Becoming an in-demand set designer takes much more than an interest in design and creative tendencies. To become successful in this field you will need some technical skills, a background in lighting, color, and other elements of design, practical experience and skills, and a network of professionals and mentors to help you along the way.
Choosing this career is also highly dependent on location. While many towns across the country have theaters, jobs for set designers are limited in many places. A region with a lot of theater, television, and film studios, like South Florida and Miami, is a great place to get started with all the available opportunities. Use the guide here to help you get your foot in the door in this exciting career.
Demand and Earnings for Set Designers
Interior design and set design is an industry that is growing nearly as fast as average job growth across the country. As a growing industry, there are expected to be more jobs available in the future, with room for new, fresh talent. Set designers are needed to work in theaters, to work with directors, art directors, and production staff to create the perfect set for each production, big or small.
Set designers are also needed for film and television. They are needed to produce the perfect setting for every scene that will capture the mood and location that the director is striving for. Wherever there is a production industry, trained and creative set designers will be in demand.
What Does a Set Designer Do on the Job?
A set designer is essentially a specialized interior designer. Interior designers are experts in bringing together fabrics, colors, furniture, and other elements to create a space that meets the needs of a client, whether that means a relaxing space, an invigorating space, or a clean and classic space. For a set designer, the spaces designed are more specific. For example, a set designer may need to design a theater set that fits a scene taking place in a 1950s living room. Or, the set designer may be asked to create a futuristic space to a director or screenwriter’s specifications for a science fiction television show.
These are the fun and creative aspects of being a set designer, creating spaces that match a desired time period, tone and feel, or a set of characters. But, there is much more to being a set designer than just being creative; there are also practical skills and responsibilities. As a set designer you will need to know how to draw, how to use graphic design and interior design software, how to design within a budget, how to be a project manager and delegate to others, and how to communicate and work with producers, directors, artists, and other professionals. Some of the day-to-day tasks for a set design professional may include:
- Drawing or using software to sketch out a set design.
- Reading scripts to help design sets.
- Using a budget to make purchases for a set.
- Discussing set needs with directors and others.
- Attending meetings, rehearsals, and film sessions.
- Guiding a team of assistants and crew building a set.
What are the benefits of being a Set Designer?
Working as a set designer may not be for everyone. You need to be a go-getter, willing to network and work hard to get to where you want to be. This might mean starting out at a design firm, assisting and getting coffee as you prove you can be a real designer. Or, it may mean that you start out on your own and have to work really hard to make the right connections in order to get jobs. Once you do get jobs, you will face long working hours, time constraints, and demanding customers, all of which can be stressful. On the other hand, there are a lot of benefits to getting in to this line of work:
- A good salary. Set designers who are good at what they do, with satisfied customers, can command great fees for their work. The average salary in set design is greater than the average for all jobs in the U.S.
- Creative work. One of the biggest benefits in set design is the ability to flex your creative muscles. Not a lot of professionals can truly say that they do creative work, but for set designers, it is the basis of their daily work. If you love the theater, movies, and television, you can actually work in these fields, as a set designer.
- Work as much or as little as you want. If you choose to freelance as a set designer, and this is the kind of job that allows that sort of freedom, you can work as many or as few jobs as you choose, full time, part time, or more than full time if you like to work a lot.
- Transferable skills. Set design is creative work, but it is so much more. What you learn in training to be and working as a set designer will serve you well if you switch careers: budgeting, project management, negotiating with vendors, organization and attention to detail, and working with and keeping customers happy.
Training Required to Become a Set Designer
There are no set educational requirements for becoming a set designer, but you do need to have certain skills, so getting a post-secondary certificate or degree in design, interior design, or set design is the best way to start breaking into this field. A program at a creative school, like the interior design program at Miami Arts & Design Education (MADE), is a good choice to give you the basic knowledge you need to be a good set designer: design software programs, color theory, lighting, applications of interior design, and the business of design, project management, special design, and more.
How is a Set Designer different from a Production Designer?
A production designer—a role that was previously and sometimes still is referred to as the art director—is usually the person in charge of the overall look of a production, whether that is a theater production, a television show, a commercial, or a movie. A set designer is often the person working directly under the production designer, however, in some situations, often depending on the size of the production, the set designer may play the role of production designer. In this case the set designer is in charge of the entire look of a production, including the design and construction of the set. If you start out as a set designer and get experience and connections, you will have the skills necessary to work as a production designer in bigger productions.
What Qualities and Traits Make for a Good Set Designer?
One of the most important traits you need to have to be a good set designer is creative and artistic skills. A good set designer will also be good at working with others and collaborating over ideas and visions. You must be able to manage your time well and stay organized because set designers have to stick to a budget and coordinate a lot on a strict timeline. Other important skills for this kind of work include attention to detail and initiative, a willingness to take on big jobs and work hard.
How Much Do Set Designers Earn?
The average salary in set design is higher than average job salaries in general, but there is a lot of variation depending on the particular industry. For example, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, set designers working in the motion picture industry earns a mean annual salary of $68,300, while those working in theaters have a mean salary of $47,780 per year. These are the mean salaries, which means that starting out in the industry you may make less, but with experience and in the right industry, you can make much more. For all set designers, across all industries and locations, the mean annual salary is $57,600, which is similar to the figure for set design workers in South Florida and Miami.
With a better idea of what it’s like to be a set designer, what it takes to get there, and the kind of training you need, are you ready to break into the exciting world of set design? MADE can help you get there, not just with great interior design and set design courses, but also with connections to some of the professionals working in this field in Miami and throughout the South Florida production industry. The combination of a great education and being able to network with the people who can get you into a set designer career is unbeatable.