Exhibit designers create displays for conferences, trade shows, and public exhibitions. Pursuing an exhibition designer career may lead to work in the fashion industry, or with clothing manufacturers, museums, design firms, and trade show design companies. Common job titles for these professionals include:
- Display coordinator
- Design chief
- Exhibit preparator
- Exhibition organizer
- Show design supervisor
- Scenic designer
- Set designer
An exhibition designer career can offer great variety and the chance to learn new things every day. It can be a great job for someone who finds it rewarding to present a subject, such as art, archeology, science, or fashion, through a compelling exhibit.
Day in the Life of an Exhibit Designer
Exhibition design jobs can be found in museums, the fashion world, and corporate settings. An exhibit designer may be self-employed or may work for an independent studio, a government agency, a museum or an organization that has its own design department.
An exhibit designer who works for a museum collaborates with curators and directors to determine an effective use of museum space for displaying art and artifacts. The fashion and apparel industry hires exhibit designers to design booths for industry trade shows and fashion shows. Other exhibition designers may create displays at shopping malls, fairgrounds and libraries.
Creating a museum exhibit usually involves a team. An exhibit designer may work with individuals who decide on the contents of an exhibit or documenting the display contents in writing. Modern-day exhibits often utilize interactive media, audio tours, and touch-screen kiosks to create a more dynamic experience for visitors. When designing a multi-media exhibit, an exhibit designer may work with audiovisual staff, computer software engineers and scriptwriters.
Depending on the industry, professional who work in exhibition design jobs may perform any of the following tasks on a typical day:
- Meet with clients and staff to determine needs and get information about exhibit space, proposed themes and content, timelines, budgets, materials and/or promotion requirements.
- Plan for exhibit space limitations, traffic flow patterns and safety issues.
- Develop artistic or design concepts and draw detailed technical illustrations.
- Consult with subject matter experts, and do research related to the proposed exhibit.
- Present ideas as scale plans and sketches.
- Write and edit text for graphic panels in the exhibit.
- Locate relevant photographs and illustrations to use in the exhibit.
- Estimate exhibit-related cost.
- Produce final specifications.
- Direct the construction, assembly and installation of the exhibit.
- Inspect installed exhibits to ensure they meet specifications.
A self-employed exhibit designer frequently travels to client locations or to exhibition sites. Staff exhibit designers spend much of their time at the museum or organization where they work; however, they may also travel to conduct research, acquire exhibit-related items or interview experts.
Important Characteristics for Exhibit Designers
Successful exhibition designers have some key skills and traits in common. Typically, those who have an exhibition designer career are creative, artistic, and original thinkers. They can visualize an exhibit and make it come to life. For the practical, "business" side of their work, they are skilled in communication (i.e., speaking, listening, writing), organization, critical thinking, decision making, problem solving, attention to detail and project management.
Typical Steps for Becoming an Exhibit Designer
Exhibit designers come from a variety of backgrounds, from interior design and architecture to graphic design and industrial/product design. As you plan your path to becoming an exhibit designer, keep in mind that you should have a strong foundation in computer-aided design (CAD) conceptual design, model-making, and safety regulations. If you plan to work as a freelancer, consider taking classes in merchandising, marketing, business management and project management as part of your exhibit designer training program.
Depending on your current education level and profession, you can meet exhibit designer education requirements by taking the following steps:
- Earn a design certificate or associate degree in design. A two-year degree may be sufficient to land an entry-level job in exhibit design. These degrees are available through professional schools and community colleges.
- Earn a bachelor's degree in fine arts or design. Courses in these majors typically include principles of design, art and art history, designing and sketching.
- Earn a master's degree in fine arts, if an employer you aspire to work for requires it, or if it may help you compete for a high-level position.
- Take advantage of on-the-job training. Employers often provide hands-on exhibit designer training on the job. Some museums offer internships for people who work in other fields but who want to become exhibit designers.
- Exhibit Designer, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2010/ted_20100616.htm
- Summary Report for Set and Exhibit Designers, O*NET OnLine https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/27-1027.00