Floorplan design

Layouts that do more then just maximize space

Floorplan design impacts many important aspects of exhibition management, and layouts should be as unique as the show itself. Good design can mean the difference between a dream show and a genuine nightmare. Logistics, space sales and even exhibitor relations are all enhanced by a carefully planned layout, which balances the needs of show management, exhibitors and those who attend the show.

Because facilities are different, the plan, which worked beautifully in one venue, may cause problems if copied in another. And using a facility’s “standard layout” may result in “just another show” instead of the sparkling, exciting event you had envisioned. What makes a Floorplan effective is show-specific customization based on needs, limitations, rules and the show site.

The effectiveness of a successful design is revealed long before attendees start down the aisles. The Floorplan must first ensure smooth freight move-in and access to utility ports. You can run utility lines anywhere, but the cost can become high.Poorly-planned layout can result in higher labour equipment costs, extended stand set-up time and an increased potential for problems.

A creative floorplan, providing a variety of stand sizes, can even boost space sales by offering something for every need. Organisers should encourage exhibitors to think about their specific space needs and show objective, and help them with audience calculations to better determine their staff and exhibit area requirements. By taking this approach in selling the space, you can focus on the goal-setting that should be done for more effective exhibiting.

Traffic density

Although most show managers strive first and foremost to maximize usable space, this is just one of many designs objectives. Few could cite their show’s precise daily traffic density in terms of people-per-square-foot, but most have a “feel” for what they want in terms of “busyness.” This perception helps convey excitement and action in higher densities, or a relaxed educational/informational environment in lower densities. Smaller shows may look for higher densities to make their 2,000 attendee feel like 9,000. This perception can be created by narrowing aisles from 3 meters to 2 meters, or simply designing fewer islands and fitting more exhibits in the same space.

Exhibitor equality

Promoting a sense of exhibitor equality is often high on the list of Floorplan priorities. Address this issue by reserving a block of in-line exhibits at the front of the hall. You don’t want to see a company which has been with the show for many years, but has no need for a large stand, pushed out to the edge of the floor, or overrun by larger exhibits. It prevents sight-line complaints through careful placement of adjacent exhibits.

Implementing objectives

The first step in implementing Floorplan objectives is to obtain a facility diagram showing entrances, columns, freight access, restrooms, utility port locations and other permanent features. It generally incorporates a “typical” maximum stand capacity plan and reveals problem areas such as aisles that may have to be wider then usual or ceiling heights that may restrict double-deck exhibits,

Utilise local service contractors, they usually have vast experience in home-town facilities.


Aisles are usually the first feature placed on a Floorplan since they determine the outline for the rest of the show. Many halls have “typical” layout designs showing primary aisles running either north-south or east-west. Which you pick is determined by your estimate of required square-meterage, the size and configuration of your larger exhibits and a determination of how traffic entering from other halls affects flow. Main aisles typically run the longer dimension of the hall, with cross aisles running the shorter direction.

Freight is an additional consideration in aisle placement. Consults with freight contractors to arrive at the best aisle pattern for efficient freight move-in and move-out. Give them a Floorplan and ask if they see anything that might cause a problem.

You want a straight line for freight, directly into the heart of the exhibit floor. Some shows further expedite freight movement by designating several “no-freight” aisles. Free from the clutter of exhibit materials, these aisles are then easier for freight handlers to negotiate. Larger exhibits spaces should not be surrounded by these special crate-free aisles, since “you want to be sure your bigger exhibitors have some place to put their freight.

Aisle – and stand – layout is also affected by local fire and safety rules. Too few cross aisles, or aisles that are too narrow, can result in a rejected Floorplan. Blocked emergency exits or fire extinguishers are also likely to be nixed.

Exhibit space

There are as many ways to start exhibit space layout, as there are shows. A clear understanding of show and association objectives helps direct the process. For example, shows with large space needs for association usage often block off what they need first, and build their Floorplan around those areas.

After association needs are met, the special needs of a show’s exhibitors will often determine the order in which a Floorplan is completed. Many show managers plan for the largest exhibit spaces first because their special size or configuration requirements would make them hard to fit in later.

The whole process may sound rather complicated considering objectives, rule and exhibits needs. But in reality, most Floorplan design is simplified greatly by show history – particularly if it remains in one location. Many exhibitors come back year after year with the same needs. So easily build that into preliminary Floorplans.

Special layouts

Industry “standards” often discourage innovative floor plans. But, a few years ago one organiser adopted a unique diamond pattern layout that encouraged small exhibitors to increase their stand size. When you make a diamond pattern on the Floorplan, you create a lot of Islands that offer more exposure. Every few feet, when the attendee turned a corner, they were facing a different exhibitor. Eventually it limited the growth of the show since a more conventional pattern can squeeze more exhibit space into the same hall.

The most common special layout design calls for dividing the show into “section,” by product or service displayed. Although there are ample arguments both for and against placing “birds of a feather” together, the decision is often made not by show management but the exhibitors or attendees.

Opponents of sectioning say it is precisely because of the difficulty in assigning exhibitors into product categories that their exhibitors oppose the concept. Companies with multiple product lines don’t want to be forced to choose one over another, or deal with the expense and logistics of taking several stands. Savvy exhibitors also know that many small stands will dilute their company’s message and image. Studies show there is a direct correlation between exhibit size and audience impact. When you cut your stand in half, you reduce your exhibit’s memorability.

Other floorplan designs create special sections by exhibit size. As mentioned earlier, many shows provide prime space to small exhibitors so they can compete in a show dominated by huge exhibits. More often, however, it’s the large exhibit spaces that require careful placement to achieve flow and balance goals.

Although some have tried, controlling traffic beyond indirect positioning of exhibits and features is difficult at best, and foolhardy according to most. Turning a Floorplan into a maze-like test where attendees are forced to travel in only one direction may ensure that attendees go through the entire hall, but they likely will not see the exhibits in the heat of their frustrations.

Avoiding problems

Instead of trying to control and audience, a good floorplans will make the attendee’s visit to the show as free from frustration as possible by preventing traffic pattern problems, Traffic bottlenecks are sometimes unavoidable around major exhibitors, but careful placement of cross aisles give visitors another way to reach their destination. Consumer show audiences may require larger, color-coded aisles since attendees may not be familiar with finding their way around a large hall. They are usually there for only one day, versus 2-to-3 days for a trade show, so you want to encourage them to see everything.

Careful floor planning can also prevent exhibitor dissatisfaction through attention to traffic weak spots. Plans that are forced to incorporate a dead-end aisle can lead to a lounge or other traffic-generating feature. Low traffic areas like lower levels or exhibit annexes can be revitalized by locating areas of special interest nearby such as a meeting rooms, technical presentation or show registration.

A mistake in floorplan dimensions can cause the most serious layout problems. Double-checking a hand-drafted plan is standard operating procedure for most shows managers. Accuracy is critical if you don’t want to discover on opening day that your ‘maxed out’ floorplan is off by two feet, and several exhibitors won’t be able to fit there stands in to the show.

Despite best efforts, most event managers still find themselves adjusting the floorplan right up until the night before the first attendee walk through the entrance. This is true even when you’ve done everything right to accommodate association objectives, exhibitor needs and operational efficiency. The only real final floorplan is the one with actual names and stand number after the show is over.


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