How SMC Design created a British contemporary classic

With Saga Cruises’ Spirit of Discovery, SMC Design has set out to showcase British style and excellence to the highest level. Lindsay James finds out how it has been achieved

How SMC Design created a British contemporary classic
Saga Cruises' Spirit of Discovery features modern, yet classic, interiors

This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter 2019 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

When Saga Cruises approached SMC Design to create Spirit of Discovery, the first of two new boutique vessels, its brief was clear: to create an unashamedly British ship, aimed entirely at British passengers. “As a British company, we were extremely proud to be designing a ship for a British client. It was a truly unique opportunity,” says Andy Yuill, SMC Design’s managing director.

Rising to the challenge, SMC Design has met the brief and more – delivering a 999-passenger ship which, according to Saga Cruises CEO Robin Shaw, sets a new standard in small ship luxury cruising.

“This project gave SMC Design a wonderful scope of work, and we were absolutely determined to make it a success,” explains Ben Wilson, SMC Design senior designer and project manager. “We were responsible for all of the public areas – both the interior and the exterior, all of the crew areas, plus guest cabins and suites. We also looked after the exterior styling of the ship, the commissioning of artwork through our own in-house art consultancy, and the wayfinding and signage solutions onboard. Typically, this kind of workload would be split across multiple companies, so it’s been an absolute privilege to combine all of the departments at SMC Design together – the result of which has undoubtedly contributed to a more profound continuity in the final design and the evolution of the client’s brand.”

The early stages of the project were spent creating the initial design concepts. “This was the most challenging time for us,” says Liam Kirk, senior associate at SMC Design. “Alongside creating our drawing packages, we were also creating CGI visuals in tandem with Meyer Werft shipyard’s engineering phases. This is when the enormity of the project really became clear. It was a careful balancing act – we had to ensure that everything worked together both physically and aesthetically.”

The result was a revolution, not only in terms of ship design, but in Saga Cruises’ branding. “We wanted to create something that was a step apart from anything the cruise line had done before; something that reflected the Saga Cruises of the future and not necessarily what people had come to expect from the brand,” explains Liz Richardson, SMC Design senior designer and project manager.

“We were asked to create a contemporary classic British design, which encapsulates the very best of Britain’s hotels,” Wilson explains further. “At the same time, Saga Cruises was keen for us to try to move away from its reputation of providing cruises that are solely for the older generation. They wanted to push down the age demographic from predominately 70s and 80s to 50 plus, but without alienating the existing clientele.”

A huge amount of market research was completed to get this right. “We spent a considerable amount of time talking to the newbuild team and also to the passengers and the crew,” Wilson says. “We had multiple focus groups where we really got to understand the end user and what makes them tick. This insight was indispensable.”

“This is a guest demographic that really cares about the design of the ship,” adds Richardson. “They not only cared about the public areas, but also about the crew’s welfare and wanted to make sure that they had plenty of space.”

Careful attention has also been paid to recurring details and finishes which provide fluidity throughout the ship, guiding the passenger from one area to another with ease. Even distinctive areas, such as the East to West restaurant, feature consistent colourways and timber so that everything appears as one family. “The materials chosen for the wayfinding and signage solutions follow the interior palette, leading to a cohesive design scheme,” explains Alun Roberts, design associate at SMC Design.

Iconic British design and artwork features throughout the hotel. “The best example of this is the 12-metre bronze relief found in the Atrium called ‘This Scepter’d Isle’. It spans three decks and acts as a culmination of the story told within the onboard art collection,” says Emmie Ratter, acting head of art at SMC Art Consultancy. “Designed in house by Alun Roberts, it is a celebration of the British landscape and British achievements, with recognisable elements from the white cliffs of Dover to the Angel of the North.”

The remainder of the ship is also filled with stunning artwork, all by British-based artists. “There are over 1,000 pieces onboard, around 400 of which are originals. Everything has been specially commissioned with the passenger and overall design intention in mind,” explains Ratter.

SMC Design’s efforts paid off at Spirit of Discovery’s christening by HRH The Duchess of Cornwall on 5 July at the Port of Dover in Kent, UK. It was a wonderful day,” explains Richardson. “I was in awe as I entered the magnificent double-height grand dining room – it was the first time we’d seen it fully dressed, and it was everything we had hoped for and more. The sense of light and space is incredible.”

“We had many a proud moment during the christening,” adds Wilson. “It was wonderful to hear the praise of respected individuals from across the industry – it makes our hard work worthwhile.”

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Lindsay James
By Lindsay James
Tuesday, September 24, 2019