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CarlTiki
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I'm in a bit of a cross road decision. I am currently working in the exhibit design industry in a city with virtually no industrial design opportunities. I can either hold out for an ID job in another city (more difficult) or land an exhibit/POP job in a city with many ID jobs (San Fran, less difficult).

Which would you choose?
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Greenman
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Why not both?

Tradeshow exhibit design is a niche profession and good to great designers are almost always in demand. One angle you could play is to find a job at a exhibit house that serves the types of industries that you want to get an ID job in. That way you could get some experience designing experiential marketing for those industries and no doubt network with them at the same time.

Some exhibit houses have narrower focuses, or specialize, in serving different types of industries like medical, consumer retail, automotive, etc. Maybe you could find one of these that serves an industry you're interested in, likely you can tell just by their portfolios. Moving to a company for ID work you would have a compelling selling point in that you can contribute to marketing with your tradeshow knowledge :).
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CarlTiki
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This is a great idea. Currently I am catering to start-up/lower cost modular exhibits. The turn times are very face with no opportunity to face to face with the companies themselves (we are required to work through a distributor.) A jump to a higher end exhibit house would be a great move for this strategy.

I'd like to go into computer peripherals, so this might very well be the way to go.
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Greenman
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I understand the type of exhibit company you work for, there's a broad range of service levels in the industry from low cost modular to completely custom experiential exhibit spaces. Jumping to a higher end exhibit house, or custom/modular exhibit house with a higher focus on design and the design process would be a good step, and that if that is something you're passionate about then certainly display it in an interview and in your portfolio. Conversely I would ask questions in interviews about the role design plays in their sales/production cycle and how involved designers are in the whole process.

As an exhibit designer, I find that having client access and the ability to collaborate with them better leverages design and yields better results and more creative solutions.

Doing some industry research I can say that the lion's share of U.S. companies (roughly 40%) that exhibit at CES are based in the state of California, and roughly half of all exhibitors at CES are U.S. based companies. That said, not all exhibit houses serve strictly their local markets, but that is what research is for :).
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6ix
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I started out as an exhibit designer in Chicago. First with a smaller company that did a lot of designs using Octanorm parts but later moved to another agency that did more expensive, full custom booths. The nice part about being in the exhibit industry in an area like Chicagoland is that there are a ton of places to work and lots of room to move up. You can do really well for yourself. It's extremely fast-paced as I was typically juggling 2-3 projects a week. Clients were located all over the country because they typically wanted to work with a design house close to McCormick Place. Made set-up and take-down easy, and also storage.

Anyhow, like you, I really wanted to do product design. Nothing wrong with tradeshow design at all but I knew that after 2 years in the field, if I didn't find a way into product really quick I'd find myself trapped. Again, "trapped" is a bad word but you see my point. I ended up leaving a city of 10 million to a small town in Kansas with less than 20,000. All because it was the only consumer product design opportunity I could find. That was a big change of pace!! However, my time in Kansas allowed me to really get acquainted with injection-molding among other things and was able to move into sporting goods a few years later.

Basically, I didn't move to small-town Kansas so that I could find another job in that same town. That would have been impossible but it was a sacrifice in order to move where I really wanted to be a few years later. It's easy when you're young and don't have a house, etc. Live it up.

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CarlTiki
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Amen. I haven't even begun to consider getting a house. Not until I get into a place in my career that I really want to be in. I'm considering spending the next ~8-12 months searching in my dream cities, then broadening my search.

I need to ask, aren't there a great deal of ID firms in Chicago? Did you ever consider just continuously applying locally? What was the catalyst to seek a job in another city?
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6ix
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That's a good question. Probably wasn't good enough to get a studio design gig, to be quite honest. Took the job in Kansas because it was the only offer I had. Another factor was that I was living in the northwest suburbs of Chicago (Schaumburg to be specific) as road cycling was a huge part of my life. There was no way I would have enjoyed living in the middle of the city. Not quite my thing. I like to get out on some country roads. Granted, even from Schaumburg, that was a stretch but it was better than living at 90 and Armitage!!

Once I got to Kansas I quickly found out that only 3 roads that left town were paved. Yeah, big surprise to me. All my training had to be done on a mountain bike out in the middle of open range. Looking back, one of the coolest experiences of my life and I wouldn't give up those years for anything. I also wouldn't go back. ha ha


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