specialist Caribiner. “They can’t look at a plan and visualise the environment or the scale. The traditional method of presenting, therefore, is to use a series of visuals and models. The latter, however, is very expensive.”

To fully understand the benefits of using CAD systems, it is worth examining the traditional process of client liaison. Tony Kempton, account manager of stand suppliers Jupiter Display, says: “The starting point varies depending on whether you’re in a pitch, in which you’re presenting proposals to meet a brief. Alternatively, you may be commissioned to upgrade an existing stand, or be working on a brand-new commission from an existing client.

“Typically, though, you have to present a detailed diagram as artwork and this may require several boards showing different angles and features on the stand. In most cases, this would be accompanied by a few samples of the proposed materials such as laminates, wood and carpet.

“Then you have to talk the client through the overall idea and how the different elements of the stand work. If you’re presenting to a group it can be difficult because different people will visualise the ideas in different ways.”

Only in a very few cases will a client look at a design and instantly green light the project. Although the overall concept might be approved, minor changes will inevitably be required and in many cases, the client may want to have a look at different ideas even if these are ultimately rejected in favour of the original plan.

A Jupiter Display project for the European division of computer telephony company Genesys shows just how flexible the CAD systems can be. “We had to present the design to Genesys’ European and US offices simultaneously,” says Kempton. “We took designs to the client on CD-Rom and set up an audio conference link with the US offices. The proposals were e-mailed across to them.

“We were, therefore, able to show comprehensive plans of the stand, including such details as variations in lighting which would change the ambient look of the stand. Using e-mail also meant that anyone who couldn’t take part in the audio-conference was able to look at the plans later in the day and express their views.

“It enabled us to cut out the problem of trying to get all the decision-makers round the table at the same time. If someone important couldn’t make the meeting, we didn’t have to arrange to see them at a separate time. It also saved us time as we didn’t have to pore over piles of sketches and give endless explanations.”

The result was both a much faster decision-making process – Genesys was able to respond to the proposal and agree a final plan in two days – and less hours spent in discussion.

The CAD system helped Kempton with potential colour schemes too. “We were able to show the client the colours that we proposed on the CAD system and, once we’d reached an agreement, we took the designs to a paint mixer to have that colour replicated exactly,” says Kempton.

“This means that the client got precisely what they had seen on the graphic.”

When Rover unveiled the Rover 75 on press day at last year’s Motor Show at the Birmingham NEC, the company’s stand designers made full use of the increasingly sophisticated CAD software.

Clearwater Communications was given the brief to create the reveal on the actual exhibition stand. From a physical point of view, this meant that the stand started as a theatrical setting, evolved into the press day stand and was transformed overnight into an exhibition stand for the remainder of the show.

“We had to dovetail our 3D design activity with that of the stand designers,” says Clearwater production director Paul Easty.

“We worked closely with the stand designer from an early stage using compatible software to develop the design, which entailed the revealing of four cars.

“The sequence included two cars on a revolving platform and another that was ‘flown’ onto the stage area where the presenter had been standing at a lectern moments earlier. From a technical point of view, using CAD software was invaluable because it helped ease design problems and made communication with the stand designer much simpler.

“To achieve the accuracy and safety levels needed for such an operation without CAD software would almost certainly have entailed building the entire stand and reveal structures well in advance of the show. The design teams could then iron out any technical problems.”

The use of 3D graphics also had advantages when it came to presenting the proposals to the Rover board. “The board had already seen the CAD designs from the designers and were familiar with the concept,” says Easty.

“We were then able to show how our designs were to be overlaid onto the stand and how it would evolve from the theatrical setting to the final exhibition stand. This meant that the board was able to understand complicated situations quickly and easily.”

The increasing sophistication of the software is likely to make the designer’s job even easier in the future. At present, CAD tends to be used mainly for developing designs and gaining client approval. But approval on safety rather than aesthetic grounds is also necessary. In most instances this entails the submission of plans to the exhibition organiser who may, in turn, require safety approval from a local authority if the structure is tall or complex.

“It is possible to download elements from CAD to show plans on paper,” says Kempton. “At present there are two problems in doing this. First, the organisers and local authorities do not have the same type of software, so you are limited to showing designs on paper.

“Second, the software doesn’t give all the architectural calculations and material values needed for safety approval – although this is likely to change. The designs are, however, very useful when it comes to showing electricians and stand fitters the plans – it makes it easy to show them where the different elements have to go.”

Despite all the benefits, there are still some drawbacks associated with using CAD systems, as Jacobs points out. “The biggest problem is the cost,” he says. “When pitching for major exhibition stands that cost about 500,000, it is quite easy to spend 50,000 on the pitch – a large percentage of which can be attributed to producing the graphics. A three-minute CAD ‘walk through’, for example, can easily cost between 8,000 and 10,000 – although it is much sexier than it was two or three years ago.

“Even in the case of low-end work, 3D graphic production is quite time consuming, but is obviously not going to be of the same quality as that produced for stands with bigger budgets. The danger is that the client, now used to seeing very high quality graphics on TV, has become accustomed to high design standards and could consider the quality to be inferior.

“Ultimately, however, it is important to present proposals professionally whether using models, paper-based graphics or CAD systems. If you’ve got a rotten proposal, no amount of gloss will cover it up, but a terrific idea can get lost when presented on the back of an envelope.”

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