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InsightMar 30, 2021

A Beginner's Guide to Exhibit Design

Written by Stefan Canuel RGD

Exhibition design is a world of its own. Sometimes you can work independently but most of the time designing an exhibit requires collaboration with creatives in various fields. It's like being in college your whole life! The different disciplines you may deal with in a single exhibition include architecture, interior design, graphic design, interaction design, multimedia, lighting and more. 

Exhibition design is beyond computer and a piece of paper. It is about engaging with the space allocated. It is the process of conveying information through visual storytelling in an immersive environment and the sky is the limit. Et encore! 

If you're wondering where to start, below I've have listed resources to help you understand exhibit design. 

"Exhibition Art - Graphics and Space Design" book by Shaoqiang, Wang


A few books to understand the history of exhibit design and to familiarize yourself with the exhibit design, an area of design so dear to me.

Exhibition Design: An Introduction by Philip Hughes

This book is a must-have if you want to know all the design skills needed to become an exhibitdesigner. From graphics, circulation, lighting, accessibility; all the way to fabrication. It's not a portfolio book but there are a good amount of visual references. It includes photographs of completed exhibitions, concept drawings, elevations and computer renderings.

What is Exhibition Design? by Craig Berger, Jan Lorenc, and Lee Skolnick

This handbook is a guide to the world of exhibit design. It clarifies the role of the various design skills required to be an exhibit designer. It explains in detail the processes for manufacturing, methods of prototyping and means of transporting, assembling and dismantling an exhibition. The last section of the book stands as a fine showcase of the work.

Exhibition Art – Graphics and Space Design by Wang Shaoqiang

I must say, this book is a pure pleasure to the eyes! This book is a collection of over sixty of the world's most creative exhibit designs. From fascinating space design solutions to sophisticated graphic design ideas.

Beyond these three, Design is Storytelling by Ellen Lupton and Graphics and Spaces by Gingko Press Inc. are great books to add to your library. 


As graphic designers we're all well versed with Adobe Creative Suite. However, for exhibit designwe must need to learn a little extra. For exhibit design, it is important to know drafting and 3D modeling softwares such as:


Vectorworks is a very powerful software with great drafting/3D modeling capabilities. It is an incredible tool for designers, although it takes a lot of practice to master. It works wonderfully for large-scale projects by keeping a good track of the library but it might be a bit complex for very small projects.


Probably the more known drafting software in the market. Architects, engineers and construction professionals rely on this software to create precise 2D and 3D drawings. It's a great tool for exhibitdesign as well.


Similar to the first two but very basic and easy to learn. It's a hybrid between Illustrator and a drafting software. It doesn’t have all the tools that the other two have but it’s a good starting point for a graphic designer.


It's a must these days. Sketch Up is the simplest 3D modeling software out there. The software is designed to behave like an extension of your hand.

Technical Resource, Skilled Trades

As I mentioned earlier, exhibit design is all about collaboration. You will need to create your contact list of suppliers, skilled trader and vendors. I have listed a few below. Remember! This list is not exhaustive and there are so many others to choose from.  list only a few of those but keep in mind there are so many others.



Typography is an essential part of the identity you create for the exhibition and the identity is the first thing one encounters for any exhibition. Below are three of my favourite less-know, independent type foundries:

Optimo is a Swiss type foundry established in 1998. The foundry creates very clean typefaces for any use. Theinhardt, Index, Rand & Apax being my favourites.

Founded by designer Mathieu Desjardins, this young foundry is 100% Canadian based in Montreal. With free access to quality fonts for personal use and licenses purchase for commercial projects, this foundry has some very nice grotesk typefaces.

Established in 2006, TypeTogether is a type foundry that creates text typography for intensive print editorial use that I also enjoy designing. I personally like Karmina a nice transitional serif with some edge. Or Soleil a calm and fresh geometric typeface.

Materials Library

Most designers have their library of materials in their office, like carpet swatches, wall covering samples, large printing substrates, paint swatches and hardwoods for flooring, to name a few. You will probably find your own but a good start is to connect with Material Bank. Material Banksconnects designers with plethora of manufacturers and materials all in one place. With this, you don't have to worry about keeping your library up-to-date.


As an exhibition designer you can work for a design studio that has one or two designers on staff specialized in exhibit design, you can work for an exhibition fabricator that also has an in-house design department, you can work for a museum or an art gallery or work for a specialized exhibition design studio. Below I share my three favourites exhibit design studios for inspiration. They are not the biggest, they produce some great budgeted exhibits.

Fifty Nine Productions

59 Productions is a design studio and production company based in London and New York. 

Casson Mann

Casson Mann is a museum, exhibition and interior design firm based in London.

C&G Partners

C&G Partners is a multi-specialty creative studio, dedicated to design for culture — from cultural organizations to organizational culture, based in New York.


On a lighter note, these are so stellar exhibits designed and produced by some top designers:

Alexander McQueen – Savage Beauty

Un incontournable! This exhibition was put together by Sam Gainsbury and Joseph Bennett, the production designers for Alexander McQueen's fashion shows.

Museum of Ice Cream

Based in Toronto, this one is not a temporary exhibition but a museum permanent exhibition. Maryellis Bunn has her name associated with it and also being the co-founder of Figure8 who did the original design of Museum of Ice Cream.

David Bowie is…

What a show! This exhibition was designed by 59 Productions. To end this, keep in mind that being an exhibit design is more than designing a space, It's designing an experience.


Stefan Canuel RGD

Ottawa-based designer with more than twenty years of experience in the design and creative industry, Stefan blends innovation with practicality and an unswerving focus on results. He excels at all elements of the creative process and has a multifaceted approach to design. As a professional, he works every day to forge profound links between organizations and their audiences through clear, creative, effective and well-managed designs and strategies. His work has been recognized both nationally and internationally by AIGA, Alcuin Society, Applied Arts, Communication Arts, Graphis and The Society of Typographic Arts, among others. 


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