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Display Designer/Visual Merchandiser

Display designers and visual merchandisers use their design skills to promote the image, products and services of businesses and other organisations.

Display designers focus on designing displays, stands and panels for exhibitions, conferences and other events. They also produce point-of-sale displays, which are installed in hundreds of retail outlets.

Visual merchandisers create window and in-store displays of goods for retail shops and department stores.

The work involves:

  • researching to get an understanding of what is needed, and coming up with design ideas
  • for visual merchandisers, sourcing elements such as lighting, props and accessories
  • for some jobs, installing and dismantling displays, making the most of the space available, working within a budget and meeting deadlines.

Display designers and visual merchandisers usually work a standard number of hours each week. This may include evenings to set up displays when stores are closed. Extra hours may be required as deadlines approach. Part-time work is possible. Freelance work is common.

They could be based in design studios, at company head offices or design departments, or in retail stores.

Salaries range from £13,000 to £50,000 or more a year.

A display designer or visual merchandiser should:

  • have a flair for design and colour
  • be creative and imaginative
  • have practical skills
  • understand a company's target markets and know how to appeal to them
  • be aware of current trends and activities in design, fashion and culture
  • be interested in art and design
  • enjoy working creatively in a fast-moving environment.

Display designers and visual merchandisers are employed throughout the UK. Employers include the design departments of large organisations, design consultancies, display companies, printers, exhibition contractors, and retailers.

This is a comparatively small area of work with keen competition for jobs. There are no set entry qualifications. Most employers look for applicants who have a relevant qualification and/or previous experience in design or retail. Some people enter this career through an Advanced Apprenticeship in retail (visual merchandising).

Display designers and visual merchandisers usually train on the job and also attend courses. They may work towards display or merchandising qualifications.

Promotion can be to supervisor, head designer or merchandiser, and sometimes to department manager. Working overseas for multinational companies is a possibility.

Some experienced display designers and visual merchandisers become self-employed by moving into freelance work or setting up their own business.

What is the work like?

Display designers and visual merchandisers use design skills to help promote the image, products and services of businesses and other organisations.

The roles of display designers and visual merchandisers may overlap to some extent. Display designers usually focus on designing displays, stands and panels that are used at exhibitions, conferences and other events. They also produce point-of-sale displays. These are stock containers that are usually mass produced and installed in hundreds of retail outlets. Visual merchandisers, on the other hand, create window and in-store displays of goods for retail stores.

Display designers aim to promote a client's products, brand and image by creating an eye-catching display using visual and graphic elements. Depending on the client's business, the display may be taken to a wide range of locations. These can range from trade exhibitions to shopping malls. The work involves:

  • making presentations to potential clients to win contracts
  • discussing the brief with the client and identifying the key messages that need to be conveyed
  • gaining an in-depth understanding of the client's organisation, products, image and target market
  • considering factors such as the space available for the display, any special features that should be incorporated, such as chairs, models and computers, and the client's budget
  • coming up with design ideas, images and graphics incorporating the client's logo and corporate colours, and discussing these with the client
  • researching costs and working within a budget
  • revising designs according to feedback from clients and other members of the design team
  • overseeing the production of the chosen design, checking the quality and making sure the project is completed to schedule.

Producing a display usually involves working with printers, exhibition contractors, plastics manufacturers and metal fabricators. The job could also involve arranging for the display to be transported to and from exhibitions, installed, dismantled and stored when not in use. Designers may liaise with suppliers of lighting, furniture, flower arrangements and other accessories.

Visual merchandisers create imaginative, eye-catching displays of goods in retail stores. They aim to attract the attention of customers and encourage them to buy. Their tasks can include:

  • researching lifestyle and design trends and making sure designs will appeal to the target audience
  • working with other members of the design, marketing and buying team to develop themes and colour schemes for displays - eg Christmas, St Valentine's Day, sales and special promotions
  • sketching designs and developing floor plans, making the most of the space available
  • taking direction from head office on corporate schemes
  • sourcing materials, such as props and lighting
  • installing and dismantling displays
  • preparing visual merchandising packs, including plans and photographs, for other stores in the chain, to make sure all displays present a consistent image
  • visiting branches to train and brief staff on arranging displays.

Hours and environment

Display designers and visual merchandisers usually work a standard number of hours each week. This may include evenings to set up displays when stores are closed and extra hours as deadlines approach. Part-time work is possible. Freelance work is common.

They could be based in design studios, at company head offices or design departments, or in retail stores.

Designing and arranging displays can involve standing, lifting, carrying and using ladders.

It may be necessary to travel to other branches of the company, suppliers' premises, exhibition halls and conference centres. A driving licence is useful and in some cases essential.

Salary and other benefits

These figures are only a guide, as actual rates of pay may vary, depending on the employer and where people live.

  • Salaries may start between £13,000 and £20,000 a year.
  • With experience this could rise to £27,000.
  • People in senior positions in large companies could earn £50,000, or more.

Staff working on a freelance basis tend to earn between £25 and £50 an hour.

Skills and personal qualities

A display designer or visual merchandiser should:

  • have a flair for design and colour
  • be creative and imaginative
  • have practical skills
  • understand a company's target markets and know how to appeal to them
  • be aware of current trends and activities in design, fashion and culture
  • have good communication skills to present ideas to others
  • be able to work to tight deadlines
  • be able to use large and small spaces effectively
  • be self-motivated
  • have technical drawing skills and, for some jobs, be able to use computer-aided design packages.

Interests

It is important to:

  • be interested in art and design
  • enjoy working creatively in a fast-moving environment.

Getting in

Display designers and visual merchandisers are employed in cities and large towns throughout the UK. Employers include:

  • design departments of large organisations
  • design consultancies
  • display companies
  • printers
  • exhibition contractors
  • retailers.

This is a comparatively small area of work, with keen competition for jobs. The number employed has remained fairly stable during the economic recession.

Vacancies may be advertised in local and national newspapers, in Jobcentre Plus offices and in specialist publications such as Design Week, Designer, Drapers and The Grocer. They may also be advertised on retail job websites such as www.inretail.co.uk and on employers' websites.

Entry routes

There are no set entry qualifications. Most employers look for applicants who have a relevant qualification and/or previous experience in design or retail. Useful qualifications include:

  • Higher Diploma and Advanced Diploma in retail business
  • British Display Society (BDS) General Certificate in display
  • BDS Advanced Diploma in retail display or point of sale design
  • BDS Distance Learning Certificate in display and visual merchandising
  • Levels 2 and 3 Diploma in fashion retail
  • Level 4 Diploma in visual merchandising
  • Foundation degree in visual merchandising and promotional design or in fashion retail branding and visual merchandising
  • Degree in a related subject, such as exhibition and retail design or fashion management and marketing.

Entry to degree courses is usually with at least two A levels and five GCSEs (A*-C) or equivalent qualifications. Foundation degree entry normally needs at least one A level or equivalent. Requirements for other courses vary, and candidates are advised to contact course providers for full details.

Some people enter this career through an Advanced Apprenticeship in retail (visual merchandising).

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer and, from August 2009, pay at least £95 per week. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available on the Apprenticeship page on this website, from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk

Training

Training may be on the job, combined with attending courses. It may be possible to work towards qualifications, including:

  • BDS Distance Learning Certificate in display and visual merchandising
  • Level 3 Award/Certificate/Diploma in retail (visual merchandising)
  • Level 4 Diploma in visual merchandising for retail.

Advanced Apprenticeships lead to a Level 3 Diploma in retail (in the management, visual merchandising or sales professional pathway) and a Level 3 Certificate in retail knowledge.

Getting on

Promotion can be to supervisor, head designer or merchandiser, and sometimes to department manager. Working overseas is a possibility for people working for multinational companies.

Some experienced display designers and visual merchandisers become self-employed by moving into freelance work or setting up their own business.

Further information

British Display Society (BDS), 24 South View Road, Benfleet, Essex SS7 5NA. 020 8856 2030. Website: www.britishdisplaysociety.co.uk

Skillsmart Retail, 4th Floor, 93 Newman Street, London W1T 3EZ. 020 7462 5060. Website: www.skillsmartretail.com

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0.

 

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