Great Design: Creative Tradeshow Booth

Having a champion on the inside helped AdamsMorioka bring a risky concept to life for an Adobe tradeshow booth.

When Noreen Morioka was designing Adobe’s booth for the 2004 HOW Design Conference, she’d lie awake at night, stewing over the project. “I would see all these little faces saying, ‘Oh, you think you’re so smart. You’re an idiot,'” Morioka says with a laugh. “We took a big risk with this project. We were designing something for the design community. Talk about a critical audience.”

But taking such risks, Morioka says, is often a prerequisite for good design. She and Sean Adams, who’ve been partners for 10 years at AdamsMorioka in Beverly Hills, CA, know the value of taking risks. “For this booth, we didn’t come out with a funky, electronic, 3D design with over-the-top graphics and flashing lights,” Morioka says.

“Instead, we focused on a simple theme: ‘It’s all good.’ People could have reacted with: ‘Screw you. Who are you to say it’s all good?’ Especially given everything that’s going on in the world today.”

But conference attendees embraced the simple, feel-good concept of Adobe’s booth, which attracted traffic with its interactive components. “We wanted to make sure that this wasn’t just a booth where we hand things out. We wanted people to interact with one another,” says Karen Tenenbaum, the creative director at Adobe who hired AdamsMorioka for the project. “We wanted designers to know that Adobe is their partner, that we’re here to support this community.”

The booth, which measures 10x20ft., featured silk walls and lightweight metal support rods, making it easy to ship, assemble and disassemble. Images of grass, flowers and sky—along with an artificial turf floor—created a naturalistic setting.

“We definitely wanted to have that synergy with last year’s booth [a floral-themed display by Canton, GA-based Grant Design Collaborative],” Morioka says. “But while last year’s design focused on the personalization of the voice of design, we wanted to suggest the power of numbers, a sense of community. And we didn’t want to talk about the product. The product should speak for itself. We wanted to capture the experience, the beauty and passion of creative work.”

To engage visitors, Morioka and her team created interactive touch points in the booth, which included a wheat-grass bar—for washing away those nasty toxins that accumulate in our harried digestive systems—and 6x8in. interlocking corrugated cardboard cards that conference-goers could write on, answering the question “What’s good to you?”

After contemplating the good things in their lives, visitors added their cards to create a structure that grew to be as tall as the booth itself and consume more than half of its floor space. “People really got into building the house of cards,” Morioka says. “They kept coming back to see how the sculpture had evolved and read what other people wrote. It was so uplifting and fun.”

Smaller decks of interlocking cards, featuring artwork and testimonials from celebrity designers who use Adobe’s InDesign software, were among the freebies tucked in the goodie bags given to all conference attendees. “Each component made the others stronger,” Tenenbaum says. “The ‘It’s all good’ theme piqued people’s curiosity. Then the physical space of the booth itself engaged people, and the cards invited them to contribute to a group project. The wheat grass was kind of like the closer.”

Morioka and Tenenbaum say that the logistical aspects of the project—finding a printer that could produce the interlocking cards, for example—weren’t as challenging as getting the idea approved through the multiple chains of command at Adobe.

“Adobe has incredible people, but there’s a lot of diplomacy involved in pushing an idea through the system,” Tenenbaum says. “My role is to shield the creatives from the sometimes subjective internal critique process that occurs. We had a pretty modest budget on this project, too, so when we came up with ideas that were beyond the original scope, we had to go back and consider those additional costs.”

Morioka says Tenenbaum’s skillful maneuvering on the inside was critical to the idea’s success. “Sometimes people are quick to be critics, and negative comments can kill an idea,” Morioka says. “Karen really went to the mat on this project, which was pretty daring. What if this was a failure? What if this trade booth went down in smoke and everyone hated the ‘It’s all good’ concept? As important as it is to be a smart thinker and creative talent in our profession, you need to have equal or greater willingness to take a risk or be a shield for a good idea.”