Designing for exhibits and environments

13 June 2021

Designing for exhibits and environments – with Senior Creative Lead, Dan Gooch.

Recently we spoke with our talented in-house Senior Creative Lead, Dan Gooch, who leads our  3D design specialism here at Ashfield Event Experiences. We asked him to share the team’s unique approach to creating award-winning exhibition booths for our clients in healthcare.

Please can you tell us a bit more about your role.

We’re lucky to have a really broad skilled creative team here at Ashfield Event Experiences, so we’re able to deliver all aspects of a live environment, but we’re the ones who can usually be seen sat in front of the large Mac screens actually creating the designs of the exhibition booths. I’m over-simplifying of course, but fundamentally, as a team it’s our job to fully understand and then ‘breathe life’ into what our client is trying to achieve with their booth.

We dig deep, constantly ask questions of the client and build strong relationships with them and any of their partners, such as brand or marketing agencies, to really ‘get under the skin’ of what its purpose needs to be. What does that attendee or healthcare professional need to walk away with and remember once they step off the booth? What knowledge or understanding is that attendee looking for and how can our designs help them notice and retain that information after the event? Ultimately it’s patients who’ll benefit from that HCP’s knowledge and practice, and that’s always in our minds.

Our booths need to make an impact, in every sense of the word – firstly to even stand a chance of cutting through the ‘noise’ of competitors in the exhibition hall, but also to ensure that the attendees’ whole experience of that booth is memorable – something that stays with them. That’s when all our years of knowledge, experience and inspiration come into play, and where we really benefit from working closely – not only as an exhibits team – but more broadly with our Head of Design and other environment and design disciplines within the team.

What are the key areas you consider when creating a new exhibition design?

Once we establish what that story is we need to tell, we work closely with our design team colleagues to develop a creative vision, then form ideas that present that story in exciting and engaging ways. But it’s also important to balance creativity with a practical mindset.

In terms of practicalities, there is a huge amount of detail that goes into the thought process before we even start designing – details that we never gloss over. We think of it as ‘being on the edge of feasible’ and that’s always the exciting challenge.

When designing an exhibition booth, what sort of tools and methods do you use to tell the story?

It’s all about creating a fully immersive experience, from before the attendees have even stepped on the stand. We’re continually taking inspiration from the world around us, looking for new and novel ways to engage the senses – from sight, sound and touch to smells and even taste! We explore whatever it takes to create a memorable attendee experience.

Engagement mechanisms can be hugely successful on an exhibit booth, but we always incorporate the right sort of delivery or technology to tell the story and achieve the goals of the booth. It’s pointless having something new, techy and flashy on the exhibit if it doesn’t add to the user experience and allow the attendee to connect with the message.

So how do you incorporate feedback in your designs?

We explore multiple ideas initially before our clients get to see them, and we will refine or develop further ideas to ensure we’re getting the right solution that resonates with our clients and their target audience.

Feedback is key to us and a fundamental part of our design process. I’m not just talking about client and their partner agencies’ feedback, but also from internal teams to make sure we’re maximizing the wealth of experience and expertise we have across the healthcare market. Sharing ideas is vital to enhance our work and make it the best it can be, so we make sure we receive and incorporate feedback at an early stage.

What are some challenges of your role and how do you overcome these?

I’d say that unavoidable tight deadlines can be challenging sometimes, but then what industry doesn’t experience that? We just have to be proactive, adaptable, and look at different creative solutions. Compliance regulations can also be a challenge, but in all honesty, we just embrace them! They stretch our creative thinking, and it makes it even more satisfying when we come up with unique designs that truly immerse the attendee in the environment and fulfill what our client is trying to achieve, all while remaining fully compliant.

With us having such strong collaborative relationships, not just with our suppliers but across all of our Ashfield departments, we are able to work together to solve any issue that might arise. I can recall a time that we needed to ensure materials were delivered to a congress at a specific time, for example, but knowing we had one of our project management-focused teams also heading there, we were able to send the materials with them instead of shipping. I think this is a great example of showing how our departments work together to achieve the best and most cost-effective outcome for a client.

Merck 2018 boothWhat qualities and skills do you believe a good 3D designer should have?

As well as the technical and practical 3D design skills of course, it’s also important to have the basics – like listening, visualizing, communicating, negotiating, delegating. We have to be dynamic, versatile, and be able to consistently deliver above and beyond our clients’ expectations.

Working well as part of a team is essential, and I’d say you need confidence in your own strengths, experiences and abilities. If your idea doesn’t quite hit the mark, it may spark a conversation that leads you or a member of your team to come up with something that absolutely nails it, and that’s really satisfying.

What do you enjoy most about your job, and what advice would you give anyone considering or starting a career in design?

I think for me, it’s the collaborative approach we have with other teams within the business such as the content and production teams. Being close to them and having an understanding enables us to create truly unique and effective booth designs. I also love helping to develop the skills of our team and seeing them grow as individuals. My advice to anyone considering or starting out on a career in design is to continually learn from everyone around you and be prepared to work hard! Sometimes the right idea or concept takes time and definitely collaboration, but the feeling you get when it works….there’s nothing like it!

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