Set designers create the overall look of a theatre, television or film production.

What does a set designer do?

As a set, production or stage designer, your work will begin at the start of the production planning process, and end on the opening night or when filming begins. You’ll create the design ideas and sometimes delegate the practical work to others. In this job you’re likely to:

  • study scripts and discuss ideas with the director
  • communicate your ideas to costume, make-up, props and lighting designers
  • work out potential problems, such as lighting or complex scene changes
  • research historical, contemporary or futuristic details to get the right look for the production
  • create effective designs within the available budget
  • sketch design ideas to produce a ‘storyboard’, showing what the sets will look like scene by scene
  • build and photograph scale models
  • estimate costs and prepare a production schedule
  • oversee set building and decoration
  • make any adjustments needed during rehearsals

In theatre, you might work alone or with an assistant. In TV/film, you may manage a team that can include art directors, assistant art directors, storyboard artists and model makers.

You may also spend some of your time marketing your services.

What do I need to do to become a set designer?

Many new set designers have an arts-related HND or degree. Several universities, colleges and drama schools offer courses in theatre design, performing arts (production) or design for film and television. Other useful subjects include:

  • interior design
  • fine art
  • 3D design
  • architecture

You may still be able to get into this job without a degree if you can demonstrate you have a high level of design skill and creative vision.

You might start as a designer’s assistant or prop maker in the theatre, as an art department trainee, or runner in film and TV. You can then start to work your way up to become a designer as you develop experience and get industry contacts.

Whatever your qualifications, you should find practical experience and build a portfolio of your design work to show to potential employers. Get relevant experience by getting involved in:

  • student theatre or film
  • local amateur or community theatre
  • low-budget independent films
  • experimental or ‘fringe’ theatre

You may be able to get into this job through a creative and digital media apprenticeship.

Related skills

  • Attention to detail
  • Communication
  • Creativity
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Problem solving
  • Technical ability
  • Time management

Academic route

  • Arts-related HND or degree

Vocational route

  • Creative and digital media apprenticeship

Related subjects

  • Art
  • Design technology
  • Drama, music, and performing arts

Where to find out more

Where could I be working?

You’ll work in a studio, an office or from home. You may also travel to attend meetings with theatres, or film/TV production companies.

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0

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