Low Tech Exhibit Materials Are Warming Up Live Experiences


Materials project a mood or mindset. Rendering the same exhibit design with different materials conjures vastly different associations to the space and the brand. And like much in design, these associations often mirror changing cultural trends and conditions. Low tech exhibit materials are warming up live experiences at high tech events.

Sleek, modernist materials evoke a sort of tech-enabled “future is now” feel that can be impressive, but can also come off as cold. As more of our lives become integrated with high tech gadgets, the allure of futuristic minimalism starts to lose its charm. To counterbalance our complex, digital selves, many of us are moving toward the simple joys of a more “analog” lifestyle. Doesn’t mean we should run off and live in the woods, but, a lot of us are feeling a desire to find a momentary respite from our tech-saturated lives. We’re embracing a return to the natural, tactile materials that comfort us and connect us with the outdoors.

Trees! So it’s no surprise that wood is having a moment right now. We’re not talking about high-priced hardwoods, either. Low tech materials like MDF, plywood and inexpensive wood grain vinyl flooring are cropping up more and more at trade shows, conferences and events. It’s a decidedly dressed-down alternative to the more clinical glossy white exhibit environments of the recent past.

Google employs low tech exhibit materials at the 2015 I/O developer’s conference. Colorful exhibitor booths are reimagined as freestanding blond wood pods that, in combination, create a communal “Sandbox” for attendees to explore. Google continues the trend at I/O 2016 with an indoor-outdoor experience that leverages natural plywoods, MDF and woven fabrics to create a more rustic feel.

Low tech exhibit materials have been trending in sampling and retail experiences, too. From Chobani’s experiential test kitchen in New York City’s SoHo neighborhood to Verizon’s flagship experience store at the Mall of America, reclaimed wood, natural finishes and industrial metal accents are the new standard materials for experience design and fabrication.

Other natural materials, like plants are also becoming more visible. Green walls and other garden-like installations add a hint of the outdoors to what can feel like stuffy, indoor corporate environments. Motorola recently activates an event at New York City’s Highline park that includes a living plant wall, as well as plants that are cleverly landscaped to feature the Motorola logo.

From a logistics and cost perspective, there are upsides to low tech exhibit materials. Wood is more forgiving than other materials and offers more design flexibility. It travels well and is easier to retouch on-site than laminates and powder-coated or painted materials. Wood does tend to be a bit pricier. Even a simple clear coat on wood or clear tint on metal costs more in manufacturing time than a finished piece of plastic. But for many brands, the au naturale effect is well worth it.

Check out Sparks experiential fabrication content and downloads.

Posted by Mark Dante | Request as a Speaker