Use The Jefferies Tube: Why Star Trek Is Still Influencing Design and Our Future

by Randy Murray on August 30, 2011

On the wall beside my desk I’ve hung a framed sheet of paper from a three-ring binder. From a few feet away it looks like a piece of abstract art, but up close you can tell it’s a hand drawn design. It’s hand labeled “INT. DINING RM. 071″  and it has all of the signs of a master draftsman and a sparse, economical beauty. It’s a set design, and signed by the designer, Matt Jefferies.

You may have never heard of this man. He passed away in 2003. But he personally designed many of the things that you take for granted in daily life.

Who was he? He was one of the key designers for the original Star Trek.

He’s the man who designed the iconic starship. He’s the one who designed the bridge and all of those wonderful panels that you could remove to get in and fix things. Jefferies had flown bombers in World War II and knew big, complex machines. He designed the Enterprise so it could be operated by real people, fixed by real people. They’re designing the bridges of real ships today based upon his designs.

My sketch is his set design for the episode “Whom Gods Destroy.” I bought it at an auction years ago. I didn’t pay much for it. It’s just a signed sketch out of Matt’s notebook, but to me, it’s a thing of beauty and a reminder of the power of great design.

Star Trek was a success as TV scifi in large part because of how it looked, how the Star Trek universe felt plausible, workable, and so very cool. Most of us now walk around with communicators, carry PADD-like tablets, work with computers without thinking much about it, and use little plastic and metal chips to carry around vast amounts of data. Matt Jefferies and other Trek designers thought not just about the requirements of the story in front of them, but about how they might use specific tools, how real people sometimes need to get jobs done.

Today’s scientists and designers have been watching Star Trek for almost fifty years. And Matt’s designs are never far out of mind. No, we don’t have warp drive and phasers, yet, but I’m betting that when we do, they’ll look pretty much like what Matt designed. Yes, in part because we want them to look like they did on Star Trek, but also because he and the other designers got it right.

Bonus! More from Matt Jefferies Star Trek (The Original Series) sketchbooks.

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