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My move into trade show design

Before Initiate, I had very little real-life experience designing for print from scratch.

At a previous print production job, I was using templated sizes for documents, and nothing was larger than 12×18 inches. The company itself was the client since we were designing our own products, and I was sending my files to the senior designer prior to having them go to print. This meant that it was nearly impossible for printing errors to exist. I believe that’s a safe business practice when employing new grads, but that also meant that I gained very little real-life experience building documents for production on my own (only that which I learned while working on school projects prior to said job). In addition, that meant I had no personal experience working directly with professional printers, or with materials other than standard paper. And I definitely did not have any experience designing for trade shows or a multi-room event space. 

Last month, we at Initiate completed a full-scale event design for the Ivey School of Business’ Symposium held at Toronto’s 100 Queens Quay East event space. The scope included print and digital design in various sizes and formats. There were concrete pillar wraps, window clings, tabletop tent cards, digital wayfinding, and presentation screens. I was the primary designer in charge of all print design, wayfinding, and direction for motion design across the digital space. I even had meetings with the printer. This was a project that would have likely overwhelmed me when I joined Initiate over a year ago.

The ramp-up to large-scale print design

The way Initiate first introduced print projects to me as a fairly new designer was very effective. Instead of figuratively pushing me off a boat in the middle of the ocean and hoping I could swim, they pointed me to the shallow end of a pool, with a lifeguard on duty. While I wouldn’t expect that for a seasoned designer, introducing new designers to projects by gradually increasing size, scope, and level of responsibility versus supervision shows an investment in developing skills properly and ensuring client relationships are maintained. 

(Photo credit: Icelynd Skating Instagram, Polymath Network Instagram, Sciemetric Linkedin)

I worked on a variety of smaller projects in the beginning such as horizontal and roll-up banners. Being exposed to a larger number of smaller projects in a shorter amount of time helped to provide experience across various client types and signage formats. Eventually, I moved into larger print projects like trade show booth backdrops where we were asked by the client to re-size designs we had previously created. Finally, I moved into designing roll-up banners (Polymath) and full-scale booths from scratch (Sciemetric). 

While the Ivey event was not a trade show, it was large-scale print that had a lot of different factors that came into play and there were lots of questions to be asked and aspects to be considered. For example:

  • The dimensions of the concrete pillars and any bleed that was required to wrap around wires, cameras, etc. How high on the pillar would the wrap be placed?
  • Window mullions and how the text would be placed so it could be read clearly.
  • Where and when would people be in front of the designs? Where would be good photo opportunities?
  • Where would be an effective place to add social media information?
  • Would the design work from various angles?
  • Without access to the event space, were we missing anything? How could I get more information without entering the space?

(Photo credit: Michael Ball)

Structured learning = key to confident success

After all was said and done, the design was successful and the client was happy. Initiate’s structured learning process plus the experience I gained along the way ensured I was successful while working on a project of this size. Having the opportunity to slowly increase project size, scope, and level of responsibility over the last year allowed me to incorporate different ways of thinking about designing for a space, no matter the size. I’m looking forward to continuing to use and grow my skills on future large-scale projects at Initiate.

To check out more of our tradeshow designs, view our portfolio of selected work here.