Around the new year, my director asked me to design an exhibition stand for our company, Graphica Display, for two shows we would be exhibiting at in April and May of this year. My brief had two objectives for the stand: It has to have a standard size ping-pong table on it, and it has to show off our in-house manufacturing capabilities. Otherwise, I could do pretty much what I wanted.
There were existing elements available to me to use from previous stands. We have four, 3-meter tall lightboxes; two 0.5 meters wide, one 2.8 meters wide, and one 3 meters wide. These would function as the back wall around the stand.
Other than that, I could include anything that seemed relevant. I added in a section of stud-wall to complete the back wall and then had a bare skeleton to build upon.
With a basic plan in place, the most important next step was to design the table. I knew nothing about ping pong, and so went online to find out the official specifications.
An official ITTF (International Table Tennis Foundation) table specification is: 2.74 m (9 ft) long, 1.52 m (5 ft) wide, and 76 cm (2.5 ft) high. The table is then divided in the middle by a net which is 152mm (6 inches) high and 1.83 m (6 ft) wide, overhanging the table by 152mm (6 inches) either side.
I knew that I did not want to make a plain-looking table. It would have to fit into those dimensions, but otherwise, I would make it unique.
On my search for inspiration, I considered one of the tables in our workshop, used for vinyl preparation. It has a lightbox top with a diffused acrylic surface which gives a soft, even source of illumination. It also happens that acrylic is a pretty great playing surface for ping pong. So a lightbox seemed like the way to go.
I then started looking at the net. If I was illuminating the table, then the net should be illuminated too. A regular net wouldn't cut it, so I experimented with laser-etching a pattern into clear acrylic. When given edge-illumination, the etching catches the light, and you stop seeing the acrylic itself. The samples we made took over an hour to etch. Once it finished, I tested it with some LED strips and the effect was exactly right.
With a rough plan of how the table would function, I turned my attention to the artwork we would use on the lightbox walls and the overall artistic direction of the stand. Through discussions with my director about the table and the use of light, we looked at various options. We were considering electroluminescent (EL) wire to light parts of the stand and table. This led us to look at Tron-style artwork, but I dismissed this as being too dark. Then my director suggested we go with something inspired by the now iconic iPod adverts with the dancing silhouettes. Instead of holding white iPods, they could hold white paddles. I mocked up some samples in photoshop, and while the effect worked, I wasn't entirely happy with the overall look. I mocked up further samples for the two primary lightboxes on the stand but wasn’t satisfied with how it was going, so parked the idea to come back to it later.
To take my mind off of the artistic direction, I started to think about how to demo various materials we use. The stand itself was to be made of different materials and different processes, but only a fraction compared to what we use on a day-to-day basis for client work.
What Graphica had done before on exhibition stands was make up a bunch of samples of various materials. Then print the description and the company details on to the material itself. There are a couple of problems with this method in my eyes though. First, we’ve got to print and cut hundreds of samples on a dozen or more materials, which is time-consuming. Then, at the show, if you have something that’s popular you run the risk of giving them all away.
My solution to this came from an image I saw on Pinterest while researching ideas.
At first, I thought I should make a rack to hold the paddles when people weren’t playing. But then I realised I could make fake paddles out of the different materials we use, and display them on the stand. This way they were quicker and easier to manufacture as we only made two of each, and they also tie into the design of the stand. Plus, even though there are only 14 slots on the stand, we can make extra paddles from different materials if need be and swap them out as necessary.
While drawing these paddles, I was still researching various artistic ideas for the overall look of the stand. After I couldn’t find a way to like it, I started to drift away from the iPod-advert theme and was searching for other inspiration. I went through lots of ideas, but it wasn’t until I found this image on Flickr (which also had an applicable Creative Commons licence) that I found my theme.
At first, I didn’t give it much thought and kept on looking, but after a day or two my mind kept going back to it, and I knew that pop art was the way to go. I then sourced more images through a stock-image account and between that and my own drawings came up with these...
With the paddles drawn it was clear that the rest of the stand would become pop-art themed. I went to work drawing up the two primary lightboxes, the two smaller lightboxes, the rear wall of the stand, and the stud wall. The stud wall was the only non pop art piece which was to break up the wall a bit, I went with a whitewashed brick look, drawing inspiration from old pool halls. All together the walls looked like this…
The floor came soon after. I didn’t know what a pop art floor would look like, but it turns out Roy Lichtenstein had already answered that for me. His piece “Wallpaper with blue floor Interior” lead me to create my version using a combination of Photoshop and Illustrator.
With the art direction coming together nicely, I had to turn my attention back to the table. I knew how big to make it and some of the specifics. The top would be ~100mm thick as that's how deep a lightbox should be - any thinner and the LEDs don’t diffuse properly. I still wasn’t sure how to make the legs. Or even what they should look like. I knew how tall they should be, and I knew I didn't want them to look like normal legs.
I went down into our workshop with a pad of paper, gathered the team together and started scribbling down ideas. I knew what I didn’t want, but not what I wanted. The guys in the workshop would be the ones who made it and knew the materials better than me and what was and wasn’t possible. We started scribbling down ideas and came up with all sorts of weird and wonderful designs. Then one of the guys suggested making the legs a giant “G” and “D” for Graphica Display. We laughed and then immediately realised that would be the way to go. We could cut the letters from MDF on our router and do the whole thing in-house. I took all the scribbled drawings upstairs and, combining them with the fixed dimensions of the table, came up with this:
I went with a super extended font, to ensure that the letters had as much grounding as possible. I then worked out the cutter paths for the shapes, basing everything on 18mm MDF. For the curved elements, I used 6mm flexible MDF. That led me to legs that looked like this:
I figured if the net was 6ft wide, and the table was 5ft wide, then the legs should be 4ft so there was a nice correlation between everything.
All that needed attention at this stage was the artwork for the table itself. My original thought when I came up with the idea for a lightbox a couple of weeks earlier was to have the company logo lit-up, and that be the primary focus, with the company colours incorporated in.
But now the legs were giant initials, and the rest of the stand had gone pop art, that idea seemed a bit weak in comparison. I went back to my research and looked at the origins of pop-art. I loved the 50’s style and wanted to make something comic-book-esque, but that still fit with the stand. Again, inspiration came from the team in the workshop. One of the guys suggested we should do King Kong ping-pong and I knew that was it. I started drawing and realised that King Kong would need a worthy adversary, and who better than Godzilla? I knew how I wanted it to look, with a sweet retro halftone pattern, and the two sides of the table came together.
The final piece the table needed was the net. We’d come such a long way since the first test with the laser etching, and I no longer felt it fit with the rest of the design. My director suggested I look at edge-lit acrylic, which is very vivid and almost gives the effect of lighting itself from ambient light around it. I imagined a world where Godzilla and King Kong were playing ping pong and saw a ruined city with tanks and other military vehicles trying to stop the carnage, and came up with this:
And that was the design of the table complete. With the first event looming, manufacture began, and I focused on making handouts and giveaways for the show. We came up with the idea of printing t-shirts based on the stand, something I know a fair bit about. And for every future show, we would do a unique t-shirt design. I went back to the original image that inspired my designs and came up with these designs for the two upcoming shows:
I also made up some stickers based on the branding of the stand to giveaway...
The last thing we had to make was the display cabinets for the sample material paddles. These changed quite close to the deadline for the first show to include storage inside. I redesigned them, and we machined them and painted them to match the legs of the table.
The stand went into the VM & Display show, and we got some great feedback for it, both in person and on social media.