How to become a Set & Exhibit Designer

Do you spend more time looking at scenery than good-looking actors? Does a design that draws you in leave you breathless? We’re willing to bet you’d enjoy working as a set and exhibit designer!

Job Overview

Set and exhibit designers plan spaces for film, television, theatrical and museum usage. You will analyze scripts or items to be displayed to determine the requirements, develop a best usage plan for available space and create budgets.  You consider time in history, season, time of day, location, lighting available, the message to be conveyed and the audience in your design. Exhibit designs are increasingly interactive to draw audiences into the exhibit experience. Traveling exhibits must break down and ship well.

Requirements and Qualifications

Bachelor's Degree
Find Related CareersSOURCE: US Bureau of Labor Statistics

As a set and exhibit designer, you will need to have flexible hours. Though some designers work full-time at one company for a number of years, an increasing number go from project to project, sometimes with unemployed periods between them, which you may want to consider when planning salary requirements.  Good qualities you will develop for this career path include creativity, teamwork, problem-solving and computer design skills.

Typical Education

To pursue a career in set and exhibit design, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree in theater, scenic design or set design, though a few designers have come to this career as actors. The National Association of Schools of Art and Design and the National Association of Schools of Theater provide accreditation to theater and design schools across the country.

Steps to Become a Set and Exhibit Designer

Once you’ve finished a bachelor’s degree in a related field, you can begin pursuing a job in this position. Most educational programs give you the opportunity to work on projects to develop a professional portfolio, making you hirable upon graduation.

Similar Jobs

Is set and exhibit design not quite your cup of tea? Here are some related fields you may be interested in exploring:

  • If you want to design in larger scale, architects design and plan buildings and other structures.
  • Art directors are a great way to go if you want to do more to unify the entire production’s artistic flavor.
  • Craft and fine artists create artistic pieces for sale or show using a large variety of materials and techniques.
  • Fashion designers create ideas for new clothing styles, accessories and footwear by sketching designs, selecting fabrics and trims and writing assembly instructions.
  • Conveying concepts, ideas or inspiration in a visual format by hand or using software is the job of a graphic designer.
  • Do you have great product ideas? Industrial designers develop concepts to help create new manufactured items.
  • Interior designers remake existing or deign new ideas for safe, functional and beautiful indoor spaces.
  • Landscape architects provide planning and design for outdoor spaces such as parks, paths, airports and similar areas.
  • Multimedia artists and animators are responsible for creating models, special effects or two- and three-dimensional animation for a variety of media.


Set and exhibit designers make about 10% more than other career paths in similar categories at $46,680 per year. Though they typically work full-time, evening, holiday work or last-minute design changes in an exhibit means their work hours must be flexible.

Job Outlook

It’s expected that set and exhibit design job opportunities will continue at the same average rate of growth for all occupations at 10% over the next decade. Set and exhibit designers who work primarily in designing exhibits for museum spaces will see a 17% raise in opportunities as museums continue to narrow their focus to more specific areas. As more organizations require independent contractors rather than full time employees, the opportunity rate for freelancers is expected to rise by 27% over the next ten years.

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