Exhibition designer

 13 March 2013

Exhibition designers control aspects of an environment to engage the visitor with a story or message.

Most exhibition designers are employed by consultancies. Image: University of the Creative Arts
Most exhibition designers are employed by consultancies. Image: University of the Creative Arts

What do exhibition designers do?

Exhibition designers create environments that communicate effectively to an audience that moves through them. Exhibition design is a broad creative practice that involves controlling space, media, graphics and 3D content to engage the visitor with a story or message. 

Exhibitions can be indoor or outdoor, permanent displays or temporary events, visitor centres or travelling shows. A well-designed exhibition contributes greatly to the success of an organisation or event. 

Cultural exhibitions make museum visits enjoyable and educational, and they make collections of historical material and works of art accessible and safe.

Commercial exhibitions enhance brand identity, display products, promote services, and accommodate the face-to-face meetings essential to winning new business.

Your work will involve:

  • meeting with clients to discuss the project and agree the brief
  • developing and sketching creative ideas
  • using Computer-Aided Design (CAD), model-making and artistic techniques to prepare and present design proposals to the client
  • working collaboratively in a design studio often on several projects at once
  • researching, writing and editing project documents and sometimes exhibition texts
  • working on the detailed design of structures, graphics, furniture and multimedia elements
  • developing and employing knowledge of materials, construction, lighting and media production
  • liaising with consultants and contractors.

What is the job like?

Depending on the size of the company you work for and the scale of the exhibition project, you may oversee the production work of specialist contractors and installation on-site.

Some designers also undertake a wider project management role, while others specialise in one area, such as commercial exhibition stands or in heritage interpretation.

Most exhibition designers are employed by consultancies. Some offer a range of marketing, branding, media and design services. Some are design and build companies, and some specialise.

Once you are experienced it is also possible to go freelance, particularly if you have developed a specialist expertise.

How do I become an exhibition designer?

You will need:

  • excellent written and verbal communication skills
  • the ability to work well in a team and to listen to other people’s ideas
  • an enquiring mind with strong creative, artistic and drawing ability
  • excellent visual awareness and understanding of 3D shapes
  • a willingness to use CAD and other technologies
  • self-motivation and determination to succeed.

You will normally need an A level or equivalent in art and design or design and technology. Other relevant school subjects include English, history, business studies, psychology, IT and media studies. A modern language is useful but not essential.

Exhibition designers need an enquiring mind with strong creative, artistic and drawing ability.

Exhibition design is a highly competitive field – you could gain experience by offering your services as a volunteer to a local museum, gallery or library.

Work experience within an exhibition company is a big advantage and will help your college or university application.

What training and qualifications do I need?

Most exhibition designers are graduates. Some, particularly in the museum and heritage interpretation fields, have a postgraduate qualification. After GCSEs at school you can study exhibition design as part of a general 3D design course in a further education college, or study A levels at school or college. Both routes can lead onto a degree course.

Courses in further education include:

BTEC National Diploma in Art and Design (3D Design) Level 3

BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma in 3D Design

Entry to the BTEC Level 3 courses is with a minimum of four GCSE A-C passes or equivalent level 2 qualification, such as the BTEC First Diploma in Art and Design. GCSE A-C English or equivalent is also required, and sometimes Maths.

Degree Courses

Degree courses in exhibition design are listed on the UCAS website, under the 'Design' section. 

Relevant courses include:

  • BA Design for Exhibition & Museums
  • BA Spatial Design (Interior/Exhibition/Retail)
  • BA Interior Architecture and Design.

Many exhibition designers have first degrees in Graphic Design and some in Architecture. Other relevant degree qualifications include Interactive Design and Fine Art.

It is important to check the detailed curriculum of each course for exhibition and installation making opportunities.

University entry requirements

Entry requirements for a degree vary, but expect to be asked for 280 UCAS points. Some universities may ask for minimum grades.You will also need a portfolio and be prepared to attend an interview.

Go on university open days and take advice on what to include in an interview portfolio. The general advice is to be selective: you only need include as much as you can talk about in a 20-minute interview.

Make sure this includes evidence of observational drawing, research and writing, creative process and problem solving, as well as finished work. Take photographs of larger 3D work.

Another route to degree courses in exhibition design is via a one-year foundation course in art and design. You will need a good portfolio of work and a minimum of one or two A levels, including art and design or equivalent.

Be prepared to answer questions about your ideas and why you want to study exhibition design.

A keen interest in the subject is important. Aim to attend a variety of exhibitions such as consumer shows, science centres, museums and art galleries. Look at how they are designed and how well they communicate.    

Two-year HND courses in Exhibition Design are available. Entry is with one-to-two A levels, to include Art and Design. GCSE A-C English or equivalent is required, and sometimes GCSE A-C Maths.

What will I earn?

Salaries usually vary according to where you work, and earnings are generally higher in London.

Junior exhibition designers can expect to earn around £18,000 to £22,000.

With more experience salaries can rise to between 25,000 and £35,000. Very experienced exhibition designers can earn between £45,000 and £55,000 and sometimes more.

Some exhibition designers work on a freelance basis and are paid per exhibition or per day.

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