Seeing the light – why illuminating your exhibition stand correctly can bring results

August 24, 2017

Lighting might not seem an especially important part of exhibition stand design. As long as visitors can see your stand, that’s fine, right?

That’s an understandable view. But as Christopher Cuttle puts it in Light for Art’s Sake, “Lighting does not merely make things visible; it influences the appearance of everything we see.”

This is a crucial distinction; seeing vs how we perceive what we see. So, this has a huge impact on how a customer or potential customer perceives your exhibition stand and, by extension, your brand. The right exhibition lighting is the difference between being seen and being understood; between having exhibition space and capitalising on that space to generate measurable results.

Why exhibition lighting matters

In this article we look at why exhibition lighting is important. Then we consider the ways you can leverage this to help your brand leave a glowing impression.

So why is lighting vital?

1. Lighting helps you stand out: You’re competing with hundreds and even thousands of brands in one exhibition space. Any point of difference is important, lighting included.

You’re competing with hundreds and even thousands of brands in one exhibition space. Any point of difference is important, lighting included.

Imagine this: you’re walking through an exhibition looking around for anything that catches your eye. All the stands are pretty similar, lit by the harsh white lighting in the exhibition hall. You turn a corner and see a booth lit with deep, mood lighting in the distance. As it’s so different from the rest it catches your eye, and so you head that way to take a closer look.

Getting eyeballs onto your stand isn’t the full story – but it’s where the battle starts. Lighting can do much to help.

2. Lighting creates mood: Lighting doesn’t only help you stand out. It reinforces your brand. It’s the intersection of those two things that’s important. Surround your exhibition stand with flashing disco lights in garish colours and you’re sure to draw a crowd. However, unless that image is consistent with your brand, you’re pulling a crowd for the wrong reasons.

An airline that prizes refinement, elegance and luxury, for instance, would send the wrong message with such flashy lighting. You want to draw the right type of crowd. That means lighting that stands out, but that is also consistent with your brand.

That’s why exhibition lighting is so important. It draws visitors to your stand by creating difference and it impacts how those visitors see you. That, in turn, influences how likely they are to convert – how valuable they are to you.

Seven ideas to create your best possible exhibition stand

Lighting is very easy to get wrong or ignore altogether. Here are seven ideas to help guide you in the right direction.

1. Understand lighting is art: To harness lighting in a truly effective way, a mindset shift is needed. Lighting might have a functional role to play, but it isn’t purely functional. As renowned lighting designer Kaoru Mende writes in his book Designing with Light and Shadow, “Lighting design does not merely serve a practical or functional role, but has the power to appeal directly to the human spirit or sensibility.”

It’s much easier to leverage lighting in your exhibition stand design if this idea is embraced. This attitude will encourage you to invest the time and effort to make your lighting impactful. Lighting as an afterthought is rarely effective. So, discussions about lighting should happen when you’re developing your theme, not after you’ve designed your stand.

2. Hide the mechanics: Mende also says to “keep light source and light fixtures out of view, so the light itself can take centre stage.” Light sources and fixtures are facilitators of light, but it’s the light itself that has a powerful effect. With this in mind, think about how you can conceal the mechanics of that lighting.

If concealment isn’t possible, choose fixtures that add to the visible design; from arm lights to monopoint lights to rope lights. If you must show them, choose fixtures that don’t detract too much from the other elements of design. For instance, an impressive chandelier could work as part of your stand design but a plain black spotlight might be better hidden.

3.  Limit glare with matte materials: One of the most common lighting mistakes is glare. When your lighting causes glare you deliver a negative impression of your overall stand. In Light for Art’s Sake, glare is described by Cuttle as having two key adverse impacts on viewers; first, glare reduces visibility because of how the light is scattered through our vision. Second, the eye is attracted towards the brightest point – the glare itself, causing discomfort.

So how do you avoid glare? Start by understanding the causes so you can minimise the risk. The Lighting Handbook cites very bright surfaces and reflective surfaces as two of the major causes of glare, so think carefully about the materials you use in your stand. You could also select matte materials or use dulling spray to minimise glare risk.

Very bright surfaces and reflective surfaces as two of the major causes of glare, so think carefully about the materials you use in your stand.

4. Balance illumination with glare: According to The Lighting Handbook, illumination is a measure of “the quantity of luminous flux falling on a surface”; luminous flux being the quantity of light emitted by a light source. Put more simply, illumination refers to the amount of light that hits each surface. It’s an important measure because it impacts what viewers see when they view the illuminated surface.

Intense detail and bright colour needs better illumination to be visible, for instance. Cuttle puts it this way: “The levels of detail and colour discrimination will depend on the light level.”

Say you want your stand to appear vivid red. You’ll need to illuminate the surfaces such that the colour isn’t obscured. This colour rendering is the “ability of a light source to reproduce surface colours as faithfully as possible compared to a reference light source.”

5. Don’t forget the interplay of natural light: No stand occurs in a vacuum. Your exhibition might happen during the day with ample exposure through bright windows. Or, it might be happening at night when the dominant lighting in the exhibition room will be artificial. Alternatively, it could be a day-to-night affair, so your stand will need to cope with the transition.

Mende puts it this way, “During the day, natural light comes in evenly from outside. At night, on the contrary, uneven artificial light glows from the inside. Be sure to design this natural contrast of light and shadow.” The point is this; when you design lighting for your exhibition stand, don’t forget to consider the ambient lighting you’re designing against.

6. Know how light colour impacts atmosphere: Light colour has a huge impact on atmosphere. There are three main light colours; warm white, intermediate white and cold white. These are determined by the temperature of the light in degrees Kelvin.

Warm white has red tones and creates a warm atmosphere. Intermediate white appears white and creates a neutral atmosphere. Lastly, cold white has a blue feel and creates a cold atmosphere.

The appropriate light for your stand will depend on the mood you want, which ties back into your brand. For instance, you’ll probably see a lot of cold white lighting at the GCC Pharmaceutical Care Conference, chosen to reflect cool, clean, clinical brands.

7. Consider contrast: One of Mende’s important principles is contrast; “a slight contrast in colours can make light come alive.” He mentions the use of subtle blue lighting to accentuate the beauty of warm light and it is thought that light colours that contrast can help stimulate desire on the part of the customer.

Contrast can also have a big impact on mood. High contrast lighting leverages the full scale of tones, containing both dark and light areas. It can be impactful and evocative, but can also feel mysterious and complex. Meanwhile, low contrast lighting can be more open, transparent, clean and simple.

Contrast can also have a big impact on mood. High contrast lighting leverages the full scale of tones, containing both dark and light areas.

An edgy motorcycle brand, for instance, might want higher contrast lighting than a financial services firm. Think about the mood your brand represents – what do you want visitors to feel about you? 

Exhibition lighting – too important to ignore

Exhibition lighting plays a fundamental role in meeting your exhibition aims. Done correctly, lighting helps attract more visitors to your stand and gives them the right impression once they’re there. It helps you tell your story, which in turn aids you in building brand awareness, creating competitive difference, securing more leads and generating more sales.

That’s too important to ignore.