What makes a great world expo experience?

World Expo moves to Osaka, Japan in 2025. This global event will attract millions of visitors. So, what makes a great Expo experience for exhibitors and visitors?


What's the challenge of a World Expo?

A World Expo is not a new event. They have been around since the days of World Fairs. In fact, we can trace them back to the late nineteenth century. So, what’s the big attraction? What are the challenges?

An Expo is a major opportunity for exhibitors to reach a diverse global audience of millions. Governments, industry associations, manufacturers and non-profit organizations will be there. They’ll showcase new ideas, new products and messages about critical social or environmental issues.

It’s not just about creating an interesting exhibit. The challenge is to create something that engages visitors’ thinking around the event’s themes. Exhibitors have to communicate their sometimes-complex messages to an international multi-lingual audience.

Our role is to help exhibitors inspire and engage visitors. We aim to achieve this by communicating critical themes through interactive, entertaining narratives. We must make those stories accessible to diverse audiences. We put personalized experiences, sustainability, and reliability at the heart of approach. Overall, we aim to maximize returns on Expo investments.


Create a world-class Expo experience


World Expos are special

When you design a pavilion for an Expo, you have to cover the main Expo theme and then you also have to cover the pavilion or the country theme. Plus, you have to make it relevant to a large, diverse audience. More importantly, you need to add some kind of show element and that’s what makes it dynamic and entertaining. It can’t just be an interesting pavilion. It must be a memorable pavilion.

I’ve been involved in Expos since the early 90s. It’s something I love working on. Electrosonic has been involved even longer and shares that enthusiasm. In fact, the firm has collaborated on 90 Expo pavilions at 16 Expos since 1967.

Our founders fell in love with World Expo projects for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it inspired them to work internationally. Secondly, World Expos push the limits of technology. An Expo is an event where companies take chances. They want to explore new technologies to tell their story.

To match those ambitions, Electrosonic has leveraged its expertise in themed entertainment to create immersive technology solutions. We’ve designed custom audiovisual and tech solutions to breathe life into pavilions and captivate visitors amidst competition.

That’s why we love the challenge of World Expos. 


Electrosonics involvement in EXPOs


Expo 1993, Taejon, Korea  

Expo 1993 was my first experience of working on these amazing projects. We worked on a pavilion for Samsung called the ‘Samsung StarQuest Pavilion’. This had a space theme design and was produced by Landmark Entertainment Group.

The pavilion featured an interesting twin-dome experience. There were two almost IMAX-style dome theatres with two 60-passenger motion bases inside each dome. There was a huge throughput of 240 passengers for every show.

Electrosonic invented and built 70 millimetre 8-perforation projection systems for these domes and a custom fisheye lens to cover this 20-metre dome. It was on a par with IMAX domes and was pretty innovative at the time.

It was a three-month Expo. I spent eight months in Korea working with the Korean people and construction companies – it was a very engaging experience! Working internationally and specifically working on the Expo broadened my horizons. It took me on a new trajectory in my career.


Expo 2010 Shanghai


Expo 2010, Shanghai   

Another early favorite of mine was Expo 2010 at Shanghai. It was about the time when the use of personal devices and personalization was getting more popular. BRC Imagination Arts used these new tools in the ICT (Information Communication Technology) Pavilion for China Mobile with great success.

It was quite innovative at that time and one of the first times a personal device was used at an Expo. Guests could interact with the device, generate additional content, and then share this new content with the main show presentation in real time. At home, guests could log onto a website and download their personalized content from their pavilion experience. It was a wonderful way to add personalization to the guest experience and enable visitors to go back and relive the attraction. This extended the experience and formed a deeper connection to the topic.

Electrosonic also worked closely with BRC to design a unique audiovisual experience for the USA Pavilion. This featured three acts of multidimensional, Hollywood-style shows.

Act 1 began with an overture featuring quotes from US presidents displayed on enormous screens. Act 2 included five 30-foot-tall screens, each with a different shape. The show blended live-action footage with CGI (Computer-Generated Imagery) and 4D elements. To highlight American industry and technology, Electrosonic provided corporate sponsors with advanced audio and projection equipment for the final act.

World Expo
World Expo
World Expo
World Expo
World Expo


Expo 2020, Dubai  

More recently, Electrosonic worked on three projects at Expo 2020, Dubai. This included Mission Possible – The Opportunity Pavilion, The Mobility Pavilion and The Canada Pavilion.

Dubai was interesting because it was so big and it was during the pandemic, so it was delayed. The organizers did a resounding job coming out of the pandemic and showcasing this event to the world.

The Opportunity Pavilion challenged visitors to think about global water, food and energy issues. By engaging visitors, organisers intended to inspire action.

Inside the pavilion, technology helped communicate serious global issues and develop a commitment to change. Interactive technology showed visitors how they may ‘shape the future’ and achieve ‘Mission Possible.’ Electrosonic partnered with the engineering and contracting group ALEC to provide audiovisual engineering, integration and commissioning for all multimedia and interactive exhibits.

The Mobility Pavilion was the most ambitious in the history of the event. It spanned over 250,000 square feet and featured cutting-edge interactive, audio and video technologies along with captivating new narrative formats. The Mobility Pavilion focused on the past, present and future of movement, exploring the connections between people, groups and ideas.

Wētā Workshop, a special effects company based in New Zealand, was working on this project. They had giant figures that were heads of some of the leaders of the Arab world. So, everything was on a scale much larger than we’re used to.

That meant that all the projections, all the LEDs and all the audio systems had to be on a scale much larger than the intimate room-to-room museum-style audiovisual. We needed to think about how we could deliver those storylines at that grand scale. Today’s technologies like projection and LED are so geared towards those large-scale presentations that it was a fairly easy fit to use those technologies to deliver that storyline.

However, one of the key challenges is not to make the technology the star. Our job is to deliver the story and make the technology imperceptible to the guests. So, you can’t just fill rooms with projection, loud audio systems and special effects.

It’s a delicate balance between the storyline and the technology. We need to deliver the story in an emotional way and pull on the heartstrings, but not hit visitors in the face with light, audio and video.

We always start by asking what emotion they want the guests to feel when they walk into a room. And it may not even be technology that we offer as a solution for the storyteller. It may be shadow puppets. It may be a lighting effect. The key is to identify the emotions you want to evoke and then use the right technologies to deliver the story.

The end product at the Mobility Pavilion was an installation that provoked contemplation on a never-before-seen scale and drew a multicultural audience into the narrative of human progress in mobility.


[Discover Electrosonic's work at Expo 2020 Dubai]


Evolving trends in world expos

Accessibility - World Expos reach a huge audience. For example, 24 million visitors visited Expo 2020 Dubai. More than 28 million are expected to attend Expo 2025 Osaka. Given this scope, it can be a challenge to ensure that the pavilion exhibits are as accessible as possible and that they connect with guests from around the world.

The pavilions are seeing visitors from all over the world, and they have different preferences for what they consider entertainment. They also speak different languages. We do a lot of multi-language translation in the pavilions, but most pavilions don’t necessarily have a narrative track. Instead, they tend to offer written materials. This allows for more of a self-exploration experience where people go at their own pace.

Electrosonic has experience communicating with a wide range of international audiences. So, the team can ensure that content is delivered in a way that is meaningful and comprehensible for people from various cultural backgrounds.

The content must also be accessible to people with different needs. For example, we cater to guests that are hearing impaired and visually impaired too. Those solutions are easy to accommodate within the video and audio systems in the pavilions.

The challenge is when a client doesn’t take accessibility seriously, and we have to have that discussion with them. But generally, people are accommodating when it comes to accessibility, especially at an international Expo, because they know that they will get people from all walks of life visiting, and they need to be friendly to everyone.

Personalization - Personalization is a key trend in the attractions industry, and it is also a good way of creating a more engaging Expo exhibit. It’s an important goal for helping visitors to connect with a brand or an experience. One good method for Expos is to use a personal device that allows guests to collect assets through the experience or have additional content pushed to them to dig deeper into the experience.

However, when you have a personal device and a show that you’re trying to pay attention to, you can be distracted between the two. So, we have to make sure that when we’re cueing people to look at devices, we’re not doing it at a time when this would distract them from the important content in the main show.

Reliable technology -  We also need to create something easy to operate and reliable, something that will last for the full duration of the Expo. We’re responsible for the technologies, and the technologies have to work. Firstly, we only work with technologies that are professional grade. But we also research and try to use available technologies that can be serviced by the manufacturer in the country where it is being installed.

For example, in Dubai, we selected audiovisual equipment to be used in the designs that were distributed, supported and warranted in the country. Otherwise, if a piece of equipment fails, then you know you’re dealing with an out-of-country warranty. That can take your pavilion out. If you’re a three-month or six-month Expo, you can’t afford to even be down for a day.

We also spend an enormous amount of time selecting and training the client’s operational and maintenance staff. Or, if we’re in a contract for recruiting and providing service and maintenance staff and operational staff, we would operate it for the length of the Expo, which we do quite often.

It’s important to be prepared for the operation from day one. We bring those technicians on early on, three to six months beforehand, not only to be trained but also to help get the systems up and running and online. That’s an important factor that we always consider. These are only three-month or six-month expos, so it is all hands-on-deck. Every day, everyone involved gives 150 percent to get the project over the line for opening day.


[Captivate your guests with immersive experiences]


Looking ahead to Expo 2025

I’m looking forward to heading out to Japan ahead of the event. My very first job in this industry was in Japan and I haven’t been back since. I can’t wait to return to that cultural environment; it’s a pretty special place.

I think the draw to Expos and why they’re so appealing is the cultural engagement. It’s an opportunity to work with people from around the world and learn new ways of business and new ways of design. Often, narratives about a country or a corporation are someone else’s interpretation, and so a World Expo offers a rare chance for that entity to tell its own story.

Another thing that makes Expos unique in the design world is that they are notoriously late to the game to start. Right now, we’re less than 14 months away from Expo 2025 Osaka. We’re still pursuing projects that haven’t even been designed, so we then have to design it, build it, install it and get it ready for opening in a very short period.

That’s a challenge, but we can’t wait to get started!


Bringing EXPO experiences to life through technology


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