SMC Design had a huge scope when it came to Saga Cruises’ newbuild. The team provides insight into the design details and explains the strategy and ethos of the company
SMC Design is involved in a wide range of innovative cruise projects, spanning MSC’s first private island and taking complete control of the design, artwork, branding and delivery of Saga Cruises’ Spirit of Discovery newbuild.
The 30-year-old company is constantly expanding and investing, crucial not only due to fierce competition when it comes to cruise design, but also because of its determination to go above and beyond what the client expects. SMC Design director Andrew Brown explains “We do not just meet the brief – we strive to give more than what is due. We have to surprise our clients and deliver beyond their expectations. And this has to be followed through with quality design and quality service.”
To this end, SMC Design is focused on bringing in the best designers. Mr Brown says “We have really invested in people. We obviously need to maintain the highest possible standards in design, and we need to make sure that every project is better than the last. We are investing in designers and improving our processes, hardware and software.”
Mr Brown joined the company in 2012. Previously he designed land-based luxury resorts in the Middle East. “Since I joined, we have grown rapidly and we have kept pace as we have got bigger, we have improved the manner in which we work and our operations.” To this end the company is looking into new technology, including working more with building information modelling (often referred to as BIM), and so bringing the 3D element more and more into the design and co-ordination of every project.
Mr Brown says the benefits of this include greater levels of clarity and visibility for both clients and SMC Design. An advantage is that it allows cruise ship operators to see when refurbishment is needed in the future by building in data to give the lifespan of furnishings and furniture.
He adds “It does improve the quality of our design work as it is all about control. You can have the best ideas in the world, but the more control we have, the more effective we are at delivering the best possible project.”
When it comes to the actual design, Mr Brown says SMC Design tries not to be “restricted by following a particular trend as they have a lifespan”. Rather, the company aims to create timeless designs that endure.
There is one major trend that can be seen though, and this is the move towards using sustainable products. “I would like to see more emphasis on LEED-accredited materials,” says Mr Brown, explaining that this is a US organisation that uses an accreditation for environmentally sustainable materials.
There are however challenges. Mr Brown says “I would like to see a trinity of IMO-certified, LEED-accredited and the right price point materials out there. Two of these we can reach easily (price point and being IMO-certified). Finding the sustainable component is the challenge.” This is what SMC Design aspires towards.
SMC Design has worked across a huge range of cruise projects, but one it is particularly excited about is designing MSC Cruises’ private island – a first for both SMC Design and the cruise company.
SMC Design associate Mike Abbott sums up the design ethos. “It is a sanctuary and includes relaxation, entertainment and MSC’s marine foundation.” He singles out the latter as being of particular importance. “It is about ecological impact and engaging guests in a more immersive way. Key to the brand of MSC Cruises is family and experiences have to be authentic. This has been applied to the island, and there is a genuine desire to improve the world with the marine foundation.”
Enter Spirit of Discovery
Saga Cruises’ Spirit of Discovery has also been a recent stand-out project for SMC Design. The scope of the project was large and varied, including the interior design of all public areas and cabins, the exterior styling, the curating and commissioning of the whole art collection (by the inhouse SMC Art Consultancy) and the branding and wayfinding solutions on board.
Senior designer and project manager Ben Wilson goes onto to explain that “having this amount of scope on the ship was a fantastic opportunity for us to deliver the luxury boutique hotel product that our client desired, while being able to control all disciplines of the design process inhouse.”
Dubbed a British contemporary classic, Mr Wilson goes on to describe that “the detailing that ran through common spaces of the hotel provided a solid base of familiarity for us to then elaborate on the other design elements within the room such as furniture, lighting and artwork. These items then provided distinction and character to the hotel spaces.”
Familiarity was an important aspect of the design process. “Being their first newbuild cruise ship, it was crucial that it retained a small ship feel for guests who were to migrate from the smaller Saga Sapphire and Saga Pearl II.”
To do this, senior designer and project manager Liz Richardson explains that “passengers were involved throughout the whole design process in the form of focus groups. They were able to comment on some of the design concepts, sample restaurant menus and even visit the cabin mock-ups. Working with these focus groups then made the experience of design very personal.”
SMC Design was also responsible for the curation of the art collection on board Spirit of Discovery. Senior art consultant Emmie Ratter says “We came up with a narrative that tied the whole artwork story together, which was a celebration of British artists and landscapes of Great Britain. Saga responded well to this brief, as it was more than just a concept that worked in a particular area or region, it was about different artists, their backgrounds and the stories they told through their art.”
The variety of media used was a feature of this collection also, as Ms Ratter explains that “the craft of the hand was an important aspect for the artists to consider in the expression of their pieces.” SMC also created an art catalogue that can be used by guests to take a tour of the art around the ship.
Some of the art collection took direct inspiration for the exterior styling and profiling SMC were responsible for. The most literal example can be found in The Britannia Lounge where, upon visiting the ship in-situ at the shipyard, artist Kate Jackson used her experience in screen printing to create alternative views of the ship’s exterior. Continuing the diversity of materials, four sculptures of bronze and stainless steel can be found outside, all depicting the artists interpretation of the abstract and transformative forms found within the sea.
One of the most striking pieces of art on board is the central curved bronze relief within The Living Room. Standing at four decks high, Ms Ratter comments “the material we used had to be as lightweight as possible and IMO certified as due to its height it was considered a bulkhead in the atrium and not a piece of artwork.” The relief includes motifs of landscapes, industrial and cultural influences from across the British Isles. Designed inhouse by design associate Alun Roberts, it was created by the Shropshire company Feathercast Limited in 35 pieces.
Summing up the project, Mr Wilson says “this was a tremendous project for SMC to be such an important part of. From the large design team at SMC to our partners at Saga Cruises and Meyer Werft shipyard, it was truly an enjoyable process from start to finish and a project I will certainly look back fondly upon in the years to come”.