Andrew Probert’s first job as senior illustrator on Star Trek: The Next Generation was to provide concepts for the design of the new bridge.
An early writers’ bible described the bridge as combining “the features of ship control, briefing room, information retrieval area and officers wardroom. In other words, much the same kinds of things happen here as in the old bridge, but with less emphassis on the mechanics of steering the starship.”
This approach inspired the presence of couches and even a conference table on the bridge in early sketches.
The couches were Probert’s idea, “to provide more face-to-face conference environment.” But he didn’t care much for the table, which was the producers’ idea. It didn’t make sense “to furnish a table where everyone would gather to discuss their situations” on the bridge, he told Forgotten Trek in 2005.
Compared to the old bridge, the Enterprise-D’s featured fewer monitoring stations, “and the ones that were there were placed in a less important position at the back.” This was meant to give the bridge a more sophisticated appearance. A century was supposed to have passed since the events of the original Star Trek. In order to show that technology had advanced, the new Enterprise would be controlled by fewer people.
Gene [Roddenberry] really wanted the ship run by only the “Conn” and “Ops” positions, forward, with a bridge officer in charge… a total of three people.
In the event of a crisis, Probert explained, “more people would report to their rear bridge stations.” But this was seldom shown on screen.
The standing set for the Enterprise bridge was erected on Paramount’s Stage 8. During the first season, the bridge and officers’ quarters were the only Star Trek sets on that stage. Ten Forward was added the next year, as was a separate observation lounge set. Previously, sickbay had constantly been redressed to double as observation lounge.
Note that, contrary to the in-series configuration, the lounge was actually next to, as opposed to behind, the bridge. This layout prevented continuous scenes between the two.
Several changes were made to the set during the seven-year run of The Next Generation. Notably, the small seats in the command area changed several times, the Conn and Ops stations were aligned differently and the carpeting was replaced. Tadeo O’Oria and Bernd Schneider have kept track of all the changes at Ex Astris Scientia.
For Star Trek Generations, Production Designer Herman Zimmerman and Art Director Sandy Veneziano darkened the set’s colors and added more tones to its palette. They also chose richer textures.
According to John Eaves, who was invited to the Generations art team by Zimmerman, the idea was to make the bridge appear more functional. “To accomplish that,” he writes in Star Trek: The Next Generation Sketchbook, The Movies (1998), “we raised the captain’s chair slightly (symbolically putting his authourity higher than those sitting in the two chairs flanking him).”
For functionality, we also split the ramps on either side of the command center. We still had a ramp going down, but added two elevated stations, one against either wall, where crew members could work. We also replaced an alcove filled with lockers and storage panels with a new graphics station.
“At one point,” Eaves recalls, we had added some new standup stations behind the captain’s chair, where Worf works.” They liked the design, but it would have been too much of a change from the television series.
Sources for this story include: John Eaves and J.M. Dillard, Star Trek: The Next Generation Sketchbook, The Movies (1998) and Tadeo D’Oria and Bernd Schneider, “The Evolution of the Enterprise-D Bridge,” Ex Astris Scientia