Why does our industry seem to be stalling out, with less innovation and fewer emerging trends?
Earlier this year, I attended EuroShop in Dusseldorf, Germany. Held every three years, the event has historically proven to be the epicenter of exhibit-design trends. Boasting nearly 2,400 exhibitors from 61 countries spread across 1.3 million square feet in 18 different halls, EuroShop is, in a word, massive. But it's also magical. Because the stands on display represent exhibit houses, event and retail designers, lighting firms, and others on the cutting edge, the show is a ready-made playground for trend watchers like me. In fact, I journeyed 4,200 miles to Germany with one primary goal in mind: identify emerging trends that will ripple across the exhibition industry for years to come.
Sadly, EuroShop 2017 didn't deliver. I'd be hard-pressed to come up with even one new trend that emerged from the event. Sure, there were bits of brilliance scattered throughout dozens of remarkable exhibits, but in terms of trends, I came up empty- handed. Or, more specifically, I saw the same trends I identified while walking the show's aisles back in 2014: unfinished wood, large-scale multimedia, cross-sectional ribbing, faceted design elements, virtual reality, and lots of fabric architecture. I had been waiting anxiously for three years to see which new trends might take root, potentially impacting the industry into 2020 and beyond, but it was almost as if I had traveled backward in time to 2014, as nothing significant had changed at all.
So why does our industry seem to be stalling out, with noticeably less innovation and fewer emerging trends? During EuroShop, while discussing my frustration with a number of exhibit designers, a theory started to gel: Has our uncertain world caused us to stick with what's safe?
There's no arguing that uncertainty – both economic and political – has left people all around the globe in precarious positions. From the unanticipated Brexit vote and the unexpected U.S. election results, to the unpredictable impact of everything from North Korean nuclear tests and the Syrian missile strike to proposed travel bans and foreign trade policies, a significant segment of the world's population is in a purgatory-like state, waiting to see what's next – and what kind of fallout might ensue.
The Economic Policy Uncertainty Index, which tracks the level of concern in the world's major economies, charted an unprecedented global uncertainty rating of 312.59 in January, 2017. To put that into perspective, the organization's rating had only crossed 200 five times between 1997 and 2016. But the average rating from the past 12 months alone is 210.28, meaning that we've been in a consistent, year-long state of uncertainty that is unlike anything in recent history. And what do we do when faced with uncertainty? We take fewer risks, stick to known commodities, take comfort in that which is constant, and keep a close eye on our expenses – all actions that impede innovation. After all, trends are inherently risky, because we never know when what's hot will become, well, not. And trend setting is exponentially riskier.
It's impossible to tell just how significantly EuroShop's lack of innovation might impact our industry. On one hand, it's just one show. On the other, it's the show where exhibit designers the world over congregate in search of inspiration. And three years is a long time to wait for another creative hit.
While I cannot offer you a laundry list of emerging trends, I can deliver the 15 inspiring exhibits honored in this issue. The 2017 Exhibit Design Award winners are like an oasis of innovation and outstanding execution amid an expanse of status quo stands. So scour the pages in search of creative sparks. Then hole them away like a squirrel does nuts, because nobody can be certain when the world's trendsetters might reemerge.