Exhibition design

 26 March 2013

Exhibition designers help visitors interact with collections at heritage sites by creating hands-on displays.

Exhibition designers need skills in drawing and model making, and an interest in 3D design. Image: Birmingham Museums and Trust.
Exhibition designers need skills in drawing and model making, and an interest in 3D design. Image: Birmingham Museums and Trust.

Exhibition designers create exhibitions and 3D displays for museums, art galleries and heritage sites. These help visitors interact with museum and art gallery collections, often by learning through hands-on experience.

What do exhibition designers do?

Designers meet with potential clients to discuss ideas for an exhibition and the objects or artefacts that may be used.

They need to take into account:

  • the educational message or story to be communicated
  • the target audience
  • the visual appeal of the exhibition
  • practical matters such as size of exhibition, space allowed and budget.

To develop an idea, they use 2D and 3D design software for drawing, image manipulation and computer modelling. They might use manual drawing skills to sketch preliminary ideas. Ideas for exhibitions can include interactive games and touch screen displays.

They sometimes use formal presentation skills to show design ideas to clients.

Exhibition designers need to research and understand the topic, theme or history behind the exhibition they are creating.

Exhibition designers use formal presentation skills to show design ideas to clients.

Project managing

They also provide technical specifications for companies that manufacture components for the exhibition. They may visit companies to oversee this process.

They project manage the design process keeping in touch with the client and manufacturing companies, by telephone or meetings.

The job often involves working alongside museum or gallery staff to install the exhibition.

What is the job like?

Exhibition designers may work in small design consultancies that specialise in design for the heritage or cultural sectors. Or larger multi-disciplinary design consultancies that offer interior and exhibition design. In a larger consultancy graphic designers may work alongside 3D designers to make up the exhibition design team.

The work can be pressurised with deadlines. You may be working on more than one project at a time. You may have to work long hours when a project is close to deadline.

After gaining experience in a design consultancy you could work freelance.

How do I become an exhibition designer?

The skills you need include:

  • drawing, model making and an interest in 3D design
  • a creative approach to problem solving
  • an outgoing personality and good communication skills to discuss ideas and present them to clients
  • ability to work in a small team
  • IT skills, particularly 2D and 3D design software including CAD (computer aided design).

What training and qualifications do I need?

Most exhibition designers have a degree in design. Degrees in interior design, spatial design and interior architecture are suitable for working in all areas of exhibition design, including heritage work. It may also be possible to get into this work with a product design, graphic design, or multimedia degree.

The University of Lincoln offer a BA Design for Exhibition and Museums and Gloucestershire College offer an HND in Spatial Design (Interior, Exhibition and Retail).

It is also possible to do postgraduate study after completing a first degree in design. The University of Lincoln offer an MA Design for Exhibitions and Museums. The University of Salford offer a MA/PgDip Art and Design: Museum and Heritage Interpretation.  

Pre-degree qualifications

  • Most applicants to design degrees study A levels, including art and design. Following A levels, an Art and Design Foundation Diploma is recommended, but not essential.
  • Other routes include BTEC Level 3 Diploma in Art and design courses. Some of these courses offer a chance to specialise in 3D design.
  • The British Display Society (BDS) offers a National Diploma in Exhibition Design. They also award a BDS Centre of Excellence Recognition to other relevant courses.  

Check individual universities for the full range of courses they accept for entry.

You will also need to develop an art and design portfolio for entry to design degrees.

Design Week has useful information on jobs in exhibition design and articles on heritage exhibition design companies.

What can I earn?

Starting salaries can be around £18,000 to £22,000 rising to £25,000 to £35,000 with experience. Senior designers can earn £35,000 to £50,000 with a head of design or creative director earning £50,000 or more.

Freelance exhibition designers may be paid a fee per project.

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