Anyone have an knowledge of Exhibit Design as a career?


I am currently in a ID program at U of Wisconsin but was curious to find out more about Exhibit design. There is a college in MN (Bemidji State) that offers ED and was curious about maybe transferring. I happened to stumble across ED as a discipline and am just as fascinated with it as I am ID. I also learned from the Coroflot website that some ID’ers on there have practiced ED, judging from their profiles and resume and was wondering if as an Industrial designer, one could also get into exhibit design without necessarily leaving ID or having to go to a school that specializes in ED? The U of Wisconsin I am attending does have an ED class within the Graphic Design major, which I can possibly take, but I am not sure if that would be enough. Do I have to choose one discipline or the other? I am stuck! Any advice would be helpful. Thanks guys. By the way, I am not having second thoughts about ID, just curious about other avenues. :slight_smile:


hmmmm… well i’ve done exhibit design now for like 2 years, (while im still in school) my advice is run away… and fast. It’s not the type of work i want to end up doing as a career heres why,

it’s wasteful
it’s largely rectalinear (which to me spells boring after two or three of the same thing)
It’s very tight deadlines
relatively little room for creative interpretation of challenges.

but on the positive:

you have opportunities to travel
if you get hooked up with the right company you can get paid well
it’s not just drafting - there are creative problemsolving situations
you get experience in presentation skills technical skills for use down the road if you decide to shift gears.

thats my peice… but if i were you i would dig deep to see if it’s where you really want to be…


I graduated with an undergrad ID and got into a firm working as a Environmental graphic designer. The firm i work for specializes in exhibit work (as in permanent exhibits/museums, not the traveling trade show stuff). Its a pretty rewarding field to be in, maybe not something to do for life, as the project have around a 2 year running time and it can be exhausting to wait that long to see your work, but certainly is an interesting side to design. I expect the descriptions above are targeted more towards traveling trade show exhibits.

I’ve found that having an industrial design background has been huge asset because most of my fellow designers are graphic or exhibit, and my seniors were very excited to bring in someone with a different mindset/way of thinking…my biggest downfall to them is that i dont use autocad…but to me its perfect because it keeps me away from clicking a mouse in front of that black screen all day

check out for job postings, exhibit design firms ect…

I am in the Packaging feild and have done some work in POP. I know its not the same but it is very close. I agree with JGray. RUN!! Unless it is for permanent stuff like museums, stores, etc you are going to get very bored. And when you want to leave its is a very hard feild to get out of.

My suggestion is if you want to take this job than that is fine just try to keep yourself fresh with freelance work. And keep sketching. POP and Exhibit designers tend to do a lot on the computer and very little with pen and paper.

I’ve been working in the Exhibition Design field for a bit over 3 years now, so I thought that i’d address some of your points.

  1. It’s wasteful.
    Sad, but true. Given the fast turnaround on projects and the amount of material that will go into building an exhibition it just isn’t possible to store every item that is made. Typically 90% of what we make is thrown into a bin at the end of the exhibit, we’d give it away but there just isn’t the chance to do it given that exhibition spaces will give you a day and a half to dismantle your stand then there is a bit of a clean and then another exhibition gets built, it just means there is no time to sort out usable or unusable material and give the general public chance to peruse and sort out what items they may like to keep.

This being said there are a lot of hired items at any exhibition. Typically all the furniture, AV, lighting, some walls, floors and rigged elements are all hired out over multiple shows to reduce the waste (and increase the profit of the companies that are hiring them out, eg. A chair that costs $100 being hired out for $80 and getting 50 uses out of it).

  1. It’s largely rectilinear.
    This is often a budget driven item, but is also influenced by current design trends. Typically an exhibition stand is pretty much a large piece of furniture and given current contemporary design ideals this is still favouring minimalism. Also a box is really easy and cheap to make. The design challenge comes from being able to design something that is largely based off easy to construct items that can then be detailed and / or finished to make them stand out from the ordinary.

  2. Very tight deadlines.
    Yep, this is true. A typical project can involve a turnaround time from initial brief to construction of a couple of months. This does mean that you can’t really spend a lot of time concepting, refining, and designing but it doesn’t really influence the overall design work that you do. By staying abreast of current design trends, materials and processes you can work with a whole lot of ideas in your head for stands that you would like to design. The trick is then to be good at your BS to convince the client that your design is both original and meets their requirements.

  3. Relatively little room for creativity.
    On some jobs where the client has little to no money (although every client seems to think that whatever they are spending is the top of the range) you seem to be punching out boring, run of the mill stands and the lack of creative control can be mind numbing. Even in these jobs there is still an element of creativity that can be expressed, you may still have control over graphics, material selections, lighting, Audio Visual, you just need to find a smaller area and focus on that.

With larger budgets often comes greater creative freedom, I’ve had briefs in the past where the client has told me they want a contemporary stand, that’s it - two words. I’ve had briefs where the client has told me very specific details right down to the sizes of graphics to be used, I’ve had briefs where the client has wanted multiple proposals each completely different from the other. Room for creativity largely comes down to just how laterally you can spin your creative talents, even on a small stand you can decide to create a custom piece of furniture, one which is only there for an aesthetic point. I’ve had clients wishing for me to create web sites, promotional material, flyers, banners, advertising, videos, whatever, pretty much if you can separate your mind from focussing on one specific idea of what you design you can get to many different areas of creativity.


sounds like you agree with most of my points, however you happen to not mind them so much, and they’re an ok compromise for you.

So in your opinion would you recomend this feild of work to a student right out of school? This is perhaps where we disagree.


Thanks for all your replies. I will take all of your experiences into consideration. Basically, what I might do is keep it as an open option, in case I can’t get the ideal ID job right out of school? It might be a cool experience to learn something different until I get to where I need to be in ID. I am not sure. I did talk to one designer from, who was an ID designer for many years and then moved on to Exhibit design and loves it. I much more prefer product design, but we will see. The one great thing it seems about having an ID degree is that you can go almost anywhere, into lots of design disciplines, don’t you all agree? :slight_smile: Thnx again.


Not to rain on your parade, but it’s highly unlikely that you’ll get the ideal ID job straight out of school. It takes time, simple as that.

When I graduated 7 years ago, I already had a cool job with a good exhibit design firm in Chicago lined up. The pace is fast but you are getting some great WORK experience. Money can be very good if you remain in the industry. I stayed in it for a little over 2 years before moving to pursue product design. It was just what I wanted to do and felt that if I stayed much longer in exhibit that I’d never escape.

Let me expand on the whole experience. It was tough, no doubt. But I probably learned more from my boss, the design director, than anyone since. He showed me how to be professional, stay organized and work well under intense pressure. Honestly, it was cool pumpin’ out those sweet renderings, preparing presentations, doing animation videos, etc.

Another thing to pay particular attention to is the type of fabrication they can do on site. If they can weld and do a lot of steel work then you’ll have much more openness when it comes to creativity. I did this website for them over 5 years ago. Guess it still works, but check out some of the cool portfolio projects.

In the end, I’d suggest giving exhibit design a good look. It’s actually quite fun.

Yeah I do agree with a lot of your points, and I don’t particularly see it as a compromise. While at one point soon after I graduated I wanted to get into product design, I had to realise that in Australia there are only so many opportunities to do this, especially when you narrow it down to choice of locations. I think when I came into this field I may have been a little jaded that I hadn’t been able to get a product design role, but have since come to enjoy the work that I do and no longer see it as a lower role.I also feel that it is a field that someone coming in as a graduate could do well in. It gives a fairly decent grounding for understanding tight deadlines, cost management, and various business methods.

Check out Skyline in Eagan, MN. You may be able to pick up an internship or something over the summer and you can see if you like it.

I’m an exhibit designer as well, been at it for a few years. It’s alot of fun and I agree with most of the comments here. Some other really great benefits are, as some said, quick turn around. Out of school you’re falling back on a body of school work and maybe some internship pieces. If you can handle the pace in Exhibit Design you’ll build a professional portfolio in a hurry. This also means you’ll sharpen, and keep sharp alot of skills and abilities that might otherwise dull on a long ID development cycle. If you get bored easily then ED might be a good fit as you’ll be moving on to new projects constantly, sometimes working on multiples at the same time. There’s also alot of opportunities across the country and you get to travel…VEGAS!

Some companies, someone mentioned Skyline, are modular focused and design and develop their own exhibiting systems and hardware so there would be product design opportunities in those kinds of companies. Modular is also more environmentally friendly than those “build and burn” exhibits.

I’ve been an exhibit designer for awhile as well, and I tend to disagree with most of the comments in this thread…

BUT, the reason I disagree is because of the type of job I have. If I were working at another company I would most likely have the same gripes. Every company is different, and there are multiple tiers of exhibit design out there. If you are truly interested in ED then I would look around at the different companies in your area and see what type of work they are doing. An internship is a great way to feel out an industry to see if it fits you.

If I were working at Skyline I would go insane with boredom. Designing 10x10 exhibits, rental exhibits, strictly trade shows etc. will get old pretty quick. Getting stuck in this type of design work will really limit your ability to move onward into ID.

But there are companies that do custom exhibits, which really require a strong designer with lots of creativity, this is the type of job I would aim for. Large projects like museums, corporate offices, and tradeshow exhibits with 80’ x 100’ footprints are challenging and rewarding. It is a very fast paced industry, which means you are working on a new project every other week. This keeps it exciting and you get a lot of experience with different companies.

As for the degree, it is really hard to say, I think it depends on the person. I’ve recently interviewed people for a design position at my company and there were some ED program graduates that were far from impressive, and I had some graphic designers with no degree that really had a fresh take on designs and were much more creative thinkers. Personally I think an ID degree will teach you the things you need to know to get started in the exhibit industry, the rest you will learn on the job. An the other side of the fence, an ED degree won’t transfer so well to an ID job.

Yo, don’t you also do exhibit design on the side?