Editor’s note: This is the first in a new series on MegayachtNews.com we’re calling the Superyacht 101 Series. For an explanation as to why we launched it, see “Introducing the Superyacht 101 Series.” The article below leads you through the process of what it’s like to work with a designer, with helpful advice on making the relationship a success for both of you. Future Superyacht 101 Series articles will provide details on choosing a shipyard, working with a maritime attorney, hiring captains and crew, and more.
Does the superyacht ownership process have to start with a designer? No. Plenty of buyers successfully go straight to a shipyard. Yet, there are merits to commissioning a design first. To gain more insight, I visited Vripack in The Netherlands. Vripack is a well-respected, multi-disciplined studio. It has a safety and performance division, for example, comprised of six naval architects focusing on stability, speed, and related parameters. It also has a construction and engineering department well versed in regulatory requirements, plus an interior design department. Each plays an integral role in the process. Over two intense days with Vripack, which was as much a test for me as it was for their team, I came away with the following advice:
Hire a proven designer. Seems silly to have to say it. But, when it comes to emotionally driven decisions like commissioning a design, reason can fall to the wayside. Recent years have seen a flood of concepts come from young designers aiming for the top. Even established designers from other industries are trying to make inroads. Their collective creativity is refreshing. However, few of them understand how yachts are engineered. They sometimes don’t take into account that piping and wiring runs must co-exist with creature comforts. In other cases, they alarmingly don’t consider basic principles of stability. I know of too many stories where a buyer fell in love with a design, only to learn the hard way it couldn’t be built. Commissioning a design therefore from a studio experienced in superyachts is the way to go. You can learn who’s highly sought after in speaking with current yacht owners. Checking the pages of leading media, including our own Megayacht Designer Directory, also helps.
Communicate in pictures and in words. Your definition of “contemporary” or “classic” may not be the same as the designer’s. In commissioning your design, reference specific superyachts that suit your taste. If you love old sports cars, or the works of a renowned artist, mention those, too. Even collect magazine clippings and photos from the Web in a folder, and hand them to the designers. That’s what I did when I worked with Vripack to design my own superyacht. The Vripack team finds these helpful beyond just understanding the physical style you like. It yields insight into your personality. And at the end of the day, commissioning a design is only successful if it suits how you like to live.
Trust proven designers to know proven shipyards. You can certainly research the most sought-after shipyards similar to how you discover top designers. However, there may be nuances about the type of yacht you want that better suit one yard versus another. Experienced design studios know who can best address these nuances and steer you in the right direction. Vripack has made recommendations to a number of its clients, in fact. It’s in their (and other studios’) best interest.
Present challenges. As mentioned above, I spent just two days at Vripack—far less time than most owners do in commissioning a design. Marnix Hoekstra, co-director of Vripack, says it was a good challenge. “With designing your yacht in just two days, you basically asked us to think in a really small box, and with that you enforced the power of constraints on us. People tell you to ‘think outside the box’…however, the truth is, to be really innovative, you need to start thinking in a really small box.” He adds, “If you give a design team a hard problem together with unlimited resources, they’ll most likely take the route to the solution they know. They’ll spend a ton of time and money pending in a vain effort to avoid failure. It’s basic human nature. But, when you ask the same design team to deliver 10 times performance and with seriously limited resources like a tenth of the budget or time, it forces invention and drives innovation. Because you can only do two things: One, say it’s crazy and we don’t normally do it like that, or two, be a brave soul and dive in head first. Ask how it can be done and work from a complete new perspective.”
Admit you don’t know, and ask questions—lots of questions. “I don’t know” is not just acceptable to say, it’s imperative. You can’t possibly know everything about every piece of machinery that goes onboard, for example. And no one expects you to, either. Put your ego aside, and when you don’t have an answer, either request time to think it over or solicit the design team’s input. Or both. (Besides, professionals know when you’re b.s.-ing them.)