Job descriptions and industry overviews

TV/film/theatre set designer: job description

21 Jun 2023, 15:40

Set designers are responsible for designing and creating sets for TV, film, adverts and theatre productions.

TV/film/theatre set designer: job description

What does a set designer do? Salaries | Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Skills

Set designers oversee the designing and creating of sets that appear in films, television programmes and theatre productions. The role involves working with and communicating with directors, producers, costume designers and other members of staff.

Typical responsibilities include:

  • reading scripts to explore the scriptwriter’s ideas
  • researching ideas – for example, by viewing photos and reading about the historical background of a script
  • producing storyboards, floor plans, drawings and models of sets
  • meeting directors, stage managers, scenic artists and other creative staff to explore ideas and agree plans
  • preparing estimates of set costs
  • managing budgets
  • viewing possible outside broadcast sites
  • attending rehearsals/film takes
  • meeting with and commissioning set construction companies.

Some set designers also work as costume designers as similar skills and experience are needed.

Graduate salaries

The nature of set design means you’re likely to work freelance and be paid for your input into a particular creative work rather than an annual salary. You may be paid per production or an hourly or weekly rate that’s likely to be based on the projected income from the production. Earnings at the start of your career are likely to be low and you may find yourself doing unpaid work. You may be able to claim expenses/allowances on top of your rates. Because of this, annual earnings can vary between designers.

Though, according to Salary Expert the average entry level salary for set designers is £38,822 per year, £53,977 per year for more experienced designers and £66,498 for senior designers. These figures are based on set designer roles in London – earnings are likely to be less in other areas of the UK.

Typical employers of set designers

  • Theatres.
  • Film and video production companies.
  • Terrestrial, satellite, digital, cable and independent television companies.
  • Advertising agencies.
  • Music video production companies.

It’s common for set designers to work on a self-employed/freelance basis and to take on contracts for individual productions or assignments. Some designers – particularly those working on commercials and films –work via agencies that negotiate contracts on their behalf.

Vacancies are advertised by individual venues and production companies as well as online by specialist jobs boards. Typically, jobs are not formally advertised – with creative staff being recruited via word of mouth and existing contacts.

Qualifications and training required

Although there are routes into this profession for both university graduates and school leavers, employers often look for candidates with degrees in film/stage design, creative or performing arts, visual arts, graphic design, 3D design, illustration, architecture or landscape architecture.

However, it’s more important that you can demonstrate a genuine interest in, knowledge of and experience of visual arts, television, film or theatre.

Job shadowing and unpaid/vacation work experience will be essential. You’ll also need to make speculative applications both for work experience and jobs. Use directories such as KFTV and Kays Production Manual, or look at specialist jobs boards for ideas of who’s hiring.

Key skills

  • Excellent technical skills, such as drawing and model design.
  • Research skills
  • Excellent communication skills
  • The ability to work with a wide range of people.
  • Creativity
  • Imagination
  • Adaptability
  • The ability to work well under pressure
  • Good spatial awareness

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