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How to Become an Exhibit Designer in 2024: A Comprehensive Guide

If you’re contemplating a career in exhibit design, it’s important to recognize from the outset that this is a unique field. Because of this, the role offers a blend of amazing rewards and distinct challenges. 

If you’re a creative person who craves a dynamic work environment that combines art with technical design, a career as an exhibit designer could be an ideal choice. This is especially true if you already have a passion for interior design, architecture, museums, and art galleries. 

However, you can also approach exhibit design as a straightforward and strategic career choice. This is because it is a niche specialization within interior design, which will allow you to gain an edge in an otherwise competitive market. 

Whatever your motivation, this comprehensive guide is here to provide you with the essential knowledge and steps needed to launch a career in this exciting field. 

Let’s get started!

What Does an Exhibit Designer Do?

Exhibit designers are responsible for conceptualizing, designing, and executing museum and gallery exhibitions and displays. Their work involves bringing together various elements into a cohesive and visually appealing presentation that effectively communicates information to visitors.

Some key elements of an exhibit designer’s work involve:

  • Collaborating with clients and curators to determine exhibit themes, layouts, and requirements.
  • Creating sketches, plans, 3D models, and other visual representations to present design concepts.
  • Overseeing exhibit construction and installation, from ordering supplies to on-site supervision.

Understanding the Role of Exhibit Design in Museums

To fully understand the role of an exhibition designer, you must also understand their critical connection to museums and galleries. 

Museum exhibits serve a vital purpose. Ideally, they are meant to bring collections of art and artifacts to life, translating their meaning into narratives that can both educate and inspire visitors. The motivation behind putting together a museum exhibit can include:

  • Preserving history and culture by showcasing artifacts, artworks, specimens, and other objects that tell the story of society’s evolution and accomplishments.
  • Providing immersive, interactive learning experiences that take education beyond textbooks and classrooms
  • Showcasing local identity and heritage through regionally-focused exhibits
  • Attracting tourism revenue and serving as community gathering spaces

Educational Pathways: Starting Your Career as an Exhibit Designer

If you want to become an exhibit designer, a formal education is not strictly required. That being said, a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field, such as interior design, will provide you with the skills and credentials that employers are looking for in this field. 

For example, if you search “Exhibit Designer” on popular job boards like Indeed and LinkedIn, you’ll find that most job postings list a Bachelor’s degree or equivalent as a minimum requirement to apply. What’s more, you’ll notice that many employers are also asking that applicants have hands-on experience and a solid portfolio. 

Academic Foundations

Typical academic backgrounds for aspiring exhibit designers include

  1. Bachelor’s degrees in interior design, visual communication, fine arts, architecture, or industrial design. 
  2. Master’s degrees in exhibition design, interior design, or museum studies. These can provide more specialized training.
  3. Diplomas or certificates in CAD, 3D modelling, graphic design

Earn a Bachelor of Interior Design Online in 3 Years or Less

Ready to fast-track your career in Interior Design? Yorkville University offers a CIDA-accredited Bachelor of Interior Design (BID) program that seamlessly bridges to exhibition design. It also includes 180 hours of real-world internship time and can be completed 100% online!

Gaining Hands-On Experience

Beyond formal education, experience is highly valued in this field

  • Internships and apprenticeships in museums, design studios, or exhibit fabrication shops offer insight.
  • Working as an assistant designer and moving up is another pathway.
  • Developing a portfolio of designs is essential for landing roles.

Exhibition Design Skills and Tools

If you’re looking to launch a career as an exhibition designer, you’re going to have to continuously hone your skills outside the classroom. You’ll also need to embrace relevant tools and software in the space. 

Essential Skills for Aspiring Exhibit Designers

To succeed as an exhibit designer, you need to cultivate key skills like

  • Creativity and imagination to develop engaging concepts
  • Spatial thinking and visualizing designs in 3D
  • Technical drawing and rendering abilities
  • Communication and collaboration skills to work with clients and team members
  • Time management and organization
  • Research skills to inform narrative and design elements

While you will certainly learn these skills in school, you’ll develop them further during internships, apprenticeships, or assistant roles.

Mastering Design Tools and Software

Proficiency with design software is critical for exhibit designers. Key programs include

Developing technical expertise in these areas enables you to effectively communicate and implement designs. Staying up-to-date as new technologies emerge is key for career growth.

Building a Strong Professional Portfolio

As an aspiring exhibit designer, you must work hard on your portfolio if you want to stand out. We recommend hosting your work on a personal website like Squarespace or Wix.

What can you put in your portfolio? 

  • Concept sketches and process drawings showing ideation and development of designs.
  • Floor plans, models, and other spatial visualizations to demonstrate layouts
  • Renderings and graphics showing proposed finishes, lighting, materials, and details
  • Photos of fabricated exhibit elements and installed exhibits
  • Documentation of projects from start to finish

If you’re in search of inspiration, check out Made Design Studios website or designer Abigail Sarver-Verhey’s portfolio here.

Financial and Career Prospects

Job Market and Salary Expectations for Exhibit Designers

According to GlassDoor, an exhibit designer in Canada can expect to earn an average annual salary of approximately $61,872. On top of this, they often receive additional cash compensation, which averages around $5,502 and ranges from $1,907 to $15,875. 

Additionally, the job market for exhibit designers in the United States is projected to grow by 10.3% from 2016 to 2026 according to Career Explorer

Overall, there is a positive trend in employment opportunities in this field.

Stepping into a Rewarding Exhibit Design Career

Whether you’re driven by a passion for interior design, architecture, museums, and art galleries, or simply seeking a strategic edge in a competitive market, exhibit design offers a fulfilling career path. This guide has aimed to lay out the necessary information and steps for anyone who is considering entering this vibrant and evolving field.

Break into Exhibit Design through Yorkville University’s BID Program

Earn a CIDA-accredited Bachelor of Interior Design from anywhere in Canada, exclusively at Yorkville University. Benefit from a comprehensive curriculum, gain real-world experience through internships and graduate with a robust design portfolio.

Sounds interesting? Speak to an admissions advisor today!

Taegan MacLean

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