Exhibition Designer

The Job and What's Involved

Exhibition designers are responsible for the design and layout of shows and exhibitions. These include:

  • Major public exhibitions like the Ideal Home Show and Chelsea Flower Show.
  • Trade and industry exhibitions.
  • Air shows and other outdoor events.
  • Conferences.
  • Displays and exhibitions for museums, galleries and local businesses.

Designers need to be aware of the way people move through an exhibition, and how they view the stands and displays. They need to communicate their client's concepts and image to visitors as they pass through the exhibition.

An exhibition designer initially works with the client to discuss and clarify the brief. This covers the themes, ideas or products to be promoted at the show or exhibition. The designer and client also discuss the budget and timescale for the work.

Designers then produce plans and prototypes to show the client. This generally involves the use of computer-aided design (CAD), although drawings and scale models may also be used.

After the client has approved the designer's proposals, the stands are usually built in sections in a workshop, ready for transportation to the exhibition or show. Exhibition designers may have to go to the exhibition or show before it opens to supervise the installation of stands and displays on site.

Communicating and working with lighting experts and other specialist designers before an exhibition or show, or on site, is sometimes part of the job - especially on a major project.

Some exhibition designers work alone, handling all aspects of a project. Others work as part of a design team.

The work can involve considerable financial responsibility - drawing up accurate quotations for clients, and keeping projects within budget.

Exhibition designers work office hours, but may sometimes need to work evenings and weekends to meet deadlines.

They work from offices, design studios and from home.

Exhibition designers may have to travel, sometimes long distances, and even internationally, to meet clients and attend exhibitions. Increasingly, however, they work with clients via broadband links, rather than face to face.

The starting salary for an exhibition designer may be around £18,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

The increasing number of corporate events, along with the growth in the heritage industry, has created a strong demand for exhibition designers.

The main employers are specialist exhibition design practices. The largest of these employ several hundred designers; others are small practices with a handful of staff. There are some jobs with the in-house design teams of large organisations, such as museums. Some retailers, particularly those with large displays of furniture and household goods, employ exhibition designers. There are also opportunities with interior design practices, which sometimes have exhibition design departments.

Self-employment is possible, but it is usual to gain experience with an established practice first.

The majority of exhibition design practices are based in London. Others tend to be within easy access of major exhibition venue centres, for example in Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh and Newcastle.

Jobs may be advertised in the magazines Blueprint and Design Week, in other specialist architectural and interior design journals, and sometimes in national and local newspapers. The Design Council's website provides links to appropriate organisations to contact about possible work.

Education and Training

The main way into this work is by taking a relevant honours degree. There are a few degree courses in exhibition design. Other relevant degree subjects include interior design, interior architecture, three-dimensional design and spatial design.

Applicants for degree courses need a portfolio of design work, plus at least two A levels/three H grades and five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), or equivalent qualifications. Most students complete a year's general foundation course in art and design before starting their degree course, to help develop their portfolio. This may not be necessary for applicants with a vocational qualification in art and design.

It is also possible to get into exhibition design by taking a Foundation degree or BTEC/SQA Higher National Diploma (HND) in a relevant subject. For HND courses, applicants need one A level/H grade and four GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), or equivalent qualifications. The requirements for Foundation degrees vary - check with individual colleges. Students with HND's or Foundation degrees may be able to progress to the final year of a degree course.

British Display Society (BDS) qualifications in visual promotion, including an Advanced Diploma in Exhibition Design, are offered at a small number of colleges. Currently, East Berkshire College, Hugh Baird College of Technology, Mathew Boulton College of Further and Higher Education and West Herts College are running courses for BDS awards. Check entry requirements with colleges.

There are also postgraduate courses in three-dimensional design which could provide a route in for people with degrees in graphic design or other design disciplines.

An alternative route can be to join an exhibition design practice at a junior level, doing practical work such as stand building and model making, and to progress - possibly taking a formal qualification later on.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Once in employment, exhibition designers may receive induction training and take short training courses in subjects such as finance or budgeting. Short courses may also be used to update designers' CAD skills.

It can be an advantage to take postgraduate courses in subjects such as marketing or communications.

The Chartered Society of Designers is the professional body for designers from all disciplines. Members are encouraged to keep up to date through Continuing Professional Development.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

An exhibition designer should:

  • Be imaginative and creative.
  • Have technical drawing skills.
  • Have an eye for shape and colour.
  • Be able to think in three dimensions.
  • Have good communication skills.
  • Be able to use computer-based design programs.
  • Keep up to date with current design trends.
  • Be positive and clear in promoting and explaining ideas.
  • Work well under pressure, sometimes to very tight deadlines.
  • Know about business and accounting procedures.
  • Be aware of relevant health and safety issues.

Your Long Term Prospects

There may be promotion opportunities in larger exhibition design practices, for instance to jobs such as team leader or senior designer.

It is possible for experienced designers to become freelance.

There are also opportunities to move into lecturing in further and higher education, and into teaching craft, design and technology in schools.

Get Further Information

The British Display Society (BDS),
12 Cliff avenue, Chalkwell, Leigh-on-Sea, Essex SS9 1HF
Tel: 020 8856 2030
Website: www.britishdisplaysociety.co.uk

The Chartered Society of Designers (CSD),
1 Cedar Court, Royal Oak Yard,
Bermondsey Street, London SE1 3GA
Tel: 020 7357 8088
Website: www.csd.org.uk

Design Council, 34 Bow Street,
London WC2E 7DL
Tel: 020 7420 5200
Websites: www.designcouncil.org.uk

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