Tradeshows: Design tips for retail

It’s that time of year.


When you strap on your walking shoes, grab a delicious coffee and handy notebook as you prepare the exciting day ahead.

Now, there are tradeshows all year long but Q1 kicks off the year with big industry events like CES, the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Where over 4,000 leading electronics companies showcase their new innovations to over the course of 3 days. With nearly 200,000 thousand media networks, investors, and potential customers in attendance, the need to stand out, tell your story within a short amount of time is crucial. Similar to the experience brands face when displaying their products in stores.

But replicating a 10′ x 10′ tradeshow booth, let alone a 20’x 20′ version inside of a retail space is a tall ask for any brand. Especially when space is at a premium. However, by scaling down the most captivating visual element into a display can help differentiate products, brands and help to tell a unique story.

We’ve taken a look at the 4 of the top 2018, Q1 tradeshows from a wide array of industries, to identify common visual techniques and trends to scale into a retail display.


By taking up 3-dimensional space by layering materials, it generates depth and pulls the gaze inward. Taking what would have been a flat, static display; a spotlight is made by layering visual elements around the product. Think of the fantastic experience of opening up a pop-up book for the first time. With each page gradually expanding and the intrigue and fascinating as the page comes to life. What would have been a quick read, now turns into an examination of the cuts and folds that bring the story to life. And in the similar vain, embracing layered visual elements draws the eyes in and encourage the audience to learn more about the product story..


Take, for example, this brilliant use of circular halos around the Noria, seen at CES, a revolutionary low-profile window air conditioner. The circular halos, reflect the design aesthetics of the product while creating a visual cue to how the product works. And as a smart home connected product, the layered circular frames imitate the beacon effect of smart technology.

This display also successfully maintains a minimalist, futuristic feel with the LED glowing halos and understated icons. Inviting the customer in with illuminated circular frames, then a focus on the product design and iconography and brochures to learn more about the features and benefits. As a drastically new take on the clunky window units, the team at Noria produced a sleek display that complements their innovation.


This technique was also used by the FootJoy booth at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, FL.This event hosts 40,000+ PGA Professionals, industry leaders and media members from 50 states and as many as 80 countries around the world ( Over this 3 days long event, over 1,000 vendors showcase the newest products, technologies, and trends hitting the golf industry. With so much action packed into a few days and most attendees only able to walk the floors for a day, maybe a few hours, these booths are working overtime to grab attention.



At the 2018 PGA Merchandise Show, Footjoy displayed a wide array of product offering in a dynamic, dimensional presentation by mixing transparent and opaque materials. Embracing the hexagon throughout all their booth, the products are placed in geometric shadow boxes made from translucent acrylics. These shadowbox frames are outlines in opaque white acrylic to emphasize the hexagon, while the main structure is built in semi-transparent colored acrylic to breakaway from the background without creating a heavy visual structure. Therefore the entire room is absorbed visually at first and details about the products are noticed once the viewer walks closer.

Sony took a similar approach to their Bluetooth speakers at CES. However, instead of using the walls of their booth, they built a multi-faceted shadowbox fixture. It stood in the center of their large space and features a 360-degree display with cavities along its 6 sides. Each cavity either pocketed pre-positioned products or provided a graphic space to tell the product story. A stand out structure in itself, but also highly functional and adaptable. However placing one of these inside a non-Sony branded store may be a big ask for a retailer, even with Sony’s buying power. However, made modular and shrunken down to a counter or 1-3 sided unit, it could be manageable and expandable.

















How do you stand out from the crowd when there’s steep competition vying for attention and thousands of potential customers walking by. With lights and sounds coming from everywhere, a prop can help focus attention and be some comic relief in a sometimes dry environment. And that’s exactly what 18 Birdies, an app to enhance the golfing experience, did. Another company who utilized the larger is better technique was Yeti, a premium cooler, and accessories company, at the Outdoor Retailer’s show. With thousands of vendors packed into the Colorado Convention Center, Yeti stood out with a giant vintage-inspired water tank above their meeting rooms. Although the booth was centrally located in the hall, the Yeti water tank was clearly visible from any entrance and became a marker.










Taylormade, leaders in the golfing industry, also embraced the bigger is better approach by creating a sensory stimulating entranceway, promoting their new club, “The Twist Face.” 

As awe-inspiring and stimulating as the carnival fun-house experience, this creates a memorable interaction this the brand as well as the product. Even before seeing/touching the innovative driver, the rotating series of panels reflect the purpose and selling points. This same approach can be shrunken down into a stand alone display, counter unit or even aisle flags.



Angular structures were all the rage.

Late last month, the Outdoor Retailer show took over the Colorado Convention Center in downtown Denver. This week-long industry event showcases the largest collection of innovative and unique gear, apparel, hard goods, footwear and accessories for any outdoor adventurer ( Culminating in a 2-day demo in the mountains to test out gear and meet with pros on the slopes.

But these abstract geometric props were also seen at CES and the PGA Show. For example, the yellow reaching tree form at a tech startup or the orange light beams at the Volvik Golf Balls booth at the PGA Show.














One company that took the abstract geometric form to the next level was Fimbulvetr, a snowshoe company out of Norway. They created a truly eye-catching booth that used sharp angles to play with space. Creating a modular, flat pack designed booth that uses slopes formed by geometric panels to replicate the terrain suited for their products. And by carving topography into the panels, it emphasizes the outdoor, ruggedness of their shoes, which can be replicated in a smaller form to fit into the retail environment.

Tradeshows can be a great barometer for the success or failure of a product/brand. Using industry professionals reactions as a test group to indicate if customers will be excited enough to purchase the product. Even more so, what visual cues/stories/displays work to get the message across quickly and effectively. We explored some techniques that can be scaled down to fit the retail space, such as methods for framing a product, implementing large-scale props to garner attention and using abstract geometric forms to think outside the box.

We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below!


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