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Career Profile: Set and Exhibit Designers

Design special exhibits and sets for film, video, television, and theater productions. May study scripts, confer with directors, and conduct research to determine appropriate architectural styles.

Salary and Outlook

According to the US Department of Labor, there are 27,000 people employed as set and exhibit designers in the United States. The median annual salary is $54,860. Entry level employees earn approximately $30,810 per year and senior employees earn approximately $100,550 per year.

Estimates do not include other potential benefits such as health insurance, overtime pay, or retirement benefits that may be offered by employers.

Job Duties

  • Develop set designs, based on evaluation of scripts, budgets, research information, and available locations.
  • Prepare rough drafts and scale working drawings of sets, including floor plans, scenery, and properties to be constructed.
  • Prepare preliminary renderings of proposed exhibits, including detailed construction, layout, and material specifications, and diagrams relating to aspects such as special effects or lighting.
  • Read scripts to determine location, set, and design requirements.
  • Acquire, or arrange for acquisition of, specimens or graphics required to complete exhibits.
  • Design and produce displays and materials that can be used to decorate windows, interior displays, or event locations, such as streets and fairgrounds.
  • Direct and coordinate construction, erection, or decoration activities to ensure that sets or exhibits meet design, budget, and schedule requirements.
  • Coordinate the transportation of sets that are built off-site, and coordinate their setup at the site of use.
  • Confer with conservators to determine how to handle an exhibit's environmental aspects, such as lighting, temperature, and humidity, so that objects will be protected and exhibits will be enhanced.
  • Select and purchase lumber and hardware necessary for set construction.
  • Arrange for outside contractors to construct exhibit structures.
  • Incorporate security systems into exhibit layouts.
  • Coordinate the removal of sets, props, and exhibits after productions or events are complete.
  • Provide supportive materials for exhibits and displays, such as press kits, advertising, publicity notices, posters, brochures, catalogues, and invitations.
  • Submit plans for approval, and adapt plans to serve intended purposes, or to conform to budget or fabrication restrictions.
  • Attend rehearsals and production meetings to obtain and share information related to sets.
  • Confer with clients and staff to gather information about exhibit space, proposed themes and content, timelines, budgets, materials, or promotion requirements.
  • Research architectural and stylistic elements appropriate to the time period to be depicted, consulting experts for information, as necessary.
  • Observe sets during rehearsals in order to ensure that set elements do not interfere with performance aspects such as cast movement and camera angles.
  • Collaborate with those in charge of lighting and sound so that those production aspects can be coordinated with set designs or exhibit layouts.
  • Select set props, such as furniture, pictures, lamps, and rugs.
  • Design and build scale models of set designs, or miniature sets used in filming backgrounds or special effects.
  • Examine objects to be included in exhibits to plan where and how to display them.
  • Assign staff to complete design ideas and prepare sketches, illustrations, and detailed drawings of sets, or graphics and animation.
  • Inspect installed exhibits for conformance to specifications and satisfactory operation of special-effects components.
  • Estimate set- or exhibit-related costs, including materials, construction, and rental of props or locations.
  • Plan for location-specific issues, such as space limitations, traffic flow patterns, and safety concerns.

Career List

Job Outlook


Total Current Jobs:
27,000
Annual Openings:
2,700
Increase in Openings by 2031:
5%
Annual Salary Range:
$30,810 - $100,550
Education Requirements:
Bachelor's degree