Production - Do you use proper Production Design?

Last updated by Tiago Araújo [SSW] almost 2 years ago.See history

When filming a scene it is always important to remember production design aspects. Production design is basically all of the things (excluding the people) that we see on screen. This includes wardrobe, set design, location, lights and props.

Overall, one should try and use as little colours as possible when designing a production. That doesn't mean use mainly tones, it means try and limit your colour palette to as few colours as possible. If you are creating corporate work try and include your company's colours.

So, for example, if you were creating a production for SSW, you would use black, white, red and bronze (the bronze refers to the colour of skin - this will almost always be involved in your colour palette). You might end up having to include another colour or two but you will find the less unnecessary colours you use the better. Try and apply this to every aspect of your production design.


Wardrobe refers to what people wear when they're on screen. Keep in mind the tone, genre, character and mood of your production when choosing clothing. Avoid distracting jewelry or accessories unless it adds to the character. Also avoid stripes; most cameras will produce an unnatural, unpleasant effect when filming them, so make sure your actor isn't wearing their favourite striped shirt! Text on clothing is also a bad idea, the viewer will try to read it instead of listening to what your actor's are saying.

Set Design

Creating a set for a production is a complex and tricky business but there are some basic ideas you can use to create appealing set design. First off try and design your set to reflect the theme of your production. So for example if you were creating a set for a software design talk show, you would probably want lots of metal and technical art, however if you were creating a set for a drama about a youth who's run away from home, you would want something dirty, dark and depressing to reflect the character's grim situation. Again, avoid stripes that are too close together. A general rule of thumb is that the stripes should be at least 5cm in width. Make sure that everything is safe and if there is construction to be done, hire a professional.

Bad set design example
Figure: Bad example - Dark wall on the side, boring wall in the middle, reflective surface with people passing behind, lack of depth.

good set example
Figure: Good example - Interesting background but not distracting, relevant furniture, set reflects theme of show


Location is similar to set design, only in this instance the aspects are mostly out of your control. You can certainly dress the set (see below) but at the end of the day there are some things that will be there no matter what. As such, choose your location carefully.

Things to consider are background, framing, sound and distractions. Is there a loud lecture theatre, highway or skate ramp next door? Is there a window on your set that's going to create a distracting reflection? Is there a boring, featureless wall in your background? Is there a line that appears to be passing straight through someone's head? Also avoid high contrast, such as a very dark wall next to the bright wall your subjects are in front of, or a large white spot on a black wall.

Figure: Good and Bad examples of filming locations


If you are working with a D.O.P. (Director of Photography) and/or your are lighting your scene, its a good idea to include lights as part of the production design (on the set). Don't include a bright light shining directly into the lens or anything, but a lamp can provide a good source of light to work with and create an interesting object in the frame.

Figure: Bad example - The light is far too bright in comparison to the rest of the shot.

Japan by dhatt1
Figure: Good example - These lights are diffused enough that the rest of the picture is clearly visible.


Props and set dressing are important; props are defined as objects in the script that we know before-hand that the subjects will interact with, set dressing is things that we add to a set to create content. When choosing what props should(n't) be on set it is important to ask yourself, is there a reason for this to be here? A can of coke for example will be ugly and distracting in most circumstances but a pot of flowers might be just the thing to give your scene that extra bit of life, or convey a caring sensitive side of your character.

If your subject needs to drink something while they're on camera, offer them a glass (its more visually pleasing). Look carefully at the frame and ask yourself, is there any camera equipment visible? Does that ugly mess of cables really need to be there? Does this scrap of paper or backpack need to be in the frame? If not, ditch it. If it adds value to the picture and doesn't distract, keep it.

Figure: Bad example - Too much clutter on the desk, unnecessary dirty bowl, loose sheets of paper, this would only work if you wanted to illustrate that the character is messy.

Props good example DSC 0017
Figure: Good example - Clear space, clear point of focus, minimal cables, only necessary items.

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