Convention and Show Display Design

My daughter Rachel and I both publish comics on-line. Her comic Last Res0rt is now almost 4 years old, while my comic Bug Pudding has just completed its 9th month. One of the ways that we promote our web comics is by attending conventions. It is a learning experience in many ways. First and foremost, it is a promotional opportunity, but it is also a marketing research opportunity. Conventions and shows provide a great way to gather first hand input from your readers and potential readers. Conventions are also a great opportunity to sell merchandise that can help support your fledgling publishing efforts. In this article, I want to share some of our experiences and conclusions and in particular I want to share the design of our ever evolving convention and show display.

Success at a convention can be measured in many ways and you need to plan your convention presentation to maximize your desired goals for that particular show. The first place to start is with the design of an organized and eye catching display. Here is a picture of  one of Rachel’s early attempts. It’s only a 3 foot wide table space and pretty simple, but it was a start. One of the first things we both learned when looking back at this photo was to ask ourselves the question ” what does the presentation of the display say about our brand?” As you can clearly see in this first attempt, the answer is “not much”.

In 2009 Rachel and I did a major “make over” to her presentation and the results can be seen in this next photo. The branded image has improved considerably.

The addition of  the banner makes quite a statement. The previous display said ” I’m a artist.”  This improved display says ” I’m an artist and I have a web comic to promote.”  But even with this major branding improvement we quickly learned that our visual presentation needed additional improvement. Shows and conventions are very busy places, attracting people and communicating your desired message requires using all of your presentation space to the max. Here is our latest evolution.

We are taking full advantage of all the visual planes and utilizing the vertical space not just the horizontal table space.  One important lesson in promoting your brand at a convention is the simple reality that on average, at most, you are going to get about 30 seconds of mind share from a visitor to your presentation before you lose their attention.  So the more you can present quickly the more you can hope to communicate your message.

One of the challenges presented in designing a display for shows and conventions is the logistical transport of the display itself. So when we were determining how we wanted to expand our presentation, one important consideration was to keep it simple and easy to set-up, break down, and haul around. As far as our current configuration, it all fits into a couple of small tote boxes and a backpack. Another important consideration is that the design has to flexibly be reconfigurable to suit different spacial arrangements. Some conventions allow for 3 foot table space, some 6 foot spaces and some 8 foot spaces. The goal of the presentation is to best utilize the space available.

The vertical frame that we use is constructed out of commonly available components. As seen in the diagram above, the basic foundation uses an amazing product call an Irwin Quick Grip Clamp. It’s a pistol gripped clamp that easily adjusts and clamps to the provided convention table. (see photos below). Rising up from the Irwin clamps we have 3/4″ threaded PVC pipe, the kind that is sold in hardware stores for yard sprinklers. I chose threaded PVC because it makes for easy and secure assembly of the structure. We use an assortment of in-line couplings, tee connectors, 90 degree elbows and snap-on tees as shown. The snap-on tees provide for adjustable “out riggers” which add significantly to the flexibility of this design. The choice of 12″ lengths of pipe also contributes to the ease of adjusting the dimensions to fit an available convention sized table as seen in this 3 foot table version of the display.

Notice the usage of the out riggers as a way of maximizing the vertical space even in a small display and how their positioning can be adjusted depending on the location of your table space in relation to the surrounding tables.

Below you can see the Irwin clamp installed on a table. These things are amazing. They’re not cheap at around $20 each, but they work great.

You may be able to find a less expensive table clamp, but it will be hard to beat these Irwin clamps for ease of usage in set-up and break down of your display frame.

Hanging art or signage from the frame is accomplished using 1 1/2″ binder rings and medium binder clips. As shown below.

I hope that you will find this display design information useful and don’t hesitate to share your own ideas. One last tip that is often over looked by artists planning a convention is build a mock up of your display presentation prior to each convention. You will save yourself lots of last minute surprises by putting it together in advance. Also it gives you time to evaluate how well the set up addresses your desired goal for the showing. You can make sure that you have provided clear and consistent signage and that you are getting the most out of your precious space. OK, it’s show time.

11 thoughts on “Convention and Show Display Design”

  1. This is a great article! ^_^ Very helpful in the designing of my future table displays. Thanks!

  2. Pingback: T-Shirt Displays at a Sci-Fi Convention | Things Nerds Like
  3. awesome job … i easily found everything … except the 3/4″ Snap-On Tee … which store did you find those at ??? …

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