I’ve just returned from the 2007 World Tea Expo held in Atlanta, Georgia. There, I was exhibiting my custom lighting, especially for tea rooms and tea businesses, as well as introducing a line of tea-themed note cards.

Spending many hours in a large room together with hundreds of other vendors, we were all competing for the attention of the crowd of attendees. And as a design-oriented professional, it was intriguing to observe the range of approaches to getting that attention.At one extreme, there were the polished corporate booths which abandoned the exhibition panels provided by the event producers in favor of elaborate and expensive custom constructions assembled and installed on site. At the other end of the spectrum were vendors who simply laid down their samples and products on the tables and shelves provided with no fuss or fanfare.

One of the conclusions I’ve drawn about exhibit design after both attending and exhibiting in an array of these large convention halls is this: there is no single right way to approach it. There is as much variety in human reactions to design stimuli as there is variety among humans. Curiously, what is an overload of visual information to one attendee may well be stimulating and exciting for another. What is sleek and elegant to one eye will very likely appear bland and boring to others. Of course that doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying to understand the most common human reactions and to take advantage of such phenomena as how light can focus wandering eyes.

While I admired many of the simplest and restrained exhibits, simply because they provided a calming refuge from the overload of “look-at-me!” tactics in the convention hall, my products were there to make a statement about creating unique ambience. For me, there was some considerable energy expended to generate a lively vibe to communicate the quirky and unique nature of my custom crafted lighting products. I hoped to communicate both a professional character but maintaining the essence of a hand-crafted product and custom design services. But having said that, it is my hope that the actual products communicate the spirit of my work and I need not obsess about the display. Perhaps that is less so for those with less visually stimulating products.

Now, one might think that tea merchants might fall into this category. You’d think it would be all about the taste without the visual focus. But now that tea is moving out of paper teabags, the visual appeal of the loose leaf blends seems crucial. Even the new transparent nylon tea sachets show tea enhanced with botanicals, as much a treat for the eyes as the nose and tongue. Dried tea flowers were “unfurling” all over the convention hall, steeped in a remarkable array of glass teapot designs. So it seems our visual senses have been awakened throughout the tea industry.

How is any of this relevant to tea consumers? There are lots of energies that lead to the presence of different products that find their way to you. We need your help in letting us know what works. Tune into the ways you make your selections and spend your dollars and let producers know about it. Whether it’s about packaging design or your tea room’s ambience or your on-line retailer’s effective web design, we all benefit from your willingness to communicate what you like and what you don’t.