XR Voices

Designing Virtual Trade Shows

Troy Halsey, experience designer and founder of the Halsey Group, reveals his secrets for creating beautifully intuitive virtual trade shows. His new virtual event platform XPO360 provides affordable, user-friendly experiences.

Halsey stresses the importance of always keeping the experience first, and that extends to great UX design of the virtual space itself. He gives us practical tips to improve the virtual attendee experience, all while keeping it fun and interactive. Lastly, for all you tech geeks out there, he reveals the behind the scenes magic that went into creating this successful product.

Introducing Troy Halsey

I’m an event experience designer and entrepreneur. Most of my career has revolved around producing 3D renderings and animations of design concepts for proposals and presentations.

In 2010, I published the Freelancer’s Guide to Corporate Event Design and did the speaker circuit for a couple of years. Finally, I started The Halsey Group, LLC (HGroup) in 2012 – which provides design services for production houses and general contractors around the world.

Tell us about XPO360

In March 2020, like most in the event industry, The Halsey Group came to a halt and our team pivoted to a new business. We are proud to share our success with our new virtual platform XPO360. The focus is on providing quick-turn, affordable, and simple to use virtual trade shows. 

We have approached this business a little backward in that we designed the experience first, and then asked what infrastructure is needed. Keeping the experience first is key in all things events; virtual, hybrid, or live.

The industry is responding very positively to this interactive 360° approach. Many of the existing solutions are solely 2D, icon-based systems, which are efficient, but not much fun for the attendees. Virtual Expos open up a whole new world of possibilities.

What problems have you solved?

The trade show demographic is typically between 40-65, and not all are up to date on the latest technology. Virtual platforms are still new to everyone and what is intuitive for some, won’t be for others. Finding that balance, and quickly, is our biggest challenge.

Right now our focus is the User Experience and flows for exhibitors, producers, attendees, and show owners. How do we make a virtual event feel exciting and as live as possible? It’s a real challenge, but we are making progress and having fun – all things considered. Here’s four strategies we’ve found create a great user experience in VR:

  1. Keep the interface as simple as possible. Don’t overwhelm viewers with too much flash n trash – visual elbow room is a good thing.
  2. Use familiar design elements when possible – we chose to emulate Zoom and Google Street View when possible. You want virtual attendees focusing on the content, not the platform.
  3. In virtual environments, helping users orient themselves is important for it to feel like a ‘real space’. In XPO360, we use bright colors for aisle carpet and cardinal directions to help attendees orient themselves.
  4. Lastly, look for ways to add surprises into the experience – often called Easter Eggs, things the user finds along the way that are unexpected and bring a smile. With virtual events – computer fatigue is very real. Easter Eggs keep it fun when used well.

But how did you do it?!

The XPO360 solution, while it appears 3D, is nothing more than a whole lot of 8k 360° images (68 to be exact) stitched together using tried and tested virtual tour engines.

That was the easy part. Figuring out how to render those images quickly (going from 3D to 360°) was the key – for that we rely on the Unity3D real-time engine. Then we had to solve getting from the exhibitor’s order, into Unity, and back. For that, we built our own mini-application on top of Unity that talks to our XPO app.

We have a variety of virtual booths already designed that can be quickly dropped into one of our template projects. Ultimately, we can produce the 3D tour quickly while the exhibitors and show producers build the front-end data themselves in our app dashboards.

What about VR in Virtual Meetings?

One thing that is tricky to explain is the difference between VR and Virtual Meetings. VR uses a headset and is quite immersive. Virtual Meetings, on the other hand, can often use VR headsets, but more often use standard web browsers. Virtual meetings are basically still a 2D experience.

I am a super fan of VR and have been exploring the virtual arena for events for a while. I think it will be a couple of years or so before true VR meetings are common – but I do wholeheartedly believe they are coming, especially as headsets get lighter and more accessible. It’s for this reason we are making sure XPO360 will be fully VR ready when that time comes.

XR Voices is an ongoing Interview Series featuring events industry professionals who are using innovative visualization tech.  We aim to share knowledge and entertain any opportunity to evolve the design process.
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