How to prepare for the Expo

June Teh, Partner at MotivateZakti discusses the Expo and the skills required for it.

June Teh, from MotivateZakti, says working closely with all partners and stakeholders at an early stage has been a key learning from the design firm’s 30 years of Expo experience.             

The World Expo brings together millions of people to share in the latest innovations and technology, and to experience cultures from around world, all in one place. All the world’s a stage, and at the World Expo all the world’s on stage and everyone aims to put on a grand show.

What started off as a showcase of individual ingenuity, the event where Alexander Graham Bell showed off his telephone, has become a platform for nation branding. Integrated into this is the use of design and technology to showcase each country’s offering in accordance with the theme of each Expo.

For 30 years, here at Zakti, we have been designing Expo pavilions around the world. Through the creative use of carefully curated content, immersive technologies and compelling storylines, we have brought to life numerous country pavilions and helped to convey stories of collaborations for the betterment of mankind in many exciting ways. In the region, MotivateZakti is partnered with Campaign’s publisher, Motivate Media Group.

From our experience, we have seen that nations intending to participate at a World Expo go through an internal exercise where the design, content and technology are secured by homegrown experts in order to showcase the country’s capabilities and innovations. Usually, several years before the opening of the next World Expo, the interested country will identify a ministry or government agency to take the lead for the nation’s participation.

Country participation at the World Expos take one of two forms: a self-built pavilion or an organised group pavilion. For example, in Milan 2015, which was themed “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life”, countries that did not build their own pavilions were grouped into nine clusters, based on food groups. In Expo Dubai2020, those spaces are called Assisted Pavilions.

Every country will need a team of architects and engineers, designers, content developers and technology experts to advise it on how best to tell the story of the nation. A piece of expert advice here is to have the content developers work with the architects from the very beginning, to ensure that the content complements the form.

Some architects, realising the exposure and impact the World Expo can bring, have began to collaborate with content developers and technologists well ahead of time, and vice versa.

Each pavilion is an ecosystem in itself, with many visitor touchpoints. For communications and experiential delivery of a pavilion’s messaging, most countries look out for suppliers who can interpret themes, are culturally aware, who deliver their stories in a never-before-seen way and who can bring something different to the entire pavilion experience. In short, you must be creative, an innovator and a team player, as you will need to work with a number of specialists in developing the entire experience and communicating
the messaging.

If this is your first foray into working on an Expo, then the credentials you need to bring to the table include innovation, communication, good project management and team-working skills. In some cases, your expertise may be required on a project for six months or so, and you will need to show that you have managed and worked in these similar environments. A World Expo is not a three-day event. If you are an ad hoc supplier then your support and maintenance infrastructure will have to be championed. Most pavilions cannot afford an off day or any down time. You will need to show you understand that and can be part of a system that manages and supports that.

Most projects of this nature begin two years or more in advance. Depending on what you are supplying, you could be involved before, during or after – or a combination of all three.

The biggest challenges MotivateZakti has seen at Expos come from putting form before function. Design of the pavilion can either support storytelling or be too focused on the structure before looking at the visitor experience. At the World Expo, the entire visitor experience should take centre stage and the form should be designed to highlight it, while still being striking in its design implementation. Pavilions need a project team that has all the stakeholders and critical vendors in place while developing the concept, theme and implementation – before a design RFP even goes out. Public and private industry experts and stakeholders need to be part of this decision-making process from very early on. This, in most cases, is a national project and needs to be conceptualised in this manner.

The other challenge is effective project management, local cultural procedures and work practices that need to be managed well. Having good local partners on the ground usually mitigates this, and those partnerships need to be cultivated way before the event.

For the amount of time, money and effort that goes into preparing for an Expo, each country needs to have a long-term vision of accruing the benefits of such a participation. A good media strategy as well as having a good sustainable design for your pavilion is paramount.

The opportunities lie before, during and after the Expo. Can you relocate your pavilion? Is your design suitably sustainable to be repurposed after the World Expo? These are questions to consider if you want to have an effective participation at the Expo, and to make your contributions to the world meaningful.