Stars Wars Design versus Star Trek Design

I hope this is an original theory/topic, but as designers (primarily industrial designers) I believe we can be divided into two groups regarding aesthetic principles or taste. Of course this is just a huge generalization, but I am also a little bored and just wanted to see if people ever thought about this or also have opinions on it.

There are the Star Wars Designers (which I think I belong to) and the Star Trek Designers. Technology in both these universes is very far ahead of what we have now, one obviously more fantasy/magic based in a galaxy far far away, but science fiction genre related at any rate. While the other is based off of humans from Earth in the galaxy we know just several centuries ahead of us in time.

I do not care which one you watched more of or a bigger fan of (technically I know more about the Star Trek Universe,but prefer designs in Star Wars), just which one connects to your tastes as a designer currently.
So which camp do you think you can align yourself with?


So what exactly defines both categories on a more broad, generalized design view?

I mean, you outlined their differences on the literal scale, but you claim designers can be separated into these 2 categories so I assume the differences can be transposed to other aspects of design? I mean, I doubt me saying I’m in the Star Wars clan means I like designing magical things using the Force.

hmm, right off the top of my head I think I associated/generalized

Star Trek: Function over form (not always of course) /More Technical Brilliance/Efficient/Colder Design/harder lines/ monochromatic/ mainstream (designs appeal to a greater audience, but become forgetful)/ less iconic

Star Wars: Form over Function (not always of course)/Unquantifiable(sp) beauty/ swoopy/curvy/colorful/ fluff/ against the grain design (more design that is love it or hate it/ more iconic

There are just things that come to my mind, but everyone will think differently of course and that is why i wanted to ask this question.

Both series (Universes/ Canon/ Expanded/ reboots etc.) are getting too big for a polar argument, but focusing on the original Star Trek series, compared to the original Star Wars movies (specifically the 1977 original), they are very much products of their time.
These are rough generalisations but my take is:

Star Trek: 1960’s optimism, space race, civil rights movement, post war economic boom - clean 1960’s ‘mod’ look

Star Wars: 1970’s pessimism, stagflation, ‘post-Altamont’ - the dirty ‘used universe’ look

You can also look at how films/TV react to what came before. “Dark Star” was the dirty used look before Star Wars, as a reaction to “2001”'s really clean aesthetic, and “Alien” sort of did both but with an odd Aztec/ HR Gieger look. Plus the fashions and technology of the day have a big influence too: everyone in the Gil Gerard “Buck Rogers” looks like they are coming home or going to Studio 54, “Logans Run” was shot in a shopping mall which at the time was the height of modernity. Dr. Who looks like what the BBC props department could afford at the time (look at the bubble wrap aliens of “The Ark in Space”- said to be a big influence on “Alien”).

and regardless of what you think of the Star Wars prequels, the production design was an attempt to set it 20-30 years before the original movies, so spaceships evoke big finned chromed cadillacs, compared to the dented and primered 70’s muscle car look.

Interestingly both are Northern California based, in real life and in fiction. I read something recently that if a movie wants to show the future as an optimistic utopia, it’s based in San Francisco. The future of an apocalyptic/ post-apocalyptic dystopia is Los Angeles or New York.

Clearly Star Wars is for rockstars and Star Trek id for dweebs… unless we are talking about JJ Abrams Star Trek, which is awesome. :slight_smile:

Hm, I’d say you got those reversed mroh11. Star Trek is very much about form over function, with swoopy, curvy starships, clean lines, and ornate objects. Star Wars is very utilitarian (at least, the old ones are) - rough ships with piping and tubes stuck on the sides, giving them a very “whatever works” feel, at least to me.

I’m going to have to agree with Mr. Vantage.

Original series Star Trek was very much black-box technology, especially for the time it came out. Even Uhura’s ear dongle was sleek magic. Whereas original Star Wars (4-6) was a kluge of things coming together. Mark Hamill really pressing that button to turn off his light saber, why can’t he use his Jedi skills to turn the damn thing on and off. Same with Obi-Wan.

But back to the OP, which team? I also disagree with being a fanboy not having an effect of which team. I am too young to have seen the original Star trek, but in grade school, they ran repeats from 4-5, 5-days a week. I have seen every episode at least a dozen times and at one point, I could recognize the episode within the first 10 seconds of the show. But then the summer after 5th grade, the greatest thing in my life occurred, Star Wars. For 3 weekends straight, I would go to the noon showing and stick around for the 2 and 4 before going home for dinner.

So call me a geek, both are great and I won’t compare apples to oranges.

You just blew my mind. I never thought of that.

I agree. The original Star Wars was much more functional. Even the Empire’s stuff looked like naval battle ships, very brutal and functionalist. The idea that futuristic things would look old and worn was a game changer. It wouldn’t be futuristic to the characters in the movie, it would just be the stuff they used and abused. The idea that the light saber was ancient technology to them, yet so futuristic to the viewer was a really nice twist.

Star Trek technology + put a glowing pontoon on it and it floats. :slight_smile: I always thought of Star Trek as more idealistic and simple. The “good” Federation vs the “bad” Klingons. Star Wars seemed more nuanced. Was Vader a bad guy, or a good guy? Was Boba Fett a bad guy, he was just doing a job he was hired to do. Was Han Solo a good guy?

Phasers vs Blasters, pick one.

I love how unashamedly nerdy this is going to get.

It’s pretty simple.

Star Wars = Engineering design. Like NASA?Military, functional, but not aesthetically considered, except when it comes to some more “consumer” products such as Art Deco-ish C3PO and the land speeder that is very 50’s car-like".

Star Trek (moreso TNG and beyond) = ID design. Consideration for usability and aesthetics, UI/UX, some sort of unifying creative direction by species (ie. Federation stuff has a specific look, different than Klingon).


Blaster. No doubt.

If I am going up against Boba Fett or a Romulan, I need some intimidation factor. A phaser is for an 8-year-old. Especially that palm-held one that looks like a worn stone. How do you aim that thing?

I’m a Star Trek fan, but blaster, definitely. Phasers in Star Trek always struck me as something that someone who didn’t know what a gun did was asked to make a gun.

That being said, the new Star Trek’s phaser pistols are pretty cool - love the little flip switch thing when it changes between stun and lethal.

Also, interesting fact for those who don’t know: Star Wars originated the term “Greeble”:

“A greeble or nurnie is a fine detailing added to the surface of a larger object that makes it appear more complex, and therefore more visually interesting. It usually gives the audience an impression of increased scale. The detail can be made from simple geometric primitives (such as cylinders, cubes, and rectangles), or more complex shapes, such as pieces of machinery (sprockets, cables, tanks). Greebles are often present on models or drawings of fictional spacecraft or architectural constructs in science fiction and is used in the movie industry (special effects).”

I love how unashamedly nerdy this is ftfy


Figured I’d actually add something to the conversation-

In response to a few thoughts posted, I guess my initial thoughts were too quickly drawn. I can see how I got it backwards. With Star Trek, I am most familiar with Voyager (did not know this one was so hated), Deep Space Nine, then the Next Generation. The original series is quite a bit older than I so of course I have the least knowledge of that one. With Star Wars, I guess I included too much of the newer episodes over the original trilogy.

In regards to just general feel, I always thought the Star Wars universe was warmer or less stale than Star Trek for whatever reason. In terms of just space ship design, I always liked Star Wars designs over Star Trek, although it is pretty close. I could never choose between a Star Destroyer or a Romulan War Bird.

Also, I always thought it was funny how two opposite basic geometric shapes could become so iconic from these series as well,


I have a softer spot for the Death Star though.

Plus the ID sketches for Star Wars (the originals) by Joe Johnston are amazing.

Interesting timing of this topic for me.

Vaguely related…

See some of the original Star Wars models, costumes and related items, and a full size Millennium Falcon cockpit replica, along with learning and trying your hand some science and technology, this final weekend at The Tech museum (after touring for 8 years).

This was one of the best traveling exhibits I helped develop with a great team (which includes everyone who helped) who I shared an unforgettable, amazing, tiring, almost killed me development experience.

It will be very interesting this weekend to walk into the exhibit 8 yrs later.

Yo I think there also was another series of books by joe johnson Star Wars sketchbook, Empire Strikes back sketch book and return of the jedi sketchbooks as well as the art of starwars books.

Oh man, gonna have to fully nerd out on this when I have the time…

It’s interesting the different design that came out of each. A big part of it I think was budget. Like iab was mentioning about Uhura’s bluetooth earpiece, there was a lot of imagination in Star Trek, because they probably didn’t have the time and money to fully flush out the details (I love that they didn’t flush everything out). Like how Dr. McCoy’s medical gadgets were just turned pieces of metal, not really a clear function:

Star Wars approached the budget issue by using old German WWII Mauser’s as guns (Han Solo’s blaster) and kit-bashing old battleship models to make things like the Star Destroyers, which led to a completely different look.

Again with iab, it is very hard to pick the design of either without letting one’s favorite franchise come into play. Like Star Wars has the original and sequel timeframes, Trek is a lot different between each series, though I do like the 60s and 80s designs the best.

I do have to be that guy and go with phasers on this one. Besides all the settings, they could even vaporize a whole cave wall (when the script required it). Whereas Princess Leia is fine when she gets hit!

Trek design does have Wesley Crusher’s sweater going against it, but maybe this style will be popular soon.

Awesome sounding exhibit WSMI!

Great topic

I believe a long long time ago in a thread far far away this link was posted:

a comparison/analogy of Star Wars to minimalism and Kubrick’s 2001 Space Odyssey to modernism

Also, the original Star Trek got so many things right about future things and objects because they used the Rand Corp as a consultant, specifically Harvey Lynn
Harvey P. Lynn | Memory Alpha | Fandom.

Roddenberry had a military background and worked for the LAPD before going into TV.

whereas Lucas went thru film school and the independent 70s film scene and was coming at it from an entirely different direction.

This approach wasn’t just driven by budget. Many of the themes and characters were influenced in one way or another by the second world war. Darth’s helmet is a clear interpretation of German helmets used in WW1 and 2. And, somehow the Empire hired Hugo Boss to design their officer’s uniforms as well. Fett’s blaster was built on top of an old turn of the century British flare gun though I believe.

I gotta go with blasters on this, and Star Wars in general. As far as phasers go I think their design is a very appropriate representation of what a weapon developed by a Utopian society would look like.

Bonus: Vasquez’s machine gun in Aliens was built on top of a German WW2 MG42, which consequently was the benchmark for development of the U.S. M60.

On a related note, the trailer for “Jodorowsky’s Dune” shows a whole heap of production design that didn’t happen, but sowed the seed for a lot of subsequent films: