Recently we spoke with three of our talented in-house designers from our creative team to find out more about their roles. Senior Exhibition Designer Scott Helmkay, (left) Junior Designer Beth Roberts (center) and Senior Creative Lead Dan Gooch (right) are part of our 3D design specialism here at Ashfield Meetings & Events, so we asked them to share their unique approach to creating award-winning exhibition booths for our clients in healthcare.
Please can you tell us a bit more about your roles.
Dan: We’re lucky to have a really broad skilled creative team here at Ashfield Meetings & Events, so we’re able to deliver all aspects of a live environment, but we’re the ones who can usually be seen sat in front of the large Mac screens actually creating the designs of the exhibition booths. I’m over-simplifying of course, but fundamentally, as a team it’s our job to fully understand and then ‘breathe life’ into what our client is trying to achieve with their booth.
Scott: Yes, we dig deep, constantly ask questions of the client and build strong relationships with them and any of their partners, such as brand or marketing agencies, to really ‘get under the skin’ of what its purpose needs to be. What does that attendee or healthcare professional need to walk away with and remember once they step off the booth? What knowledge or understanding is that attendee looking for and how can our designs help them notice and retain that information after the event? Ultimately it’s patients who’ll benefit from that HCP’s knowledge and practice, and that’s always in our minds.
Dan: Our booths need to make an impact, in every sense of the word – firstly to even stand a chance of cutting through the ‘noise’ of competitors in the exhibition hall, but also to ensure that the attendees’ whole experience of that booth is memorable – something that stays with them. That’s when all our years of knowledge, experience and inspiration come into play, and where we really benefit from working closely – not only as an exhibits team – but more broadly with our Head of Creative and other environment and design disciplines within the team.
Beth: I’m actually a student and I’m here at Ashfield Meetings & Events on my placement year. I genuinely love being part of the team and playing a role in how we approach our exhibit booth designs. Our Head of Exhibits, Matt Foreman, says that ‘we don’t build stands, we build stories,’ and that makes total sense to me. Our clients have important stories to tell, and we help them do that through our designs. We brainstorm, we mind-map, we bounce ideas, chat, laugh, sketch, scribble, but as a whole team, we never lose sight of our client’s goal.
What are the key areas you consider when creating a new exhibition design?
Dan: Once we establish what that story is we need to tell, we work closely across the creative and exhibits teams to develop a creative vision, then form ideas that present that story in exciting and engaging ways. But it’s also important to balance creativity with a practical mindset.
Scott: I completely agree, and in terms of practicalities, there is a huge amount of detail that goes into the thought process before we even start designing – details that we never gloss over. We think of it as ‘being on the edge of feasible’ and that’s always the exciting challenge.
Beth: To see and understand how the team balance their creative ideas with how the booth is actually going to work in real life is really interesting to me. This is where they really show their skills and experience and it’s always really impressive.
When designing an exhibition booth, what sort of tools and methods do you use to tell the story?
Dan: It’s all about creating a fully immersive experience, from before the attendees have even stepped on the stand. We’re continually taking inspiration from the world around us, looking for new and novel ways to engage the senses – from sight, sound and touch to smells and even taste! We explore whatever it takes to create a memorable attendee experience.
Scott: Engagement mechanisms can be hugely successful on an exhibit booth, but we always incorporate the right sort of delivery or technology to tell the story and achieve the goals of the booth. It’s pointless having something new, techy and flashy on the exhibit if it doesn’t add to the user experience and allow the attendee to connect with the message.
Beth: I’m always amazed at how inventive our team’s designs can be, but there’s always ‘method in their madness!’ There’s always a reason for incorporating particular lights, sounds, screens, structures, props or activities – whatever it might be – and they always form part of the bigger picture.
So how do you incorporate feedback in your designs?
Scott: We explore multiple ideas initially before our clients get to see them, and we will refine or develop further ideas to ensure we’re getting the right solution that resonates with our clients and their target audience.
Dan: Feedback is key to us and a fundamental part of our design process. I’m not just talking about client and their partner agencies’ feedback, but also from internal teams to make sure we’re maximizing the wealth of experience and expertise we have across the healthcare market. Sharing ideas is vital to enhance our work and make it the best it can be, so we make sure we receive and incorporate feedback at an early stage.
Beth: As I’m still learning, feedback is massively important – especially from my colleagues in the design team. It’s always constructive, always helpful, and I love seeing how much my designs improve as a result of it.
What are some challenges of your role and how do you overcome these?
Scott: I’d say that unavoidable tight deadlines can be challenging sometimes, but then what industry doesn’t experience that? We just have to be proactive, adaptable, and look at different creative solutions. Compliance regulations can also be a challenge, but in all honesty, we just embrace them! They stretch our creative thinking, and it makes it even more satisfying when we come up with unique designs that truly immerse the attendee in the environment and fulfill what our client is trying to achieve, all while remaining fully compliant.
Dan: With us having such strong collaborative relationships, not just with our suppliers but across all of our Ashfield departments, we are able to work together to solve any issue that might arise. I can recall a time that we needed to ensure materials were delivered to a congress at a specific time, for example, but knowing we had one of our logistics-focused teams also heading there, we were able to send the materials with them instead of shipping. I think this is a great example of showing how our departments work together to achieve the best and most cost-effective outcome for a client.
Beth: I obviously feel very inexperienced compared to the other designers, but thankfully the whole team is incredibly supportive. I’m never afraid to ask for help, they always make the time to improve my skills and explain why they’ve done things in a certain way – I’ve learned so much already!
What qualities and skills do you believe a good 3D designer should have?
Dan: As well as the technical and practical 3D design skills of course, it’s also important to have the basics - like listening, visualizing, communicating, negotiating, delegating. We have to be dynamic, versatile, and be able to consistently deliver above and beyond our clients’ expectations.
Scott: Working well as part of a team is essential, and I’d say you need confidence in your own strengths, experiences and abilities. If your idea doesn’t quite hit the mark, it may spark a conversation that leads you or a member of your team to come up with something that absolutely nails it, and that’s really satisfying.
Beth: For me, as I’m just starting out in the industry, my main skill is being a sponge! I’m constantly trying to absorb every idea and practice that I gather around me, and this supportive environment is giving me the confidence to put forward my own suggestions.
What do you enjoy most about your job, and what advice would you give anyone considering or starting a career in design?
Beth: For me, I mostly enjoy the satisfaction of seeing something from beginning to end. It’s a real joy to see the whole process from a sketch, to a model, to the eventual final build and then the success of that booth and a really happy client! My advice to anyone starting their design career is never be afraid to ask lots of questions and just absorb as much as you can about the whole process. There’s so much more to designing exhibition booths than I ever imagined, but that’s the exciting part of it.
Scott: I personally enjoy the collaboration with the client and the conceptual start of the design – that initial dive into the details which sparks an idea, leading to a creatively strong result. I like seeing the enthusiasm of our staff and the passion they pour into what they do. Designers wear their hearts on their sleeves so the whole process can be very emotive, but it’s great to see the team so dedicated to the quality of what we produce. My advice would be to never stop taking notice of the world around you and thinking creatively. Unique ideas often come from the most unexpected places.
Dan: I think for me, it’s the collaborative approach we have with other teams within the business such as the content and production teams. Being close to them and having an understanding enables us to create truly unique and effective booth designs. I also love helping to develop the skills of our team and seeing them grow as individuals. My advice to anyone considering or starting out on a career in design is to continually learn from everyone around you and be prepared to work hard! Sometimes the right idea or concept takes time and definitely collaboration, but the feeling you get when it works….there’s nothing like it!