Milan – Managing to stand out from the visual pollution that marks today’s trade fairs is a participating brand’s biggest challenge. And nowhere is eye-blinding chaos more irksome than what we find in Milan every April at the Salone del Mobile, the mother of all design fairs. It’s here, in an environment crammed with colour and commotion, that exhibition design can play a decisive role in visitor numbers.
Point taken by USM. Like the brand’s Salone outing of last year, which won not one but two St-W Awards, the 2019 stand of this Swiss modular furniture maker was far more than a stage for the display of products. Its designers, UNStudio, created the installation Making Spaces with the brand’s collection, not for it. Breaking free from the traditional perimeters of the trade fair presentation, USM managed to grab the attention of an increasingly well-informed, digital-savvy audience. Here’s what we can learn from them.
 ENGAGE YOUR AUDIENCE
It’s one thing to get visitors on your stand, but how do you keep them there long enough to deliver your message, and make sure they still remember it when they leave the fairgrounds? The trick lies in audience interaction. And USM mastered – and capitalized on – it. At last year’s Salone they asked their visitors – or rather potential clients – to answer questions about their way of living and working, thus gaining invaluable information for the development of future collections. This year the brand chose to collaborate with its audience, inviting passers-by to actively co-design the space with the help of custom-made stickers, which were designed by UNS Futures team in collaboration with Pinc graphic design. As the week went on, the black walls, floors and surfaces were slowly covered in a growing ‘landscape’ of geometric shapes, courtesy of the fair attendees.
As the designers of the stand point out, ‘customization adds energy and with any luck the stickers break free of the booth and will be used to Make Places elsewhere.’
 DON'T FLOOD, BUT FILTER
If you pay per square metre, you want to make the most out of each and every one of them. No wonder we see many brands fall into the trap of cramming their stands with seemingly every single product they ever produced. Not USM, who understands the need to focus and was selective in its choices. This year that focus lied on their Haller system, whose elements functioned as the actual building blocks of the spatial constructions. Giving the stage to one rather than multiple collections allowed USM to demonstrate the product’s full potential. Configured in a multitude of ways, the Haller system functioned as a supporting structure for the growth of indoor plants, a medium to express personality in spaces, and a flexible furniture solution that adapts to accommodate any type of meeting.
 PUT YOUR PRODUCT IN CONTEXT
As a brand, it’s not only important to understand what are the forces at play inside your business, but also those that are affecting the lifestyle of your consumer. When you find a way to answer to the needs inherent to your clients’ way of living, or address the issues on their minds, you immediately grow in relevance. USM found such a contemporary topic, namely the rise of the third space. Or in other words: the blurring boundaries between work and home. The brand set out to research and identify the conditions third spaces should provide for people to thrive in them and – through UNStudio’s installation – demonstrated their finding at the Salone del Mobile.
USM’s stand was ‘divided’ into four playfully connected areas: one for reflection, necessary to avoid stress-related illnesses; one for learning, promoting the constant development of skills in the face of automation; one for meeting, highlighting the importance of face-to-face interaction on physical spaces; and one for growing, pointing out the benefits of plants in indoor environments to improve mental and physical health.
The takeaway: When in doubt, aim for letting visitors take ownership of your exhibition space.