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Tradeshow Design // Speck CES booths

I designed the Speck booth visuals, flow and experience from 2009-2014, always upping the ante year to year in terms of fun interaction, while providing product messaging and meeting spaces for qualified customers. It was always gratifying to hear (and read, when we had a free expression wall in 2014) that to many showgoers, we were one of their favorite booths every year. Each year was a learning experience about activations as well as providing a wealth of competitor and user insights about the changing case market. 

CES 2014: main booth

To bridge the balance between the Long Live the Machines campaign’s urban look and our product’s refined design, we used contrasting materials: pipefittings and whitewashed plywood stencil-spraypainted and clean glossy displays with upper deck VIP area. A few hybrid pieces included using the campaign’s clever copy on cleaner product posters and using industrial pipefittings even for the high-touch glossy panels.

I carried the campaign’s look and feel in our shirts that year, in posters wheatpasted around the exterior and in the treatments everywhere there was plywood. There were a few ‘brick wall’ arrangements of cases that we stenciled and spraypainted, and ultimately gave away to show-goers who completed the challenge begun in our secondary booth or danced on the dance floor.

CES 2014: Secondary booth

As the device accessory market grew, CES demarcated a small area in North Hall as the iLounge pavilion. Speck’s large booth was at the other end of the show. In 2013–2014, we also placed a tiny 10’x10′ booth in this area, to have a presence there and to direct showgoers to our main booth. In 2014, this booth was configured as a bunker tied to the Long Live the Machines campaign, where the only things visible to passersby were the wheat-pasted revolutionary-style posters from the campaign on whitewashed plywood, a “JOIN” configuration of the 2013 Bingo sign (below) and a screen showing the campaign’s cryptic video.

Inside the bunker, clean glossy walls were opened up to showgoers who could write their own messages about Speck. Amplifying the expressions of love that many had for the brand, and empowering consumers to contribute, was a way to stand out in what had by this time become a case-heavy show floor with many competitors with either deeper pockets or who showed up as strictly commodities. Showgoers willing to join the Long Live the Machines movement by saying a pledge would get their hands stamped, which they could show at our main booth to get a one-of-a-kind spray-paint embellished case. For one attendee’s writeup of this experience, read her post on 5 best moments of CES 2014.

CES 2014: Delighting the crowds

While for many prior years, Speck booths had employed various tactics to draw a crowd or create memories, this year the crowd-pleaser also reinforced the campaign. As a secret fan of So You Think You Can Dance, I was aware of up-and-coming animation dancer Cyrus “Glitch” Spencer and convinced the team to hire him to dance at scheduled times in the corner of our booth. His machinelike dancing provided a different take on the campaign slogans, and his dance crew’s videos probably has more hits than any video Speck has ever produced. The one-of-a-kind spraypainted cases and the Madwell-generated guerrilla projection video are visible behind him.


The Speck booth sign in 2010-2011 was a 20′ square mosaic I designed, which was constructed of the brand’s colorful MacBook cases. In a show with many (boring) signs competing for attention, this one certainly stood out. We were able to light it in interesting ways so it shimmered like stained glass.

CES 2013: Shimmery overhead signs

How to follow up the memorable and differentiated Macbook case mosaic sign? In 2013, we were launching packaging that used the mark by itself prominently. We knew also that navigating the show, people were more likely to be drawn to something interesting than another corporate wordmark.

Inspired by Alhambra trucks and connected to the launch of some sparkly Speck cases and our bling-y CES Bingo sign (below), our overhead signs were built with Shimmerdisc, the simple grid of circular discs on nails that use air currents to sparkle.

CES 2013: Secondary Booth Gamification

The 10’x10′ secondary booth in 2013 was dominated by this sign. This space was in the North Hall “iLounge Pavilion” where many of our competitors had large booths. Too small to do justice to showing product (we had a display case only), we instead used this to host a show-wide CES Bingo “scavenger hunt” game.

The copywriter and I collaborated on the bingo gameboard, with winky show references and memes. We knew well that many CES showgoers were repeat attendees, and wanted to both delight them and incentivize them to trek all the way to the opposite end of the show. By the time showgoers had made it across to our our main booth, many excitedly showed us pictures for every bingo cell that they’d taken along the way, all the while thinking of Speck and the free case they’d get when they got there.

CES 2013: CES Survival Kit VIP Swag

Instead of a bingo game, our partners, Press, VIPs and the like got the step-up: a small “CES Survival Kit” in a zippered branded nylon bag with heel cushions, hand sanitizer, açai chapstick and a mini emergency kit. Concepted, designed and copywritten by me, the goal was to give a piece of swag that people would keep and remember, and maybe even use. It should give a positive and clever-branded impression for some time to come.

2011: Pixelation theme

Speck’s 2011 CES booth was pixel-themed (relating to its new PixelSkin and PixelSkin Shine product lines), active (a Rock Band competition station, livepainting) and colorful. The furniture, overhead sign, flooring, staff shirts and typography all were blocky/pixelated in shape.

Orange was our brand color at the time but beginning to feel dated; our product line and the show’s carpeting were highly colorful. 


Livepainting by Artsproject founder Andy Howell and underground comix legend Jim Mahfood for a custom Artsprojekt case was a big hit at CES 2011. The collaborative cases were being developed by the product side, but I arranged for the livepainting activation, where one of the results of would become a go-to-market case.

CES 2011: Product Counter

Case brands were getting more numerous by 2011. To stand out, Speck opted to have a counter of our many functional, colorful offerings with an invitation to try them on. It was staffed with knowledgeable product designers and engineers (and, to keep it winky and memorable, celebrity impersonator rock stars who sometimes took part in the Rock Band competition.)

CES 2011: Inset Bar WINDOW

Speck had a history of serving beer at CES; the 2011 booth was the first time we included incorporated inset mini bar with a Vegas wink. Speck at events showed its true brand personality, with a real sense of fun and humor, that I was a big part of building.

During hours the taps were off, this was staffed by product designers happy to demonstrate and talk up the product features. Atop the bar were mannequins modeling our laptop bag line to get visibility but take up minimal footprint.

I’ve been meaning to write this recommendation for a while now. Owen and I worked together for five years on his exhibit program. He is one passionate Creative Director. I loved his fresh, fun way getting across Speck’s brand personality at the CES trade show and other shows as well.

He was great at coming up with creative ways for Speck to stand out in a crowded show both visually and experientially. He was an integral part of the booth setup each year. I admire how he rolled his sleeves up and worked with the team during set up to make sure everything was how he envisioned. Much appreciated in my line of work.

Kim Merkin

Director of Sales, West Coast, Czarnowski