Exhibit Design Insights from CES 2020

ces 2020 exhibit design trends

For technology lovers, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas brings together many of the world’s most innovative technology companies for a spectacular three days of jaw-dropping exhibits, futuristic prototypes, and product debuts that make international headlines. With so many companies competing for attention, it’s also an annual treat for those of us who closely watch the world of experiential design.

At CES 2020, we saw many examples of the trade show booth design trends we had predicted at the start of the year. But it wouldn’t be CES without surprises, innovations, daring experiments that inspired, and others that probably seemed better on paper. Here are our takeaways from the booth design at CES 2020, and lessons we can apply to other shows around the world.

Digital and Physical Create Something New

Ford suspended a car on a huge LED wall that made the car look like it was moving. LG, in addition to their waterfall LED display that dominated an entrance to the Central Hall, had a dramatic display of OLED televisions that unfurled over two reflecting pools of water. Multiple companies at CES 2020 used digital screens to provide the experience of peering inside physical tech. In short, brands found entirely new ways to deepen engagement with their products by devising clever combinations of physical and digital experiences. When the line between the digital and physical becomes blurred, it not only creates new possibilities for exhibitors, it makes attendees stop and look again. 

CES 2020 exhibit design
Is it digital? Is it physical? Sometimes, like in this booth from Intel’s Mobileye, it can be hard to tell.

Enclosed Spaces are Trendy — but Tricky

More companies are showing interest in enclosed spaces this year. Walled booths have certain advantages: no distractions from other exhibitors, creating curiosity. But they also present challenges, particularly at crowded shows like CES. Enclosed spaces only work when there’s enough room for those engaging with the exhibit and those who wish to pass through it, otherwise they can feel claustrophobic and limit the number of people who can move through the booth.

A House Isn’t Always a Home

With smart home technology on the rise and home electronics being a perennially popular category, a number of companies converged on booths designed to look like homes, complete with peaked roofs and colorful front doors. For the brands that curated their products well and displayed them in context, it created a clear and pleasing story for attendees. Those who relied on the design alone to create a homey feeling missed an opportunity for a more emotional connection with the audience. The number of companies that ended up with similar approaches this year suggests we will be seeing some creative innovation in booth design next year in the home electronics category.

House designs were common in booths at CES 2020
One of the several home-shaped booths at CES 2020

Big Focal Points Turn Heads

High walls and right angles dominated the show floor this year, making exhibits with curves and open designs stand out. Open booths with dramatic centerpieces were particularly eye-catching and inviting. Haier Smart Home and GE Appliances had a translucent green space filled with plants that both added color and enabled visitors to see it from afar. Hyundai and Bell used aircrafts as dramatic centerpieces that also allowed attendees to take a close look at their products.

Story and Curation Stand Out

Standing out at a show like CES can be difficult, especially for smaller companies that can’t compete on size with the global tech giants. Less can be more, if you’re smart about how you tell a story and curate what is displayed in your booth. Too many products can overwhelm your audience, and there’s plenty to overwhelm them already at CES. Instead of giving attendees a reason to move to another exhibit where products are easier to engage with and learn about, make your booth the one with a clear, focused story.

Give it a Boost

With the massive crowds at CES it was easy for product demos to get lost behind walls of people. If a demo was particularly impressive — and there were many — the crowds were that much harder to see through. The brands that were able to cut through the barriers did so with a simple fix: elevation. In a crowded venue, a little extra height lets your demo be seen by all, not just the lucky few in the front row.

There is a unifying thread that runs through all of these insights that applies well beyond CES: As an exhibitor, it helps to know a show before you go. Understanding the lay of the land, the show-specific trends, the traffic patterns, and the challenges faced by exhibitors lets you strategize and rethink your design. Next year, yours will be the booth that people remember for all the right reasons.

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