Why ARNO Design works ultra-sustainably with modular pre-built exhibition architecture instead of carting MDF panels all over the country.


“Trade show architecture” has a ring of fast fashion about it. Fast and showy,but guaranteed to be anything but sustainable. ARNO Design takes a different approach without compromising on style and impact. “We’ve always avoided ‘throwaway’ trade shows,” says Mirka Nassiri, CEO Strategic Project Development. “I was brought up to save energy and treat things with care.” The ARNO Expo Development division is a byword for modular exhibition concepts, high-quality materials and instantly customizable digital solutions.

CEO and Creative Director Claus Neuleib agrees that “fast fashion” is a pretty good comparison. “We have a background in premium trade show design and spent a long time working for the fashion industry, which pushed us to our limits with its high-end design needs. Everything had to be perfect, smoothly organized and flawlessly communicated.” 15 years ago, the company launched ARNO Expo Development as its second pillar: “Alongside classic trade show construction, our strength is prebuilt architecture.” For many exhibitors, this has meant an unaccustomed move away from the usual sawing and drilling that goes on in conventional trade show setups. Now, whole booths are simply dismantled for storage after the event. “People at the trade show can’t believe how fast the handover is completed. They ask ‘But where are all the trucks?’” At ARNO Design, precisely zero time is spent carting MDF panels across the country from Berlin to Munich or from Nuremberg to Duesseldorf. Instead, the 23-strong team works with local materials and partners. “We try to avoid elements such as plastic sheets or banners, and print everything on sustainable paper. It’s become standard procedure, and we’ve never made a big fuss about it.” The modular system can be customized almost infinitely with add-ons, graphics and logos. Individual requests are all in a day’s work. Every modification is linked to the prebuilt system in the database. The process saves time – particularly for the exhibitors themselves, who would otherwise have to arrange for staff to set up the stand. Nassiri points out, “We take care of all that for them, so our partners are happy to keep coming back.”

The figures are certainly in favor of modular trade show booths. Exhibition promoters and exhibitors can slash their outgoings by around half, but still be confident of high quality. ARNO Design does not need vast workshops and minimizes its material consumption, backed up by digital planning and communication, as Mirka Nassiri explains: “We win over exhibitors because we can immediately deliver transparent results after meetings with up to 80 people.”


Customized design

ARNO Design can look back on 30 years of history. The company designs full-scale trade show concepts that create the perfect atmosphere for organizers and exhibitors. “It’s exciting because the experience depends so strongly on the whole package. From layout concepts down to catering and chill-out zones such as an Oriental bar, a Venetian-style restaurant or a ‘Buddha Bar,’ a trade show is transformed into an unforgettable experience. The overall impression made by the hall is critical.”

Exhibition design is a form of catalyst. it’s always about emotions, that indefinable je ne sais quoi in the air that turns an encounter into something special. Exhibitions that fail to spark that emotional connection have problems. So what’s the key to success for an exhibition booth with emotional impact? “Design is always a pretty personal story, and every order is like a relationship,” says Peter Haberlander. “It never follows a standard path, but revolves around unique features and that special touch that we coax into being. It takes an understanding of the company, and it takes courage. We have the courage to be very proactive and persistent.” His colleague Claus Neuleib goes a step further, declaring that a good exhibition display should be polarizing, should stand out from its surroundings, “grab attention.” This means eschewing “flabby compromises” in favor of a “design dictatorship.”

But Neuleib also affirms that art is about creating convincing design at a feasible budget. A goal that ARNO Design’s wide-ranging areas of expertise and individual characters help to achieve. But there are limits, too. “No, we have no desire to do absolutely everything,” says Haberlander firmly. “That’s the good thing about being a veteran in our field. Sure, start-ups have their own charm, but we have the experience, and our team is a great mix of young and old. This enables us to turn down requests occasionally. And once the exhibition is over, everyone’s happy they took the risk.” For this reason, ARNO Design prefers working with long-standing partners: “The longer we’ve known and worked with our clients, the more trust they place in us. They give us free rein in the choice of materials and the design.”

Sustainable certification

But how to demonstrate sustainability? “We don’t chop up MDF boards for recycling; we use existing modules,” replies Mirka Nassiri. “Sustainability is simply far too complex an issue. It’s about more than material qualities, mileages and local assembly services.” To prove this, the Munich company is currently working toward certification, not least because more and more exhibitors are keen to show they are on the right side. No exhibitor wants to be smeared as “cheap and disposable.” With the support of ÖKOPROFIT (ÖKOlogisches PROjekt Für Integrierte UmweltTechnik) a collaborative ecological project by the City of Munich, ARNO turns the spotlight on every step of its operations. Haberlander points out that sustainability needs experts – but sustainability is also a matter of the right mindset and the right fine-tuning. Sabrina Brückner, Head of Marketing & Communications, opens a huge checklist covering every aspect from selection of materials, energy efficiency and use of local suppliers and manufacturers to reduce transport costs down to reusable modules (“Our booths are specifically designed to be easily dismantled and reusable”), waste management, digital solutions and social responsibility: “We ensure ethical working methods are in place.”

ARNO Design now operates in four different worlds: the trade show booths and displays themselves; the “choreography” of the exhibition space; outdoor areas; and the virtual space. “When we plan projects, we automatically create a digital version alongside them. All our stands are in 3D,” says Nassiri. And yet she remains skeptical of online-only events, noting that a standard one-size-fits-all package for everyone simply doesn’t work. And then she laughs, “Anyway, digital wine doesn’t taste of anything much! It’s always about personal interaction.”