When it came time to design a new Starship Enterprise for The Next Generation, history did not repeat itself. Where Matt Jefferies had produced hundreds of sketches to come up with the design direction for the original Enterprise, Andrew Probert already had a basic formula from which his design would evolve and his main design work for the new Enterprise was even already done before his job started.
Before the series was announced, Andrew Probert painted an illustration of a future starship concept, strictly for his own enjoyment. When he went to work on the Paramount lot to design the new Enterprise, he brought that painting with him as inspiration and hung it on his office wall. Inspired by the design, Probert produced a more streamlined design direction. David Gerrold, story editor on The Next Generation took this design to Gene Roddenberry who approved its design direction on the spot. All that remained was fine tuning and filling in the details.
Probert explains how he had departed from the original Enterprise in his initial design. Knowing that the new series was to be set almost a hundred years hence, he felt that the new vessel should be faster and probably sleeker. “The saucer had, since its inception, been the main section, so I made it larger in proportion to the secondary or engineering hull.”
In previous designs the warp nacelles were always to the rear but above the saucer rim, which visually seemed to give them equal importance and physically placed them above the ship’s center of mass. Both of these seemed to be negative points, which I hoped to remedy by lowering them to a position between the two hull sections. This would place them closer to the ship’s center of mass.
Also the struts holding the saucer and warp engines were slanted in opposite directions; the saucer is going forward, engines going back. That wasn’t bad but it created a slight visual conflict, so I slanted them all forward to unify their direction and give the overall design a feeling of aggressive forward movement, like a lunging cat. The view from the front of the old ship produced a variety of shapes. I took my design theme from the saucer and started sketching every component as a compressed oval.
Probert’s final design had very short nacelles because he wanted to indicate that stardrive technology had become more powerful. Roddenberry, however, was not comfortable with it. Because he was used to the huge warp engines from the original series, Probert’s engines seemed underpowered to him. “I made them a little longer,” Probert explains, “as I could because if you look at that side view there’s an echoing of shapes.
I’m going from the saucer dorsal curving forward into the saucer and then I was going from the pylons curving forward into the nacelles. They are at the same angle.
My whole intent on this ship was to unify all of those shapes; I wanted to give it a forward lunge for the saucer and a forward lunge for the engines, but Gene still wanted the engines to extend out the back as well.
Roddenberry’s only other change was to put the bridge back on top of the saucer, as it had been in the original Star Trek.
From Garfield, Judith Reeves-Stevens, The Art of Star Trek (1995)