Essential On The Go Tools for Production Designers

To accompany our current Forum question - "What Items are in your Design Tool Kit?" - we collected ideas and tips from fellow production designers who shared their favorite items.

Bellow are some suggestions to take on your next design adventure!


The first item a production designer needs is a container for one's thoughts. It can be a plain notebook, a sketchbook or a digital surface, but the common point is that thoughts tend to evaporate unless noted.

Size and material varies, and nowadays many production designers opt for a cloud-based app for the ease of sharing their notes with others.

However, the notebook's best feature is its ability to develop a dialogue with the note-taker. As production designers, we go through a layered creative process, and documenting its many stages helps us progress in the right direction. It's a safe space to record passing thoughts, failed experiments and unrealized designs. All are part of the discovery process that will eventually lead to a finished set.

A notebook is also essential for capturing the myriad directives, comments and observations made by the director and other collaborators, which the designer is expect to remember and in turn incorporate into the design.

The notebook can contain long lists, taped business cards, clipped samples and the ubiquitous doodles only decipherable to the designer. At its best, it is a beautiful collage of creativity and exploration, a memento of our design process that will last long after the project is over.

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Nowadays, humanity doesn't leave the house without its phone. It follows that production designers should utilize the device in their design process. The possibilities are endless, so we will only mention a few on-the-go benefits: communicating with crew, reading emails, taking notes, photographing and photo-editing, measuring, mapping, accessing online files and watching set monitors.

It's always recommended to search for and try out new apps on the job, so you can evaluate their real-time efficiency and prioritize the essential ones.

Using one's smartphone for work also means hours of screen-time, which has negative effects on health and well-being. The more we multi-task on the device, the worse the side-effects. It is important to monitor screen-time usage and implement time away from the device, which increases creativity and a balanced lifestyle. Remember that films were made many decades before smartphones, so there are always alternatives to using it.

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​​The tablet can be seen as a mixture between a laptop and a smartphone. While mostly sharing the same apps with the phone, the tablet's large screen is often more effective when it comes to visual communication, which is so important in our profession. lighter and smaller than a laptop, its compact nature makes it a convenient companion on the road.

The tablet's ability to function as a digital sketchbook has made it a favorite among designers. Using a stylus, designing with interactive design apps and sharing immediately with your team can help make the design process faster, clearer and more precise, especially on-the-go.

To discover the tablet's creative potential, find time to use it outside of work. Many apps allow for drawing, painting, tracing and illustrating, but their virtual tools need to be practiced just like real brushes, pencils and rulers. Don't expect skills to develop faster just because you're working digitally - learning any new method requires time and focus.

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Production Designers are first and foremost visual people. We look at the world around us and see infinite possibilities, from the smallest details to the most epic landscapes. However, we also move at neck-breaking speed from one location to another, juggling tasks and projects, so we need to register our visual encounters before they fade completely from our retina.

Whether you use a smartphone camera, a digital camera, an SLR or an instant camera, the goal is always to document and store everything you encounter that can be helpful to you in your design process.