Production design is the creation and organization of the physical world surrounding a film story. The term was coined by producer David O. Selznick (1902–1965) to describe the greater-than-normal contribution of designer William Cameron Menzies (1896–1957) to Gone with the Wind (1939), but the exact responsibilities of a production designer inevitably vary from film to film. In some cases, the production designer is almost completely responsible for the overall look of a film; in others, particularly when working with directors with strong visual styles, a designer's contribution tends to be much more limited. Art direction and production design often overlap, although credit for production design is seen as more inclusive. During the studio era, production designers, as opposed to art directors, were the exception.
The production designer's primary, though by no means exclusive, responsibility is the design of the sets. Exact responsibility varies from one film industry to another. In the United States, for example, production design and costume design are usually two separate professions. In other major film industries, the two responsibilities are often held by a single person. Before designing anything, the designer develops a "design concept," an overarching metaphor for the film's appearance that governs individual choices. This "concept" may or may not be established in conjunction with the director. Once settled upon, however, it structures all decisions made, helping the art staff to give an individual film visual distinction.