Richard D. James graduated in 1960 from Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, with a degree in Allied Arts and Design. He began his design career on the Fort Worth stage with a day job as an engineering illustrator at General Dynamics.

In 1964, James moved to California to work as an illustrator on the Apollo moon mission, a job with unexpected significance. He continued his work in the theater as a Scenic Designer at the Melody Land Theater in Anaheim, making the switch to television in 1965 as a Scenic Artist at NBC. Within three months, he was promoted to Assistant Art Director, and eight months later to full Art Director.

At NBC, Richard worked as Art Director/Production Designer on such shows as the long-running Let's Make a Deal, Days of Our Lives, The Jack Benny Special, The Dean Martin Show, The Tonight Show, numerous movies of the week, and Hallmark Hall Of Fame's "Elizabeth The Queen" starring Dame Judith Anderson and Charleton Heston. At other networks he designed many movies of the week, TV specials and commercials. His feature film credits include "The Beast," "Silkwood" and "Local Hero."

James' second space adventure came as Production Designer for the pilot of Battlestar Galactica, and he continued his extraterrestrial design with six seasons as Production Designer for Star Trek: The Next Generation, which garnered five Emmy nominations and the Emmy Award in 1990 for the episode "Sins of the Father." He went on to do the pilot for Star Trek: Voyager and stayed on for that show's entire seven-season run. From a design standpoint, James enjoys futuristic shows because "it's what I call total design, original design. It's whatever you can imagine or conceive that works with the story."