What does a Set Designer do?

A Set Designer creates the look of the stage through designing a set for a theatre production. This role is a combination of creativity and practicality as Set Designers must create not only the design but also make sure it can practically come to life within budget. 

What are the main responsibilities of a Set Designer?

  • Read through the script and work with the Director to create a concept for the production. A concept includes your rough ideas of what you think the stage should look like
  • Communicating your ideas to costume, make-up, props and lighting departments so that everyone has the clear vision 
  • Have a creative vision and able to create sets from small scale to large scale
  • Building and photographing scale models
  • Oversee the construction and installation of the design, working with carpenters, painters, technicians and the Production Manager
  • Lead a team and distribute individual tasks to ensure you and your team are all working together to create the set within vision
  • Have a knowledge of set materials which can be used to create certain aspects of the set
  • Researching historical, contemporary, futuristic details to get the right look for the production
  • Creating effective designs within the available budget
  • Sketching design ideas to produce a storyboard
  • Work with ground plans of the theatre your set will go in
  • Adaptability to adjust you design when required

Search through opportunities in set design to help you get into theatre here 

What qualifications do I need to be a Set Designer?

A majority of Set Designers training will take place on the job. You can also gain a position as a Set Designer through a university course, college course, apprenticeship or working towards the role. If you would like to study to become a Set Designer you can study for a qualification in one of the following areas. You can gain a qualification in any of the following subjects:

  • Design
  • Fine Art
  • Interior Design
  • 3D design
  • Lighting
  • Theatre Design
  • Architecture 
  • Graphic Design 

Search for apprenticeships here and how they can help you here.

Ensure you keep a portfolio of all of your previous work to show to potential employers. Read our blog, ‘How to make a set design portfolio’ for some tips on how to best display your work. 

What skills do I need to be a Set Designer?

  • Design skills and knowledge on set building
  • Attention to detail
  • Initiative
  • Work well in a team
  • Create new ways of doing things
  • Work well under pressure
  • Excellent verbal communication
  • Basic computer skills
  • Good maths for budgeting and working with scale and proportion

What does a career in Set Design look like?

If you choose not to study and gain a job through experience, volunteer at your local theatre or try and get a work experience placement at a slightly larger theatre. Seeking mentors and requesting shadow experience can help you learn from those already working in the industry. Research which Designers make the sets you like, so you can learn what your design aesthetic could be and what journey they took. With more experience and developing your skills you can work on larger scale productions. 

Watch this great video from award-winning Set Designer Khadija Raza. 

How much does a Set Designer earn?

The role of a Set Designer can vary depending on the scale of the production as well as the actual size of the theatre. Most Set Designers work on a freelance basis unless they belong to a big theatre. For one production, 2024/2025 Equity rates suggest a design fee of £3133.13 and a weekly making fee of £613.84.

The above is a guide. Pay, salary or fee can vary depending on the theatre or company, as well as your personal experience. National institutions or commercial productions can pay in excess of the above, with profit-share or community theatre paying less.

Find designing opportunities and training offered from across the theatre industry here 

You can find theatre jobs via The Stage Jobs here 


Photo: Shutterstock

Updated: 23rd May 2024

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