Malcolm Dunderdale, managing director of Deckle Edge, talks the importance of being able to find your way around an event


Last week I attended FESPA, The European Sign Expo, held in the Hamburg Messe. I am a Managing Director of a signage company and at this event there were over 700 exhibitors stands, across ten halls covering all aspects of signage, 22,000 visitors from 125 countries all interested in everything signage. So, it was rather ironic that I found myself lost at several points and unable to find certain halls because of poor signage. A bit like struggling to organise a knees up in a brewery I found myself laughing through gritted teeth at the irony of it all.

As a visitor I became incredibly frustrated. My time at the show was limited and I didn’t want to waste my valuable hours wandering around trying to find the stands where I had appointments. But sadly, that’s what happened and I found myself constantly going back on myself to find the right halls.

At one point I found myself with a bunch of other visitors crossing a courtyard to another hall only to be told by a passing contractor that there was nothing in the hall we were heading for… more wasted steps.

It got me thinking about the amount of times I had been at major events, festivals or exhibitions and I couldn’t find my away around. Whilst organisers invest time and money into creating experiences, securing great attractions, snazzy facilities, nice refreshments and easy access, they don’t always place importance on making it easy for visitors to navigate around the space. I remember a friend being particularly annoyed having missed the first half of Kings of Leon at a festival because she simply couldn’t find where she was meant to be going. The danger is people don’t come back next year if they have missed out on things or wasted valuable time. It can leave a bad taste.

So I am hoping to convince event, festival, exhibition organisers to spend a bit more time on signage to help us visitors enjoy the event as much as we can. Here are some tactics to consider to make sure your exhibition or event is remembered for the right reasons.

Having clear and easy to see signs needs to be at the heart of the planning. It’s essential to bear in mind that visitors come from all over the globe so don’t rely on language as the main way to navigate. Symbols work well to help everyone understand quickly and easily. Consider the size of the signs too. At a show with hundreds of exhibitors vying for attention you need to make sure that the signs cut through this. The bigger the better.

Colour is a great way to create zones or to identify sectors. It sounds simple but it’s often overlooked and signs are just in black and white. It’s also a great way to keep brand consistency with your event logos colours. Consider also the way colours work together as the message shouldn’t be unclear by using similar colours, use bold contrasting colours that are easily read. One UK airport recently revised their signage by changing it from black on yellow to yellow on black, a simple change but one that was found to have a significant benefit to travellers moving around the airport.

Walk through the space through a visitor’s eyes and consider where best to place the signs. Above is often a good choice but also think about how to utilise the floor and walkways. Modern floor graphics are durable, colourful, safe to walk on and provide an easy way to help visitors navigate around the area. Follow the path through to all the different spaces. How many times does it happen that you start following signs only to find that they suddenly stop? Get your colleagues to try the signs out before the event opens. Have them go from A to B to C to make sure that the route is well signed in its entirety, that the signs go to all corners and all locations.

It sounds obvious but it’s vital that the sign is illuminated. The way to do this is either by using lighting in the venue itself or by simple LED spotlights that will help the sign be seen. For those really important signs why not use flashing LEDs shapes into arrows or messages (think American diners) which nowadays are simple and easy to manufacture.

And with the use of photovoltaic panels (solar power but without direct sunshine) are now an effective source of power for signs for those areas without mains electricity. 

As we know there is always room for improvement in organising major events and shows. Ask visitors what they think and get some feedback for when you plan the next one.

So that’s my plea to those planning big events and shows now. Please invest some time and thought into signage. I know it’s not sexy but it can make the difference to seeing the band you want or sealing a deal with a client.