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How to Become a Set or Exhibit Designer

Set and exhibit designers often need a bachelor’s degree in set design, scenic design, or theater.


Although most set and exhibit designers are trained in scenic design programs, a few are trained as actors first. Academic programs train students to research the history, period, and story of a production.

Classes teach drawing, painting, model building, hand drafting and computer-aided drawing. Many programs give students the opportunity to build a professional portfolio—a collection of designs from classroom projects, internships, or other experiences. Students can use these examples of their work to show their design skills when they apply for jobs.

The National Association of Schools of Art and Design accredits about 300 postsecondary institutions with programs in art and design. The National Association of Schools of Theatre accredits more than 150 programs in theater arts.

Important Qualities

Computer skills. Set and exhibit designers do much of their design work on computers with specialty design software, such as Computer Aided Design (CAD) programs. They must be comfortable using computers.

Creativity. Set and exhibit designers must be able to interpret scripts and use their artistic abilities to conceive a set or exhibit that will help tell a story. 

Problem-solving skills. Set and exhibit designers must find ways to carry out an author’s, director’s, or curator’s vision for a set or exhibit while ensuring that construction of the finished set or exhibit can be completed on time and within budget.

Teamwork. Because a great deal of their work is collaborative, set and exhibit designers need to be able to communicate easily and effectively with directors, curators, the craftspeople who build the set or exhibit, and other designers.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition