Exhibition designers typically work on cultural exhibitions which include museums and galleries, or on commercial exhibitions which include showcase events, trade shows and conferences.
They base their designs on their interpretation of their client's ideas and requirements and also provide their own ideas in relation to product concept and likely customer appeal.
Designers must create an exhibition that works on several fronts. It must:
- have aesthetic appeal;
- be practical;
- communicate the client's message, concept and image to visitors;
- meet the limitations imposed by space and budget.
Some designers may also have responsibility for overseeing the implementation and building of the exhibition or display stand, while others may specialise in just one specific area.
Typical work activities
The work varies between roles and employers, and larger firms may specialise and have account managers handling initial negotiations with the client.
In commercial exhibition work, tasks typically include:
- liaising with clients to discuss the brief (themes, ideas or products to be promoted);
- discussing the brief and design concepts with the design team, finalising proposals and presenting these to clients;
- developing a genuine understanding of the client's brand, products, needs and objectives, as well as the motivations behind customers' buying decisions;
- working on quotes - once the design brief and concept are established, the costs need to be calculated to make sure the project is financially viable;
- gathering product information from the client;
- creating initial design sketches and computer-generated three-dimensional visuals, sometimes building models and prototypes;
- doing a variety of design work (graphic design and artwork) for different displays and exhibitions;
- taking financial responsibility for a project in terms of meeting budget constraints;
- attending meetings to discuss the status of current projects and to be briefed on new projects;
- responding to emails and telephone calls from clients, and answering technical questions;
- liaising with the workshop manager to ensure the project is within budget, on schedule and meeting the client's requirements and that it complies with health and safety regulations;
- handling production orders for materials and site services, e.g. electronics;
- meeting with and briefing suppliers;
- transporting displays to exhibition sites and installing and dismantling exhibition displays.
You are likely to have several different one-off projects in progress at any one time. The role may also include project management, which is likely to involve responsibility for aspects such as furniture, stock-panel, lighting and rig rental or hire, pre-event marketing, packaging, delivery and storage.
Museum exhibition work involves many similar activities to those outlined above, but tasks specific to museum design include:
- ensuring all exhibitions and displays have a definite link to the museum's other collections and overall theme;
- making sure that the exhibition is compatible with the museum's own materials and conservation requirements;
- travelling to other galleries and museums to find exhibitions to buy in;
- ensuring exhibitions, whether bought in or curated in-house, are of the right size and quality;
- liaising with curatorial staff to produce outline plans to specification and supporting material, such as catalogues;
- working with members from other areas of the museum, such as marketing, education, conservation, front of house and, most crucially, the curator;
- liaising with graphic and other designers, audiovisual and animatronics experts, graphic video producers and multimedia specialists, even actors, to create a sensory experience for the visitor.