Set Designers

Set and exhibit designers design sets for film, television, and theatre, as well as for exhibitions. Set designers work closely with directors and use the script and additional research to determine the appropriate visual style for a production. They produce sketches of the architecture, apparel, and other stylistic aspects that are then used to construct the actual set. Exhibit designers work alongside curators, art and museum directors, and trade-show sponsors to create the most efficient and effective use of the space available for the exhibit.

Job Skills

Set and exhibit designers must have well-developed artistic abilities and a desire to create. They need to have self-discipline, imagination, and persistence. It is also important for them to be able to work independently and to effectively communicate their ideas in written, verbal, and visual ways. Problem-solving skills are essential, as well as sharp business and sales ability for those who start their own business or do freelance work. Above all, a strong esthetic sense is the most important trait a visual merchandiser can possess.


In 2002, Set and exhibit designers earned a median annual salary of $33,870. Earnings ranged from the lowest 10 percent, who earned less than $17,830, and the highest 10 percent, who earned more than $63,280.

Training and Education

Most set and exhibit designers obtain a college degree in design. Some candidates receive certificates or associate degrees from 2- and 3-year professional schools. Graduates of 2-year programs usually qualify for assistant positions or go on to enter bachelor’s degree programs. Other candidates earn a Master of Fine Arts degree, which considerably enhances their credentials and chances of employment. For those interested in freelance work or business ownership, courses in business management, marketing, and art are recommended.


Out of the nearly 532,000 design jobs in 2002, about 12,000 people were employed as visual merchandisers, the lowest number of all the design professions.

Job Outlook

Between 2002 and 2012, the number of visual merchandisers is expected to increase about as fast as the average. Even though the category will experience faster-than-average growth, the industry will produce very few job openings because of its small size.

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