Designing cruise ship interiors the DADO way

Within just three years, Studio DADO has become a leading force in cruise ship interior design. Jon Ingleton caught up with founding partner Greg Walton at CSIE to ask him about key aspects of the company’s success

Designing cruise ship interiors the DADO way
Onda by Scarpetta on Norwegian Encore showcases Studio DADO's ability to mix colours, textures, materials and more
Solid partnership

Studio DADO has four partners and although we’ve all taken on different corporate roles and project responsibilities for specific clients, we’re still fundamentally one team. We provide each other with guidance and input, participating in client projects where our specific skills can contribute to an improved outcome.

Each partner approaches design differently, so the best ideas are sometimes those we develop as a team because it yields diverse perspectives for our clients. Everybody works individually yet together, charting a course from different starting points, but always with the same destination in mind. As partners, the one thing that we all have in common is that we all have an eye for what we feel is good design and we’re all equally passionate about wanting to do the best job possible for our clients by creating amazing experiences for their guests. We’re all very focused on growing the business in a way that benefits our clients and on improving professionally as individuals and as a unit.

Corporate philosophy
We’re still finding the DADO way. We’re a little unorthodox; our structure is fluid and our relationships tend to be less formal and more conversational. Our client relationships feel like friendships to us and the closer we get, the better we understand their needs. We’re at our most productive when we’ve rolled up our sleeves, kicked off our shoes and had an open and honest conversation. Taking this approach leads to better design outcomes, so we’re eager to promote this philosophy to our prospective clients. It’s work, but it doesn’t feel like it because we find it so enjoyable.

We firmly believe in the ‘three Cs’ as a fundamental working process: communication, cooperation and collaboration. We pride ourselves on always stepping out in front of any issues so we can resolve them quickly. I think our personalities at Studio DADO suit this approach – it’s not something we calculated, it’s just how we are. Our aim is to put our clients at ease so they know they can tell us candidly if they don’t like something we’ve produced. We won’t be bruised – we’ll listen, maybe share a laugh, start again and produce something better suited to their needs.

Working process
Around half of the processes will be the same for each project because there are some set ways for designing and building a ship. However, the other half of the processes depend on the client, the yard, other stakeholders and the way that the design team feel is best suited to achieving an optimum outcome. The process must be fluid and open to change because this is how to encourage the best collaboration with every project partner.

Our philosophy is to question everything. We don’t take anything for granted, so even if we think we already have the right solution, we’ll question it to see if there’s a better option. It’s inherent in our process. We try to take in all the information available and synthesise it into the project to develop a narrative about that design, and then we make sure every design decision fits into that story. If it doesn’t, then it’s not the right design choice. Filtering through information in this way is a very important step and it’s why every space we design is totally different to the last and there’s no stereotypical DADO look.

We don’t start drawing until we understand what our client’s guests want to take away from their vacation and what onboard amenities and experiences will make them come back. Cruise lines’ core brand values can vary enormously, so we must have an intimate knowledge about every client’s guests.

Satisfying clients
Studio DADO has always taken a holistic view of design – looking beyond the aesthetics to operational and revenue performance. We’re always exploring how we can go further and questioning what we could be doing to provide an even better service to our current and prospective clients. We’ve been very fortunate with the clients that we acquired in our formative years because they’ve believed in, and trusted, Studio DADO. Similarly, we’ve been lucky to work with clients who appreciate our design approach, perhaps because we share the same core values.

We have great dialogue with our clients about different spaces, including about operational aspects of the design. It’s not just about the look and the feel, it’s about the layout too. In a restaurant, for example, we scrutinise where we position waiter stations to minimise the steps to the galley. There are countless considerations like this – where operations also impact the experience. Having frank and honest conversations between the architect and the owner at the beginning of each project means that we can quickly create something that delivers a powerful and compelling experience for their guests.

Looking to the future
Our growth to date has been very organic and now it’s perhaps time for us to take a little more control of our direction to take us towards our personal and professional aspirations. Design studios need variety to stimulate creativity so we’d enjoy the opportunity to work in different sectors of the market – expedition and river cruise would both provide welcome diversity.

Every cruise line has the same ultimate goal: they want guests to leave their ships saying that it was the best holiday they’ve had, and they can’t wait to do it again. Our aim is to continue to do whatever we can as designers to ensure that every guest does just that. However, we’re quite humble – we know that we’re not perfect and there’s always room for improvement. The only way you know what to improve on is to ask the question and fortunately, that’s a philosophy all four partners have always followed.

This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2020 issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

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Jon Ingleton
By Jon Ingleton
13 April 2020

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