Experiential Design is DEAD.

Industry Insights and Trends

It’s dead to me as the centerpiece of exhibit design.

Since I’ve been involved in the trade show exhibit world, experiential design has been a catch phrase, a moniker for exhibit designers to showcase what they think about the big picture. It is a term to begin a design presentation where a sales person is trying to sell you an exhibit that removes focus from the important and puts it more onto a frivolous centerpiece that they say will help immerse your customers and lead to retention. It doesn’t really mean anything. The time has come for the trade show language to evolve and move on.

The term experiential design has been around for decades although it has exploded in popularity in the 2000’s. I look at my desk and see a book published in 1999 titled The Experience Economy which basically sums up the experiential design movement. The book describes ways for customers to experience a product or service rather than simply learn about it.

The idea behind the term experiential design is great; immerse your customers so they retain the information and remember it when they actually decide to make a purchase. But it is redundant because that is the purpose behind a trade show in the first place—


So why do exhibit designers and sales people consistently use the term to make their design sound better when it does not really represent any added benefit?

And that is why I want to call for the term’s bludgeoning. Experiential design is part and parcel of a great trade show exhibit; it doesn’t define a great exhibit design. For exhibit producers to rely on that term to differentiate their designs is laughable.

Great trade show design focus on the experience, the message and the presence within a trade show hall.  The experience is largely defined by our clients and the messaging by a marketing firm while the presence is our domain. That is where exhibit design should be headed. Learning that in order for the first two parts of a great trade show design to work, the presence needs to be impactful and yet inclusive.  A great exhibit makes sure that there are areas for experiences to happen, places for face to face introductions and explanations to occur. The same can be said of messaging, and creating spaces for those messages to be read, as a component that helps great exhibits thrive.

The presence of a space is inclusive, but where a great exhibit design firm shines is in the impact. Exhibit programs that realize this are often the most successful, most admired, and most attended. The truth is however, that these types of exhibits should be designed more often for more brands, but instead our industry’s focus on the novelty that is experiential design often precludes great opportunities to change the paradigm.


– Greg Tivadar

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