What's an Exhibition Designer?
Exhibition designers work closely with organisations and individuals to transform exhibition ideas into engaging displays. It is the ideal vocation for anyone with strong design skills, the capacity for creative, collaborative work and a strong eye for aesthetics.
The ability to meet tight deadlines and work practically around time, space, and budget limitations to envisage and communicate an image, message or concept will make you a highly desirable candidate for the role.
Cultural exhibition design roles can be sought in galleries, museums, and libraries, but designers aren’t limited to these options. Exhibition design work is also required for showcase events, large-scale commercial exhibitions, conferences and educational or industry events. While many designers work on a temporary basis to create displays for retailers and businesses, there are full-time positions available.
Depending on your employer, you may need to:
- Envision innovative ideas after discussing themes and objectives with clients
- Create and finalise proposals to present to clients
- Discuss client briefs and concepts with contractors and other members of the design team
- Thoroughly understand each client’s products, brand image and objectives and make them coherent with consumer behaviour
- Model 2D or 3D visualisations, build prototypes or draft design sketches
- Be able to create technical and accurate drawings for the rest of your team to follow as a guideline
- Host and attend meetings to discuss progress with the design team
- Calculate the cost of exhibitions, provide quotes, and ensure the financial viability of a project while taking financial responsibility
- Supervise on-site work
- Travel to events and oversee the transport of displays
- Provide hospitality for clients while they are onsite
- Be aware of cutting-edge design trends and technology
- Source furniture, decoration, lightning, and fittings and oversee site services
- Creatively problem-solve to meet budget and deadline specifications
As a cultural exhibition designer, you can expect to be responsible for many of the activities outlined above in addition to:
- Ensuring displays are cohesive with the overall theme and other collections
- Comply with conservation requirements
- Travel between museums and galleries to source artefacts and art pieces
- Take an active role in quality control
- Liaise with other staff members, including conservationists, marketing directors, curators, multimedia specialists, animatronic experts, and front-of-house staff.
- The starting salary of an exhibition designer is £18,000 – £25,000
- An experienced exhibition designer can expect to earn up to £35,000
- Senior exhibition designers can earn up to £50,000 per annum; however, creative directors can earn up to £86,000
As a full-time exhibition designer, your working hours would largely fall within the hours of 9 am – 5 pm. However, when the opening of an exhibition is imminent, you may need to work weekends or longer hours throughout the week.
What to Expect:
- Your working hours will be spent on exhibition sites, such as conference centres, and in an office
- It isn’t uncommon to oversee several projects simultaneously
- You may be expected to fulfil project management duties if you are designing exhibitions for smaller companies; this can involve preparing and planning storage solutions, deliveries, pre-event marketing, and rig rental
- After gaining experience and contacts, freelance work is possible if you can demonstrate you have the skills to see a project through from concept to completion
- To travel during the working day and have the occasional overnight stay to visit exhibition spaces or clients
To be an attractive exhibition designer candidate, you will typically need to hold a degree or HND in:
- Exhibition design
- Art and design
- Graphic design
- Interior or spatial design
- Fine art
- Interior Architecture
- 3D design
- Visual arts
Some candidates without degrees are successful in their applications if they have a favourable mix of the right practical experience and creativity. However, some employers specify that all candidates must have a relevant degree behind them.
If enrolling on an interior or spatial design course to bolster your career prospects, always do thorough research into how much exhibition design work is part of the curriculum.
The most relevant courses will focus heavily on communication through spaces; educational experience in 2D and 3D design is also highly desirable to some employers, as this will equip you with the skills and knowledge for multidisciplinary work in design consultancies and within visualisation and modelling.
Most positions won’t require a postgraduate degree, heritage and museum work being two exceptions.
You will need to show:
- Creative and lateral-thinking abilities
- Strong artistic skills which enable you to draw and sketch proposals
- You are a strong written and verbal communicator
- You are a competent bid writer
- You can make executive decisions under pressure
- You are outgoing and can remain a positive influence in a team
- Time management, prioritisation and organisational skills
- You can take a flexible approach to problem-solving
- You have a great eye for detail and aesthetics
- You can champion your ideas and accept they may not always be adopted by your client or team
- You are knowledgeable and proficient with design programs (AutoCAD, InDesign, Illustrator, Autodesk 3Ds)
- You understand construction to a certain degree
- You can delegate based on an awareness of your team’s skill sets and knowledge
- You can withstand the pressures of project management
Typically, there is more scope for career progression for employed exhibition designers than for self-employed and freelance designers, who will likely continue to work on temporary exhibition design projects.
After gaining experience, a design assistant or junior designer can progress into senior designer, team leader, design manager or creative director positions. If you are employed within a large company, you could also gain the responsibility of sourcing new clients and tendering new contracts.
Depending on your training and background, you may also have the freedom to move into more technical or architectural roles.
Many exhibition designers work for design consultancies or companies that offer marketing and broader design services. However, it is possible to find companies which focus solely on exhibition design. Larger companies will typically have more openings, especially if they offer full design and construction services.
After two years of full-time study at the Paisley UWS campus, you will hold a revered qualification, experience with computer-based design programs, and gain a broad knowledge of design and manufacturing systems. The course bolsters design and engineering skill sets, which are highly attractive to recruiters for exhibition design work. The practical focus of the course will give you hands-on experience in state-of-the-art facilities, while the theoretical proponent will teach you how to apply CAD technology to projects.
Discover and develop your artistic practices through the New Media Art degree on the UWS Ayr campus. After completing the course, you will hold a comprehensive portfolio which demonstrates your proficiency and creativity in a range of creative mediums, including illustration, multimedia, live performance, sound art, project mappings and installations. The course was built to give graduates a competitive edge in the job market; for students interested in a vocation in cultural exhibition design, the course will teach how to place work in social, historical, and political contexts before demonstrating how to communicate the relationships between people, places and things in a technologically innovative way.