exhibitor information

Old-school designing

Going back in time with Mark Powell

Back in the late 1980’s the exhibition stand designer’s studio looked very different to today.  Computers were running Windows 2.0 and were the domain of the secretary and accounts office.  Design software was in it’s infancy and exhibition stand designers actually had to be able to draw!

So, for those under 40 years old, what was it like back then compared to now?


Exhibition Designers’ Tools of the Trade


The 1980’s exhibition designer’s computer was the good old fashioned drawing board – usually A0 size.  Along with a 60/30 24” set square and 14” adjustable set square and the board’s parallel motion, this is where visuals and working drawings were born!

Exhibition design visuals were roughed out on layout paper in pencil, then a top sheet of marker paper had the outline inked up using Rotring pens.

To add colour we used marker pens; lens flares were added using a white crayon and tippex!  I can recall having around 200 markers, along with blenders, refill inks (which came in with the Pantone ‘Tria’ markers), crayons and fibre tips. Photo panels for the visuals were literally cut out from company brochures.  In the absence of a brochure, the stock in trade Argos catalogue was chopped up.  Drawing by hand also meant you had to choose the right angle before you started to show the best view – no quick tweak of the scene camera like today!

exhibitions NEC Birmingham
Birmingham NEC London exhibitions

Exhibition Stand Visuals 

Today’s visuals are usually not even printed, but shared and presented as PDF files by email.  If they ever do get printed for a face-to-face meeting, they’re usually A3 format, either mounted straight to board or bound in booklet form. 

Back in the 80s & 90s rendered marker visuals were usually A1 size, and we window mounted them with a sheet of acetate as protection and to add a bit of sparkle.  One visual would take the best part of a day to produce, so if a job required more than one view the time and cost escalated rapidly.  Taking a copy of a stand visual involved either photocopying it in pieces and sellotaping it together, or photographing it (film, not digital!). You could go and get it copied on an Ilford flatbed copier, but this was very costly.

Exhibition Stand Working Drawings

CAD design was in it’s infancy and up until the late 90’s working drawings were hand drawn on good old tracing paper, with copies run out on a dyeline plan copier. In those days the dyeline machines used an ammonia solution, so freshly printed drawings had a distinct whiff of cat pee!

Drawings were carried around in a big plastic telescopic tube to protect them.  Back then ‘PDF’ meant ‘pretty damn fine!’

Amendments were done by either tracing over with a fresh sheet or ‘scratching out’ with a scalpel blade – literally scratching off the old ink, burnishing the surface down with your thumb nail, and redrawing.  Care not to make holes was needed – curved, not straight, blades were preferable – and using 120gsm paper was a good idea too, as it left a bit of leeway for multiple changes and a heavy hand.  A few turns of masking tape around the blunt end of the scalpel blade gave it a handle.

stand designer NEC Birmingham
exhibition stand design NEC Birmingham

Exhibition Stand Design and the PC

So what has the PC done for the Exhibition Stand Designer?  Has life got easier?  Well, it’s no longer a requirement that you have to be able to draw, although it is still useful at the initial ideas stage.  It still takes about the same time to model up a design as it did to produce a hand drawn plan and visual, but once modelled you can output multiple views in minutes, and in half an hour set up a video walkthrough. Changes and amendments don’t involve scalpel blades and cut out overlays and copies are freely printed out. I’d say exhibition stand design is better off with the PC than without it, but it has lost some of the soul, skill and smell of the marker pen era.

Violet Exhibitions Ltd  |  Alpha House  |  Coventry Road  |  Fillongley  |  CV7 8ET      tel: 01676 248 498

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