What is Production Design? 

The production design is a form of art. It is the art of bringing people together and curating a space that expresses the essence of the film’s theme. Production designers are primarily responsible for the design of the film set. There is work that can be compared to that of creatively designed spaces. 

Production Design: Everything You Need to Know - Sheet1
Set design of “Dune” _©Backstage.com

The production designer works with the art director, writer, and various artists to bring the set’s design to life. They often wear multiple hats, from generating ideas and research work to assembling the whole set. 

The production designer handles the art department and exercises the role of the director. The designer closely works together with the heads of various departments, along with the DOP (Director of Photography). 

The art department comprises a vast team. Apart from the production designer, art director and coordinator, there are several team members that make up the team. Set designers, props masters,art department assistants play a crucial role in the project’s success. 

One of the major roles of the designer is to coordinate the visuals of the film in parallel to the film script. Both of them need to complement each other. 

The visuals of the film consists of:

  • Set and location design
  • Costume, makeup and props of various kinds
  • Mood, ambience, and color scheme / tone
  • Lighting and special effects

The production designer works in collaboration with the visual team to finalize these visuals. The visual department creates sketches, mood boards, visual charts and statistics for the different types of visuals. To avoid mishaps, the team overlooks the film through a monitor. This helps to spot issues during the production and is time effective. 

Production Design: Everything You Need to Know - Sheet2
Designer Tamara Deverell on the set of “Nightmare Alley” _©Backstage.com
Set design of “Black Panther” _©Backstage.com

Timeline | Production Design

The process starts with the conceptual stage, which revolves around generating ideas. The production designer works closely with the director. The director guides the designer and shares several details to execute the overall design. 

The creation and production of several prototypes follow this. The project’s style, theme, mood, and colors are considered before this step. This also revolves around sketching, making miniature and life-sized models, and composing color palettes and mood boards to bring the final project to perfection. On large-scale projects, a concept artist is also brought on board.

Colour Palette of The Grand Budapest Hotel _©freelancevideocollective.com

Location is one of the significant aspects of the production process. The team discusses the type of materials, various locations, and personalities of all the characters. Accordingly, the crew will arrange and assemble the selected materials, and the construction of the set will begin. Often, some of the already constructed sets are used with some suitable changes. The construction method and style of the film are two of the significant aspects of the project. 

Set design of “The Northman” _©Backstage.com
Set design of “The Northman” _©Backstage.com

Once the project reaches its final stages, the designers assign the roles to the crew members. The film’s construction begins with the architect and draughtsmen’s blueprint. This is followed by placing furnishing sets and fixtures, artwork, and accessories. The styling of the space is done in this phase. A team of landscape designers is brought in when installing plants and vegetation. Moving on, the project is completed by adding finishing touches and details. This is to enhance the whole look and feel of the project. The backstage team and crew members always have to be prepared for any last-minute change and take immediate action to solve the problem creatively. 

Set design of “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood” _©Backstage.com

Features of good production design 

The story should have a particular style and tone to it. The characters, the location, the type of props used, and the lighting should complement the style of the story. The materials form a significant part of the set and should be within the budget. A sustainable and budget-friendly option is to reuse and upcycle materials and props with no or minimal changes. Renting can be an alternative. 

Location is one of the key aspects of production design. The set can be a real-world location or a customized set design can be set up. Both the options have advantages and disadvantages. The former is cheaper and takes minimal time to set it up. However, it can be less accessible for the artists and crew members. It also creates environmental issues such as outdoor noise. The latter is quite expensive as sometimes the set is designed and built for scratch. Though, it facilitates greater control and privacy for its users. It can also be reused in the future. The key is to choose the option through a conscious decision. 

Customizing of props in set design _©scad.edu
Customizing of props in set design _©scad.edu

The set design and visuals should appear as authentic as possible to build a connection with the viewers. The visuals and graphics should be well-composed and appear realistic to the audience. This will further enhance the project’s success. For instance, in “Lord of the Rings,” the production designer Grant Major used props such as weapons, architectural sets, and prosthetics that were whimsical yet believable. 

The team has to create a roadmap together to avoid miscommunications and facilitate the smooth functioning of the different stages ofdesign. In case of confusions and loss of focus, the roadmap acts as a blueprint and guides the crew to find the solution and move forward according to the character and theme of the project. 

The production designer must be optimistic and bold enough to take risks. The designer and the crew must be prepared for last-minute changes and have a flexible approach. Staying organized is equally essential; labeling all materials and keeping them in good order is a time-effective approach to smoothing the whole process. 

Set design of “Inception” _©Backstage.com
Set design of “Inception” _©Backstage.com


The production design should communicate well with its audience. The production designer has a huge role to play and should translate the script’s theme and character into the set’s design and props. One of the cornerstones of it is mood. What emotion is associated with the project? Happy? Sad? Thrilling? Comedy? The design of the set should reflect the same mood. Character is another crucial feature that is considered in the design phase. The character of the set should complement the characters of the protagonists and other artists. In addition, the story’s theme should be revealed through the project’s design, the set’s design, and the type of props used. 

Set design of The Grand Budapest Hotel _©freelancevideocollective.com
Set design of The Grand Budapest Hotel _©freelancevideocollective.com

Images / Visual Mediums

Image Name : Set design of “Dune”

Image Number : 1

URL : https://www.backstage.com/magazine/article/what-is-production-design-75402/

Image Name : Designer Tamara Deverell on the set of “Nightmare Alley”

Image Number : 2

URL : https://www.backstage.com/magazine/article/what-is-production-design-75402/

Image Name : Set design of “Black Panther”

Image Number : 3

URL : https://www.backstage.com/magazine/article/what-is-production-design-75402/

Image Name : Colour Palette of The Grand Budapest Hotel

Image Number : 4

URL : https://www.freelancevideocollective.com/job-roles/production-designer/

Image Name : Set design of “The Northman”

Image Number : 5

URL : https://www.backstage.com/magazine/article/what-is-production-design-75402/

Image Name : Set design of “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood”

Image Number : 6

URL : https://www.backstage.com/magazine/article/what-is-production-design-75402/

Image Name : Customizing of props in set design

Image Number : 7

URL : https://www.scad.edu/academics/programs/production-design

Image Name : Set design of “Inception”

Image Number : 8

URL : https://www.backstage.com/magazine/article/what-is-production-design-75402/

Image Name : Set design of The Grand Budapest Hotel

Image Number : 9

URL : https://www.freelancevideocollective.com/job-roles/production-designer/


What is production design? everything you need to know – backstage (no date). Available at: https://www.backstage.com/magazine/article/what-is-production-design-75402/ (Accessed: November 21, 2022).

Filmmaking techniques: How to improve production design for your story (2020) StudioBinder. Available at: https://www.studiobinder.com/filmmaking-techniques-production-design-tips/ (Accessed: November 21, 2022).

Production design (no date) SCAD.edu. Available at: https://www.scad.edu/academics/programs/production-design (Accessed: December 3, 2022).

Production designer (2022) Video Collective®. Available at: https://www.freelancevideocollective.com/job-roles/production-designer/ (Accessed: December 3, 2022).


Mahima Aswani is an architect and designer, who has worked on ambitious projects such as the Iraq Pavilion for Expo 2020 and high-end residential and commercial projects. Mahima’s thesis project, Goodbye Slumbai won the Community Design Award in the Senior Thesis Showcase at AUD, Dubai and was published in Dezeen magazine in 2021.