How To Become A Set Designer (With Duties And Career Tips)

Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 26 January 2023

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Set designers are creative, innovative professionals who design and build visually impactful sets and backgrounds for theatre, television and film productions. They use a variety of mediums to tell visual stories. By understanding the exact role of a set designer, you can decide if this type of creative work is something you want to pursue. In this article, we discuss how to become a set designer, outline the duties of these professionals and share some useful tips for building a successful career in this field.

How to become a set designer

Consider the following steps to learn how to become a set designer:

1. Pass 10+2

It is essential to pass the 10+2 Higher Secondary Certificate (HSC) examination in the arts, commerce or science stream from a recognised board. Try to secure a decent passing score, as the college admission process can be competitive. During school, you can clear the elementary and intermediate art exams to develop your design skills.

2. Clear college entrance exams

You can gain admission to the design college of your choice after clearing any of the following competitive college entrance examinations:

  • Undergraduate Common Entrance Exam for Design (UCEED)

  • All India Entrance Examination for Design (AIEED)

  • National Institute of Design Entrance Exam (NID DAT)

  • Symbiosis Entrance Exam for Design (SEED)

  • Indian Institute of Crafts and Design (IICD) Entrance Exam

3. Earn a bachelor's degree

Most theatre, television, film production companies require set designers to have at least a bachelor's degree in a relevant field. You can enhance your career prospects by studying fine arts, design, theatre arts or architecture. A popular programme for prospective set designers is the four-year Bachelor of Design (B.Des.) course. It offers the following specialisations that can help you in your career:

  • interior designing

  • accessory designing

  • textile designing

  • fashion designing

  • jewellery designing

  • product designing

  • VFX designing

  • multimedia designing

  • game designing

  • graphic designing

  • visual communication

Related: What Is A Bachelor In Fine Arts Degree? Definition And Careers

4. Build your portfolio

Since set design is a field that relies on visual creativity, you need a digital design portfolio that can demonstrate your artistic abilities, design skills and creative thinking capacity. Most employers make their hiring decisions based on portfolios rather than resumes.

Make sure your set design portfolio is a compilation of your creative abilities, experiences and design ideas. As a student, your portfolio can include a narrative introduction and mood board, paintings and photographs of your work. You can also include your theoretical beliefs and research findings, as well as any positive reviews you received during your academic study or internship.

5 . Complete an internship

An internship is an excellent learning experience that enables you to understand what it is like to work professionally as a set designer. Depending on the company you intern with, the internship may be paid or unpaid. During your time as an intern, you get a chance to work with industry equipment and design software. You can also learn about the set-building process. This is also a good way to develop valuable connections with directors, producers, production designers and other industry professionals. If they are impressed with your work as an intern, they may offer you work opportunities later.

Related: Types Of Jobs In Film Industry (Duties And Salary)

6. Expand your professional network

Your professional network is the combination of your social and industry-related contacts and connections. People use their network contacts to help stay up-to-date with industry standards and find out about opportunities. There are many ways to develop a robust professional network. For instance, You can use social media to connect with industry professionals or volunteer for a theatre production. You can also attend industry events, trade shows, training workshops and conferences. Such regular interactions can help you develop professional relationships and stay updated about industry developments and available work opportunities.

Related: What Is Business Networking? (With Benefits And Types)

7. Apply for an entry-level job

You can find set designing jobs on online job sites like Indeed, company websites, professional networking sites and social media. It can also help to set search engine alerts for specific terms like film set designer, movie set designer or theatre set designer. To improve your chances of getting an interview call, customise your cover letter and resume for every job application you send and include a link to your online design portfolio. You can also practise answering frequently-asked interview questions for creative professionals.

What are the work responsibilities of a set designer?

The main responsibility of a set designer is to create a set design or background that is suitable for a specific scene in a drama, television show or film. Set designers may create numerous such set designs for use throughout the entirety of the production. Initially, the set designer meets with the director and producer to understand the story and the scenes and find out about their vision and budget for the production.

The next step is to use the script, screenplay and stage notes to create a project outline and visual story map. The set designer may create prototypes on the computer or build small-scale models. They can then meet with designers, decorators, carpenters, electricians and other production crew members and finalise the materials and mediums for set building. They may try to create durable, lightweight and versatile sets that the production crew can move around and repurpose easily.

What is the work environment of a set designer?

The work environment of a set designer can vary depending on the work they are doing. They may work in an office setting when they meet with clients, design sets on the computer and create prototypes. They may work on-site when they are building actual sets and during the production and live performance or filming of the theatre, television show or film.

Set designers can work for film studios, theatre houses, television studios and advertising companies. They may work full-time or on a contract or freelance basis. Set designing is collaborative work. Set designers usually work as a team with painters, decorators, carpenters, electricians and other professionals.

Tips for success as a set designer

The following tips might help you to build a successful career as a set designer:

Explore your creativity

The most important element of set design is creativity. Designers collaborate with producers, directors and members of the production crew to tell visual stories that entertain or inform audiences. They capture the viewers' attention and provide them with further information about the scenes they watch in the drama, show, film or advertisement. Sets that make a visual impact can also increase the overall enjoyment of viewers.

To nurture your creativity, consider setting up a creative space in your home to practise with different mediums. Experiment with paint, textiles, building materials and play to express your moods, feelings and ideas. Engage in the creative process to generate ideas and get familiar with different tools for design.

Related: How To Develop Your Skill Set: A Complete Guide

Practise using design software

Since computer design software is in widescale use in the set designing industry, it is crucial that you become proficient at using the common design programs. Your clients may require you to have these digital skills to create and send them digital design files. Using design software can also enable you to design faster and make any necessary changes just as fast.

If you are new to using design software, you can take short-term or long-term courses to learn the necessary skills. There are many free and paid courses online, and the design software programs also come with user information and tutorials.

Be more purposeful in your viewing

Most people watch musicals, plays and movies for the purpose of entertainment. As a set designer, it is important for you to engage in purposeful viewing. Research television shows or films that have won awards for set design. Read the scripts for those productions and then watch the accompanying films or plays.

Use a notepad to write down observations about scenery, backdrops and other props that you see. Compare the visual storytelling with the notes and script that you read. Engaging in this type of study and purposeful viewing can help you understand the creative process used by successful set designers.

Work on your personal brand

Building a personal brand is essential, as it can showcase your unique design skills and creative abilities and help establish your professional reputation as a set designer. It can enable employers to know what they can expect from you as a set designer, and that information might influence their decision to hire you.

Your professional reputation could also inform them about how professional and collaborative you are. These factors matter hugely during the production process, and so they could also influence their decision to work with you.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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