It may seem incongruous to invoke Darwin in a conversation about exhibition stands, but their ongoing transformation does bear distinct evolutionary traits. We’ve come a long way from the not-so-distant era when clients genuinely believed that big and expensive exhibition stands guaranteed success. The trend has slowly evolved towards engaging the audience with compelling narratives – instead of towering over them with extravagant stand designs. It’s all about stories now; not storeys. Dubai has the incredible benefit of “location, location, location”, and for as long as I can remember it has been regarded as a hub. A hub of intense energy and enthusiasm for business and for tourism, and of course a hub for global exhibitions and trade shows. Pre-2008 and the economic crisis, these trade shows would have large-scale venues like the Dubai World Trade Centre literally splitting at the seams. It was a time of abundance and ego. Exhibitors commissioned grandiose structures – larger than their last year’s exhibit, and larger still than their nearest competitor!

The brief (if one could call it that) was to simply impress with scale and spend. Novelty was a core objective. High-end materials were incorporated into never-seen-before designs: acrylic light boxes that could house a vehicle; orbs, domes and spheres made from translucent plastic; and flying trusses with state-of-the-art lightshows to attract attention from miles around. The world of exhibition stand design-and-build was driven by an unmistakable desire to be noticed. He who shouted loudest was awarded with exposure, and with each iteration the stands got larger and more expensive. But what did visitors learn about the brands being represented, and was it a valuable experience?

Fast-forward a few years, and as the economy began to show signs of recovery there was one very emphatic difference. People were now looking for value. Exhibitors wanted to get exposure, educate their visitors and deliver a memorable experience – but without building astronomical structures whose only attraction was their flamboyant architecture and superficial novelty. Finally, exhibitors were beginning to think about the journey of their visitors – and the impact that stand design could have.

These realisations were music to my ears. As a creative-led agency we were in the perfect position to help clients achieve better results – incorporating a more strategic methodology while efficiently working within marketing budgets. Today, the evolution of the exhibition stand is truly upon us. Exhibitors want to cultivate rewarding dialogue with their customers, suppliers and partners. But most of all, they want to deliver a memorable stand experience – and an educational journey built around their brands.

The exhibition stand has transformed. From 2D environments where exhibitors would simply showcase their products and rely on a large-scale back-lit renderings of their logo, to a dynamic and navigable 3D environment. A multidimensional and multisensory experience that tells a story, engages visitors individually, and catapults them on a journey encompassing the vision and values of their hosts. An experience that seeks to arouse emotions through technology and social media, digital interaction and mobile app engagement.

And thus, agencies like Action Impact are commissioned to control the flow and create the journey – from event management to brand environments & interiors. We’re tasked with anticipating dwell spots and times to ensure that each touchpoint (from beginning to end) is on brand and engaging. Every story for every client is different, driving us to deliver new design ideas and innovative technologies.

Gone are the days when size mattered. Now, it’s all about the quality of the experience. Simultaneously educating and entertaining through the art of storytelling. Giving your clients, suppliers and partners the opportunity to go on a journey with you – one that continues to be fruitful long after the doors of the trade show have closed.