Our Q&A with Rory Dodd of Designersblock explains how a recent graduate can find the exhibition that’s right for them, the questions to ask the organisers, how to prepare for the event and how to deal with buyers, the press and the general public.

Q&A with Rory Dodd, Designersblock

Designersblock: 45 design shows in 13 cities, in 10 countries with over 1000 exhibitors from 30 nations…….and counting. See more information on Designersblock at the end of the post.


ARTS THREAD: You want to take a stand at a design exhibition for the first time – how do you choose which exhibition to show at?

RORY DODD: It’s always best to visit; nearly all the people that exhibit at our shows have either visited previous shows or know someone who has exhibited with us. If you can’t visit then find out as much as you can. Look at the exhibitor lists from previous shows and try to gauge how you and your work would fit in the context.

AT: If you go visit the show in advance of deciding, what should you look out for and what questions should you ask?

RD: Check out how busy the show is and try to work out who the audience is. Check out how happy and busy the exhibitors are. Talk to exhibitors and learn from how they talk to you, imagine yourself standing where they are and how that would feel. You want a nice busy show with lots of talking, bright enthusiastic visitors and everybody having a good show. If they’re not having a good time then the chances are that they won’t be back for the next edition.

AT: What other things should you consider?

RD: Ask as many people as you can about the shows you are thinking about and other shows. See how visible they are in the press, check out which press and make sure that you send material independently to journalists who feature the show and that you invite them along.

AT: Do I need to have an interview to be accepted for an exhibition? How does this work?

RD: Whether you have an interview or not depends very much on the exhibition, most trade shows don’t have as far as I’m aware, you apply to them and they get back to you. I think most of the trade shows have panels or a committee of some kind. We like to have as much dialogue as possible with people before a show but we don’t do formal interviews.


AT: What are the key deadlines you need to keep in mind before the event?

RD: Press deadlines, manufacturing time if you’re having things made, print deadlines for your promotional material.

AT: How many pieces should you show?

RD: Depends on the space, make sure what you have draws people in and interests them. Make sure that your photography is one of the things that you consider when you are working on stand layouts,

AT: How far in advance do you need to get a press release and images ready?

RD: As soon as possible makes life easy for journalists, PR companies and show organisers; we always say get something together fast so you have something and then you can keep updating it. Publications and websites are always looking for strong visuals. Some magazines need white background shots, so have a good range of images. Shots in environments, studio shots, close ups, details etc and if it’s relevant get a shot that you think could be a cover. Some publications or sections in magazines will only feature work if it’s available to buy from somewhere so make sure that you have all the information for anyone to feature, buy, borrow or sell your work. So prices, ranges, colours, sizes, materials, availability, stockists etc.

AT: Are there other considerations?

RD: Make sure that everything is current, up to date and that you have enough of everything; use a standard size for business cards, small ones get lost, big ones are a pain, choose a nice stock for business cards, the only graphic that we have retained is our business cards from 5 or 6 years ago simply because people like the look and feel of them.

AT: How about insurance?

RD: For trade shows exhibitors generally need to take out public liability insurance. Also generally exhibitors will need to insure their work and any valuable items like laptops etc that might be part of their presentation.

AT: Stand design? How much should you spend?

RD: The more time you have to plan the stand, the more likely it is that you might be able to get the costs down by involving a material sponsor, then you can maybe do something more ambitious with the structure. Exhibitions are good environments for material suppliers and other sponsors, so think about what you need and who might have an interest in giving/lending you things in exchange for reaching that audience.

AT: Who should I invite and how far in advance should I invite them?

RD: Exhibitions are the best backdrop for meetings and appointments so make as many you can, invite as many people as you can; if you haven’t already then start a database. Add to it every time you meet someone and spend some time looking at magazines for press contacts etc. Exhibitions are a great way of getting a lot of work done in a very short space of time.


AT: What forms will I need to complete for the organisers and what about insurance?

RD: You’ll probably have to provide some kind of method statement for your area of the exhibition, get this to the organisers as soon as you can, some organisers will advise you on things like set up, easier ways of doing things etc some won’t. You might also need your own public liability insurance, and it’s worth looking into insurance for your work and any equipment you have, especially laptops, iPods, iPads, anything shiny and portable; be super careful during set up and takedown when there are loads of people going in and out. Keep an eye on any tools.

AT: How long should it take to put up the stand? Any essentials to bring along?

RD: Bring everything that you need for the set up so that you are as independent as possible, set up can go pretty quickly so you don’t want to be spending time borrowing ladders and going to the shops. That said; check out the area so you know where you can get things if you need to, hardware/electrical/paint/print facilities etc. Have somewhere where you can store things during the set up and during the show – coats, bags, etc.


AT: Should you let people wander around the stand or go up and tell them about your work? When’s right?

DB: Use your judgement; observe how other people do it. We always say talk to people at our shows, that’s often what visitors come for. Always remember to breath when you’re talking to people. Make sure you have water; most exhibition environments will remove all the moisture from your throat within minutes. Generally the more active you are in the run up, during and after a show the more effective it’ll be for you.

AT: Do you need to be on the stand all the time?

RD: Yes and don’t come in late the morning after the private view especially if you’re looking for press contacts, some of the best journalists are there in the morning when the doors open and if you’re not there then your stuff will get nicked.

AT: The other stands – good to make friends with them?

RD: Be friends with everybody, we try and make our shows work as well for the people in the shows as visitors, you’ll find people to work with and people to show with at other exhibitions. Think about sharing stands as well, it can make life cheaper and easier for you. Think about who you could share a stand with, whether you share with people that are doing similar things, have graduated from the same course or have work that’s very different but complementary to what you are doing.

AT: The private view and (usually) a party – does and don’ts?

RD: Talk with as many people as possible. Have cards on you. Private views and parties tend to be faster than show days; there are more people in a shorter space of time and loads to distract them. Work out the really key things that you want to get across and make sure they are on the tip of your tongue. Above all enjoy it.

AT: Pricing – how flexible should you be?

DB: Be very clear. Have trade prices and retail prices, and work out bulk discounts if you can. Pounds. Euros. Tax. Delivery times and terms.

AT: Should you take images of your stand for promotional purposes later?

DB: Yes you should and if you see anyone else taking pictures try your best to get them to send you copies or get the card out of their camera then and there and get them on your laptop.


AT: How quickly should you email all the contacts made at the show? And what should you say?

DB: As soon as you can, email them and say thanks for coming, make sure that you ask them if you can send them any information about anything that they were interested in. Always give people a card at least and ask for their card if they don’t give you one straight back. When they’ve gone jot down a quick note on their card to remind you what they were like, what you promised to do or what you talked about, refer to this in any emails that you send them subsequently. Check out what they all do before you email them back and if you’re interested in what they do then say so.

AT: How can you measure if a show’s been successful for you?

DB: Good conversations to follow up, good meetings, who did you expect to meet and who didn’t you expect to meet. Sales, orders, press, learning curve, reactions to what you do, new people to work with, networking and did you enjoy it.

Image credits: Designersblock 2011

*Designersblock: Since 1998 Designersblock has been pioneering the approach of working with building owners to effectively utilise transitional architectural spaces. From launching the Truman Brewery as a major design destination with the first Designersblock show, the team has gone on to use St Pancras Station, the Tea Building and the Nicholls & Clarke Buildings in Shoreditch and in 2008 No.1 The Piazza Covent Garden and most recently the Farmiloe Building Clerkenwell for London Design Festival 2011.