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Set and Exhibit Designers

At a Glance

  • Set designers create displays for movies, TV, and plays
  • Exhibit designers usually create displays for museums and libraries
  • Many use computer-aided design (CAD)
  • May work long hours to meet deadlines
  • May travel to other locations
  • Have a bachelor's degree

Career summary

Set designers determine what furnishings are needed for a play or movie. Exhibit designers create displays to share information.

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Set designers research time periods and create sets to represent that time period. They read scripts to learn about the productions they work on. They talk to directors and other production heads about what they want from the set. They also establish budgets and timelines. If they are not familiar with the time period, set designers do research to learn more about it.

Set designers draw sketches of their ideas for sets. Some designers use computer-aided design (CAD) software for their sketches. CAD tools allow them to easily modify their designs.

Once they have completed several sketches, set designers meet with directors and get feedback about their designs. They may meet with directors several times to refine their designs. Designers estimate how much it will cost to build the sets and rent the props.

Set designers oversee the construction and decoration of sets. Designers frequently rent props. They look through catalogs or visit warehouses where props are stored. Sometimes designers draw pictures of props and instruct assistants how to build them.

Once the sets are built, designers make sure the actual sets closely resemble their sketches and meet director's requirements. They often attend rehearsals to make sure the sets don't interfere with performances.

Exhibit designers create educational displays for museums, libraries, and other organizations. The work process for exhibit designers is similar to that for set designers. They gather information, create designs, modify designs based on client feedback, and build the exhibit.

Both set and exhibit designers oversee the takedown of displays and sets. They make sure pieces are properly transported and stored for future use.

Related careers

This career is part of the Arts, Audio/Visual Technology, and Communications cluster of careers.

Related careers include:

Job duties

Task list

The following list of tasks is specific to set and exhibit designers.

Common work activities

Set and exhibit designers perform the following tasks. These tasks are common to many careers.

Work requirements

Working conditions

In a typical work setting, set and exhibit designers:

Interpersonal relationships

Physical work conditions

Work performance


Physical demands

Set and exhibit designers frequently:

It is important for set and exhibit designers to be able to:

It is not as important, but still necessary, for set and exhibit designers to be able to:

Skills and abilities

Set and exhibit designers need to:


Reason and problem solve

Use math and science

Manage oneself, people, time, and things

Work with people

Work with things

Perceive and visualize

Education and training

Educational programs

The programs of study listed below will help you prepare for the occupation or career cluster you are exploring.

Programs of study directly related to this occupation

Other programs of study to consider


To work as a set and exhibit designer, you typically need to:

Education after high school

Set and exhibit designers usually have a bachelor's degree. Many four-year colleges and universities grant the Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) degree. In this program, you take courses in art, art history, principles of design, designing, and sketching. In addition, you may take courses specific to individual design fields.

About 200 colleges and universities have approved programs in art and design. Most of these award a degree in art or fine art. Some award degrees specifically in set design.

Many schools do not allow formal entry into a bachelor's degree program until you have successfully completed a year of basic art and design courses. You may be required to submit sketches or other examples of your artistic ability.

Regardless of your major, you should take classes in computer-aided design (CAD).

Combining a bachelor's degree in design with further study in a museum specialty is a good way to prepare for exhibit design.

Work experience

Experience sculpting, woodworking, or sketching is good preparation for design work.

Seek opportunities to work or volunteer at museums or theaters. You can also gain experience by designing stage sets for the school drama club or local theater company.

On-the-job training

Beginning designers usually receive on-the-job training. As you gain experience, you work on more difficult tasks. Training may last up to a year.

You never stop learning. 3D printers are the new thing to learn.

Helpful high school courses

In high school, take classes that prepare you for college. A college preparatory curriculum may be different from your state's graduation requirements.

You should also consider taking some advanced courses in high school. This includes Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses if they are available in your school. If you do well in these courses, you may receive college credit for them. Advanced courses can also strengthen your college application.

Helpful electives to take in high school that prepare you for this career include:

Many set and exhibit designers are self-employed. If you want to run your own business some day, you should consider taking these courses as well:

The courses listed above are meant to help you create your high school plan. If you have not already done so, talk to a school counselor or parent about the courses you are considering taking.

You should also check with a teacher or counselor to see if work-based learning opportunities are available in your school and community. These might include field trips, job shadowing, internships, and actual work experience. The goal of these activities is to help you connect your school experiences with real-life work.

Join some groups, try some hobbies, or volunteer with an organization that interests you. By participating in activities you can have fun, make new friends, and learn about yourself. Maybe one of them will help direct you to a future career. Here are examples of activities and groups that may be available in your high school or community.

Things to know

Creativity is important in all design occupations. Employers look for designers who have an eye for color and detail. Sketching skills are helpful for many jobs. A good portfolio (a collection of a person's best work) is often the deciding factor in getting a job.

Computer-aided design (CAD) increasingly is used in all areas of design. Many employers expect new designers to be familiar with the use of the computer as a design tool.

Employers look for designers who are imaginative. They seek designers who can communicate their ideas visually and verbally. Employers need designers who are well-read, open to new ideas, and quick to react to changing trends. Problem-solving skills and self-discipline are also important.

Costs to workers

Workers may wish to join a professional association, which may have annual dues.

Job listings

Listed below are links to job categories from the National Labor Exchange that relate to this career. Once you get a list of jobs, you can view information about individual jobs and find out how to apply. If your job search finds too many openings, or if you wish to search for jobs outside of Washington, you will need to refine your search.

To get a listing of current jobs from the WorkSource system, go to the WorkSource website (external link).


Set and exhibit designers (SOC 27-1027)

Pay Period
Washington Hourly $15.55 $17.02 $20.29 $26.34 $33.59
Monthly $2,695 $2,950 $3,516 $4,565 $5,821
Yearly $32,340 $35,400 $42,200 $54,790 $69,870
    Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue Hourly $15.86 $17.45 $21.14 $27.23 $34.00
Monthly $2,749 $3,024 $3,664 $4,719 $5,892
Yearly $32,992 $36,303 $43,969 $56,620 $70,719
    Vancouver Hourly $20.19 $28.21 $35.58 $42.47 $49.73
Monthly $3,499 $4,889 $6,166 $7,360 $8,618
Yearly $41,980 $58,683 $74,005 $88,335 $103,434
United States Hourly $14.33 $19.06 $26.09 $35.98 $49.75
Monthly $2,483 $3,303 $4,521 $6,235 $8,622
Yearly $29,810 $39,650 $54,270 $74,830 $103,480

Wages vary by employer and area of the country. The designer's reputation and skill also affect wages. Most self-employed designers are paid by the project rather than by the hour.

Set and exhibit designers who work full time usually receive benefits. Typical benefits include sick leave, paid vacation, and health insurance. Set and exhibit designers who are self-employed must provide their own insurance.

Employment and outlook

Washington outlook

The table below provides information about the number of workers in this career in various regions. It also provides information about the expected growth rate and future job openings.

Set and Exhibit Designers (SOC 27-1027)

Location Current employment Growth over 10 years Annual openings
Washington 181 8.3% 16.1% 20
    Grays Harbor, Lewis, Mason, Pacific, and Thurston Counties 25 12.0% 14.1% 3
    King County 107 11.2% 19.6% 13
    Snohomish County 28 3.6% 12.4% 2
United States 13,700 5.1% 5.2% 1,500

National employment

About 21% of set and exhibit designers are self-employed.

Major employers:

National outlook

This occupation is growing steadily. The fastest growth will be with television and movie production companies. Some companies are creating movies or shows that go directly to the Internet. This may lead to increased work for set designers. Small- and medium-sized theater companies find it difficult to get funding and will see slower job growth. Budget cuts may reduce the number of available jobs in museums.

Because this occupation is very small, the number of job openings each year will be limited. Competition for these positions will be strong.

Other resources

Exhibit Designers and Producers Association (external link)
19 Compo Road South
Westport, CT 06880
IATSE Local #15 (external link)
2800 First Avenue, Suite 231
Seattle, WA 98121
International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists, and Allied Crafts of the US, Its Territories, and Canada (external link)
207 West 25th Street, 4th Floor
New York, NY 10001
International Live Events Society (external link)
330 North Wabash Avenue, Suite 2000
Chicago, IL 60611
National Endowment for the Arts (external link)
400 - 7th Street SW
Washington, DC 20506
Showbizjobs.com (external link)
Smithsonian Institution Career Center (external link)
Society for Experiential Graphic Design (external link)
1900 L Street NW, Suite 710
Washington, DC 20036
Washington Filmworks (external link)
1411 4th Avenue, Suite 1000
Seattle, WA 98101
Writers Guild of America, West (external link)
7000 West Third Street
Los Angeles, CA 90048


Career cluster

Career path

O*Net (external link) occupation

O*Net job zone (external link)

DOT occupations

Holland occupational cluster