Aged just 56, Andy Yuill is the youngest legend that has featured in Cruise & Ferry Interiors but his experience dates back to the year that Carnival Corporation bought Holland America Line, MSC Cruises purchased its first cruise ship and Celebrity Cruises was founded.
“I first joined SMC Design, formerly BPW, in 1989, a year after it formed,” says Yuill. “BPW was based in London formed by a team that had come from McNeece, the first British design company to be involved in the cruise industry, and started the business with a contract to work on Crystal Cruises’ Crystal Harmony and a project for Royal Caribbean International.
“We designed the atrium, a bar and the retail outlets on Crystal Harmony. One day, one of BPW's founders Stuart Phillips suddenly decided to make a scale model of the atrium and we had to do an all-nighter to build it! From day one at BPW, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I enjoyed the people and the work. But I wasn’t just designing ships in those early days, we did a lot of work for [UK-based luxury department store] Harrods too, which was great fun.
“I stayed until 1991, when there was a terrible recession. I went back to Edinburgh to work for six months and then went travelling. I restarted at BPW in 1993, when it was just me and Stuart at the Notting Hill office with two clients.”
BPW transitioned to SMC Design in 1994, by which time 28-year-old Yuill was already a significant asset. It wasn’t long before he was considered a natural successor.
“My big break with SMC was in 1995 when I got involved with Star Cruises,” says Yuill. “It was a new cruise line, and nobody knew anything about it. What a wonderful client it was – a company full of ideas which perfectly suited a young, enthusiastic and hard-working designer.
“I was given creative freedom with SuperStar Leo, which was ideal as Star Cruises wanted to do something different and wasn’t scared to change the existing formula.”
SuperStar Leo launched in 1998 and was an instant hit. SuperStar Virgo and SuperStar Libra (which became Norwegian Star on completion) followed soon after, propelling Yuill into the big time and he became a director of the company.
“In those days a cruise line would appoint a group of designers, with each taking responsibility for perhaps four or five public spaces,” he says. “A different company would create the signage and yet another would curate the artwork. I used to think it’d be wonderful if, rather than designing 25 per cent, we’d be given 100 per cent.
“By the time we did Norwegian Star, SMC was responsible for half of the design of the public spaces, the signage and the artwork. It’s a delight for a designer to take full responsibility. It enables you to ensure a connectivity through everything, so that nothing looks out of place. And it really lifted our work too, as you could see on Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Jewel, Jade, Pearl and Gem.”
In his formative years as a designer, Yuill witnessed the creativity of the golden generation of cruise ship designers, including Robert Tillberg, Joe Farcus, Njal Eide, Bjorn Storbraaten, John McNeece, Vittorio Garroni and Giacomo Mortola. Despite his youth, he was at the crest of the second wave that continues to elevate design standards today.
Alongside these iconic designers, Yuill also lived through some of the biggest changes to the interior design industry, including the introduction of the computer. “It was the industrial revolution for designers,” he says. “Previously we would only have been able to handle four or five public areas, and it would have been impossible to work on a complete vessel, purely because of how the information was being produced.
“In the early 1990s, the introduction of the computer changed all that. We had the ability to control much larger sections of work. It was faster and easier to produce. The advent of the computer was a huge move forward for designers within the cruise industry.”
The 1990s also birthed a new era of cruise ship brands, each with different identities. “When SuperStar Leo came out, it looked completely different to anything else that was in the market,” says Yuill. “It followed a different set of design rules for the new Asian market.
“There are new markets opening up all the time and they will reflect new and individual brand requirements. That’s why cruising will continue to grow and become even more interesting, because there’s such an endless offering.”
For Yuill, the millennium represented a whole new set of design influences, from architecture, fashion, music, media, hospitality, industry and more, all of which encouraged a never-ending spiral of creativity, unique ideas and out-of-the-box thinking.
“The huge, complex and ever-changing world around us is what continues to influence designers,” he says. “To say trend-led designs are good or bad is not nuanced enough. The design still has to be good, solve all the problems and be visually appealing. There’s no difference between the ages. The design is influenced by everything that surrounds us in our daily lives, and that is ever-changing.”
The millennium came and went, but in 2005, Yuill became managing director, having already established himself as a designer and leader of great pedigree. Unlike his predecessors, Yuill had no desire to put his name on the door and so kept the name of the brand that had served him so well.
“If you told me back in 1989 that I’d still be sitting here I would have laughed in your face! I didn’t know where I was going; my whole life was ahead of me and I was ready to conquer the world.
“Only now do I smile when I look back to that day, knowing it’s been a genuinely enjoyable experience. I’ve been very fortunate. I grew up at SMC and I’ve lived in different houses but this company has been my one constant. I’ve never suffered from the Monday blues, and I still love the work and the people.”
“For the past 30 years, this company and the people in it have inspired me, but the company ethos was set in those very early days by Stuart – he created the perfect work environment and treated us all well. It’s an ethos that I’ve sought to sustain. I feel like the custodian of SMC, just steering the company until the next generation is ready.”
A third wave of designers is rising and Yuill has mentored many SMC colleagues, and others. He seems to appreciate this mentorship role and hopes to take it even further in the future.
“I would love to go and lecture, to give something back,” he says. “I’ve been given a lot by this industry and by this life and I’d love to share my experiences to help future design students.”
His top tip though? “Work hard in life. It doesn’t matter what you do or where you want to go, if you work hard, you’ll appreciate the journey and enjoy the destination.”
This article was first published in the 2022 issue of Cruise & Ferry Interiors. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.
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