What Would Mark Do?
     - Musings on design, opinions on business and discoveries to be shared. 
              by Mark Bendickson.

I thought about blogging on and off for the past few years.

I thought about blogging on and off for the past few years. Not because I have some earth shattering news to impart, or because I am some narcissistic 14 year old who actually thinks the world cares what music I like, but because it just seemed like a great way to share, to learn, and to get things off of my chest.  I thought about it a lot, did research and made a few false starts.  Then something happened that made me really want to jump in with both feet.

Awhile back I was taking a walk down memory lane on the internet archive wayback machine and looking at what my website  looked like 10 years ago>.  As I was browsing I ran across  a feature that I had back then called ask Dr. Display where I answered questions from clients and associates with the following call to action: ASK THE EXHIBIT DOCTOR Something ailing your exhibit program? Find a cure for a common ailment?  Or is there some holistic, preventative regimen that works for you?  Well, visit the Exhibit Doctor (tm).  Our clinic is a great place to share information with your peers, or get advice from the Doctor himself.  And, unlike some pesky HMO, we''ll let you stay as long as you like.  So drop the doctor a line, and let us know if we can use your question in the column.  It was a lot of fun, in a Dear Abby-esque sort of way, and allowed me to share my experience in a lighthearted and sometimes irreverent method.  Here is an example of one of my columns (note how little the square foot range and percentage of budget numbers have changed since 1997):

Dear Exhibit Doctor,
What is a good estimate for average cost per square foot on an island floor plan?
-Searching in San Diego

Dear Searching,
Wow!  This question is just like when your wife asks whether or not a certain pair of jeans make her look fat.  There is NO right answer.   But let me try anyway (email me and let me know if I have to sleep on the couch tonight). 
First of all there are different types of exhibit materials and construction techniques.  People say that custom modular exhibits will run 70-90 dollars a square foot, portables 50-80, custom 100-130.  These are approximate, and there are many variations on these figures, but these are approximately accurate.  Second, there are different requirements for an exhibit.  A computer company with eight workstations and a large presentation theater has a lot more content than a company that makes printing presses or semi trailers and has a product that takes up 75% of their exhibit. 
Then there are different design requirements and disciplines.  Some exhibits are crowded (and the stuff that makes them that way costs money) and others are more open and inviting.  Designers call this ''negative space'' because in theory the open space will draw people in.  By the way, the goal everyone should be working towards in an exhibit''s negative space is best thought of in this way; you''re walking down the street looking for a restaurant for dinner.  You want a restaurant that has room to seat and serve you in a reasonable amount of time, but that''s crowded enough so that the food must be good.  That's a good booth, crowded enough so people know there's something in it worth looking at, but not too crowded to get into and a staff that''s not too busy to get information from. 
Third, remember that these rules and dollar amounts are for your exhibit only.  This usually includes the structure, the crates or cases, and corporate id and some product specific graphics.  Backlit transparencies, design, large format graphics, computer and multimedia equipment, video walls, monitors, sound equipment, pierce cutting and dimensional elements would all be extra.  And these items can add a lot. 
So, we have different market''s and industries'' requirements to consider.  Different exhibit materials; custom, custom-modular, portable or a mixture (we call this a hybrid) of some or all of these types to figure in.  And, different booth designs, which can all influence the price.  Confused..... I don''t blame you. 
My advice to clients is two fold. First, budget between 90-150 dollars a square foot as a starting point.  Hopefully it will get approved.  Second, remember that based on an average five year show schedule, the cost of your exhibit is usually less than 20% of the cost of exhibiting, so think long and hard about ways to control the other 80% of these costs.  A good exhibit design firm should take these factors into consideration and make recommendations that will make your investment count.
The best advice I can give is to find an exhibit designer who you feel comfortable with, and whose work you respect, and let them give you a range after they have input on your needs and objectives.  That way you''ll be a step ahead, and you''ll have a pretty accurate number to use in budgeting.  And that''s better than a handful of people who have never designed a booth sitting in a marketing department conference room and pulling numbers out of their, er, I mean, the, air. 
Hope this helps in your search.
- The Exhibit doctor

Hopefully this blog can be a good way to recapture that and spark some good old fashioned discussion and commentary, to learn from others and share some points of view I have developed over the past twenty years.