Exploring this Job
The best way to learn more about exhibit design is to talk with a professional in the field. Contact your local museum, historical society, or related institution to interview and possibly observe a designer at work. Remain informed of the many new challenges and theories that influence an exhibit designer's work. Joining a professional association, reading industry publications such as the American Alliance of Museum's Museum, or volunteering in a museum or art gallery are all excellent ways to explore this career.
Experience with design in other settings can also contribute to developing the skills needed by exhibit designers. You should consider taking studio classes from a local art guild, offer to design school bulletin boards or Web sites, or design stage sets for the school drama club or local theater company.
Exhibit designers play a key role in helping museums and similar institutions achieve their educational goals. Museums are responsible for providing public access and information about their collections to visitors and scholars. They accomplish this by designing exhibits that display objects and contain contextual information. Because museum visits are interactive experiences, exhibit designers have a responsibility to provide the visiting public with provocative exhibitions that contain visual, emotional, and intellectual components. To achieve this transfer of information, designers must create a "conversation" between exhibits and observers.
The decision to construct a new exhibit is made in collaboration with museum curators, educators, conservators, exhibit designers, and the museum director. After a budget has been set, exhibit designers meet regularly with curators, educators, and conservators throughout the planning stages. The purpose of each exhibit production is educational, and the team plans each exhibition so that it tells a story. A successful exhibit brings meaning to the objects on display through the use of informative labels, the logical placement of objects, and the construction of display areas that help to place the objects in proper context. Many museums now have electronic or multimedia exhibits, which often have interactive features for visitors. Exhibit designers who work with electronic exhibits must have graphic design and animation skills, as well as good instincts regarding what types of exhibits would be enhanced by electronic presentation.
Planning, designing, and producing a new exhibit is a costly as well as a mentally and emotionally challenging project. Exhibit designers must work creatively during the planning and design stages while remaining flexible in their ideas for the exhibition. On many occasions, designers must compromise artistic integrity for the sake of object safety and educational quality. During exhibit installation, designers work closely with the production team, which consists of other designers, technicians, electricians, and carpenters. Lead designers oversee the exhibit installation and attend to last-minute preparations. Most permanent exhibits are planned four years in advance while most temporary exhibits are allowed between six to 18 months for production.
Exhibit designers have additional responsibilities that include researching exhibit topics and new exhibit theories. Designers must also attend conventions of professional associations and may contribute to the advancement of their field by writing scholarly articles about new display techniques.