Trend watching will only get you so far when you're trying to predict the distant future.
Recently, as I celebrated my 10-year anniversary at EXHIBITOR magazine, I reflected on a decade's worth of traipsing across exhibit halls serving a barrage of different industries and located all over the world. But that reflection had an unintended consequence: I couldn't help but wonder what trade shows will look like another 10 years from now. And while I pride myself
on staying mindful of a whole host of different trends impacting our industry, trend watching will only get you so far when you're trying to predict the distant future. After all, when it comes to trends, one day they're in, and the next day they're out.
So specific trends aside, I began looking for big-picture advancements and long-term shifts with demonstrated staying power. And when I peered into my crystal ball searching for reliable progressions that will still be driving change a decade from now, I was only able to identify one movement that long preceded me and is likely to outlast my career: technology.
Why is technology the only enduring shift? Because, when you think about it, tech impacts every facet of our lives. In a trade show context, technology is revolutionizing everything from exhibitor manuals, to in-booth kiosks, to measurement and analytics, to multimedia displays, and so much more. I recently came across a photo from the 1999 Electronic Entertainment Expo of what was considered a high-tech video wall at the time. The display comprised a dozen or so of the old tube TVs with convex screens. Then I recalled an exhibit from EuroShop 2014, where the floors, walls, and reception desk were made of LED panels, allowing the entire space to transform into a psychedelic, dimensional, ever-changing display. When you consider those exhibits were created only 15 years apart, it is astonishing just how far we've come. And it's somewhat overwhelming to imagine how that rapid evolution might impact trade shows in the long term.
Even if we look at tech only through the lens of large-scale multimedia, we see how significantly it's likely to impact our industry. According to several exhibitors I've spoken with in the past few months, and reiterated by what I'm personally seeing on show floors around the world, exhibitors are trading in hard-walled components for large-scale multimedia displays. By some estimates, major brands are decreasing the amount of exhibitry – the stuff exhibit houses design, build, and sell – by as much as 25 to 35 percent, and funneling that money into audiovisual elements.
Think about how that will impact the business models of exhibit houses and fabrication firms. Think about the entirely new skills that those companies will need to acquire in the very near future, if they hope to stem the tide of revenue rushing out the door toward multimedia and AV firms. And consider the fact that many of those skill sets didn't even exist 15 years ago.
See, fashion and other design trends often circle back to the point that what was once considered vintage is now back in vogue. But tech will never circle back to dial-up internet connections, and manual typewriters will never replace laptops and tablets. Unlike short-term trends, technology as a movement marches on, which makes it the only trend line that will always be impacting the way we live and the industries we serve.
Today, people might be chasing arguably superfluous trends, but in the long run everyone is really just racing to keep up with the rapidly evolving nature of technology. It's why forward-thinking companies and engineers have spent lifetimes turning science fiction into science fact. And the fact of the matter is that whether we're talking 10, 20, or even 30 years down the road, technology will still be turning our industry – and our lives – upside down and inside out, courtesy of gadgets that render the impossible commonplace. And I, for one, can't wait to see what that future holds. E