Exhibition or display designers produce designs for exhibition and display stands used at showcase events, trade shows, conferences, galleries and museums. 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. These activities may sometimes be part of the remit of a graphic designer.
Designers must create a stand that works on several fronts. It must:
Designers also have responsibility for overseeing the implementation and building of the exhibition or display stand.
The work varies between roles and employers, and larger firms may specialise and have account managers handling initial negotiations with the client, but tasks typically include:
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 designers design and prepare plans for museum exhibitions in consultation with commissioning departments. The work involves many similar activities to those outlined above, but some activities which are specific to museum design may include:
Although this area of work is open to all graduates, a degree in one of the following areas is likely to improve your chances:
Currently, the only undergraduate degree course specifically in design for exhibition and museums is offered by the University of Lincoln . Other undergraduate degrees that incorporate a significant element of exhibition design include spatial design at Bucks New University and interior and spatial design at the University of Teesside , University of Hertfordshire and University of the Arts London . The University of Hertfordshire and the University of the Arts London also offer an MA in Interior and Spatial Design, and an MA/postgraduate diploma is offered in Museum and Heritage Exhibition Design at the University of Salford .
Courses focus on areas such as communication through spaces, involving 2D, 3D and time-based design in many combinations and usually include undertaking creative work through projects, written essays and proposals, hands-on production of models and artwork, and training in specific computer design programs. They are a preparation for work in the growing number of multi-disciplinary design consultancies, working in interior design, architectural modelling and visualisation, and exhibition design.
Some courses offer placement and live project opportunities, which are a good way to build contacts and your design portfolio. University or college design departments, schools and faculties typically have strong links with the design industry and it is a good idea to take advantage of these networking opportunities during your course. If your name, face or even your work is already known to an employer, it will help when it comes to getting a job. You can become a student or graduate member of the Chartered Society of Designers (CSD) , which offers professional recognition and training/networking opportunities. Design & Art Direction (D&AD) runs a graduate academy scheme to train and place a limited number of talented graduates in the industry.
Entry into this career without a degree is possible, but attitudes vary between employers. Some may favour a mix of the right skills and personality rather than academic qualifications. Others, however, may ask for specific degree qualifications and grades. Check with individual employers before applying. Irrespective of the views of employers on qualifications and training, it is essential to have a design portfolio and desirable to have some relevant work experience.
Candidates will need to show evidence of the following:
Make speculative applications by calling employers, sending them your CV or even going in person to meet with them.
For more information, see work experience and internships and search courses and research.
Opportunities for further training vary depending on your employer and the size of the company.
Smaller companies have more limited resources, so you may find you are expected to learn on the job and pick things up as you go along. This can be a steep learning curve, but some people find it is the best way to learn. You may also have the opportunity to shadow a colleague for a set period of time or enrol for design-related day-release training days and courses at nearby educational institutions.
In a large company, the training is likely to be more specific. You might spend a significant amount of time on areas related to design, such as purchasing and project management, or regulations, such as health and safety.
As well as offering specific training, larger companies are likely to offer more formal training opportunities, such as graduate training programmes, work-based qualifications, work shadowing and internal and external courses. The British Display Society (BDS) offers a range of courses through a number of approved colleges, including certificates and diplomas in areas such as:
Before the 2008-2009 recession, exhibition and display design was a growth area with strong demand for qualified and experienced designers, driven by the growth in corporate events and in the heritage industry. These trends are likely to continue as the economy recovers.
Career progression will depend on whether or not you are self-employed and on the nature and size of your employer:
Your career path will also depend on your background and training. There are likely to be more opportunities open to you, and you will have greater freedom to move into other areas and fields of work, if you have, for example:
It is a good idea to get as much experience as possible, particularly in project management, in order to maximise your desirability as an employee. This is particularly important for work in smaller companies, where roles involving purely exhibition design are few and far between. The current growth in multi-disciplinary design consultancies and broader-based degree courses offering a mix of spatial, interior and exhibition design reinforces the desirability and advisability of acquiring versatile 2D and 3D design skills.
There are relatively few exhibition/display designers, but the number of design companies, including exhibition design, is increasing across the UK. Whilst some companies do concentrate solely on exhibition design, you are more likely to find broader design and marketing companies that cover this of area of design under a wider umbrella. There are also a few companies that offer a full design and build service. Further details about exhibition design consultants are available from the Directory of Design Consultants and Design Week . There are generally more openings and opportunities in the larger companies.
The Design Council provides examples of some of the largest exhibition and display design businesses. Whilst the list is not exhaustive or intended as a recommendation, you can get a good idea of the work and current projects of exhibition and display design companies by checking out the websites of the companies listed.
There is a reasonable market for freelance exhibition designers, but it is essential to gain experience and build your portfolio and network of contacts before embarking on a freelance career.
Employment prospects are good, particularly for graduates qualified in exhibition design, since courses generally have close and long-established links with the commercial exhibitions industry.
For more information see Exhibition News and Trade Fairs and Exhibitions UK .
The majority of exhibition design companies advertise online, either via recruitment agencies or on their own websites. For speculative applications, use employer directories such as:
For current vacancies see:
You may find the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) helpful in identifying specialist agencies that handle exhibition design vacancies.
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