Exhibition designer

Job description

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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:

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:

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:

Salary and conditions

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Salary data from Get into Design . Figures are intended as a guide only.

Entry requirements

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Exhibition design is open to all graduates, but a degree in one of the following areas is particularly useful:

Certain degrees, such as spatial and interior design, include a significant element of exhibition design within individual modules. It is important to research the structure of degrees to know how much exhibition design will be included. Some universities run undergraduate degree courses specifically in design for exhibition and museums.

A postgraduate qualification is not essential but some exhibition designers particularly in museum and heritage work have one. Relevant Masters include interior and spatial design and museum and heritage exhibition design, find a postgraduate course in exhibition design.

Relevant courses focus on areas such as communication through spaces, involving 2D, 3D and time-based design in many combinations, as well as hands-on production of models and artwork, and training in specific computer design programs. These courses help to prepare for work in the growing number of multi-disciplinary design consultancies, working in interior design and architectural modelling and visualisation.

Some courses offer placement and live project opportunities, which are a good way to build contacts and develop 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.

You can become a student or graduate member of the Chartered Society of Designers (CSD) , which offers professional recognition and training/networking opportunities. D&AD  runs a graduate academy scheme which includes talks, workshops, briefs, and live challenges to help prepare you for 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 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.

Training

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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. 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 courses.

External course are also available in areas such as:

The Chartered Society of Designers (CSD)   provides information and advice on training and continuing professional development (CPD).

Career development

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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.

Employers and vacancy sources

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The number of design companies, including exhibition design, is increasing across the UK. While some companies concentrate solely on exhibition design, you are more likely to find broader design and marketing companies that cover this area of design under a wider umbrella.

A few companies offer a full design and build service. There are generally more openings and opportunities in the larger companies.

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 .

Sources of vacancies

For speculative applications, use employer directories such as:

You may find the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC)  helpful in identifying specialist agencies that handle exhibition design vacancies.

Get tips on job hunting, CVs and cover letters and interviews.

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AGCAS
Written by AGCAS editors
Date: 
August 2013
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