Parametric creativity at SMC Design

Jon Ingleton asked the London-based team about its mathematical process-orientated approach to interior design planning

Parametric creativity at SMC Design
SMC Design has made a science of interior design with a formula to drive profit for itself and the cruise lines

This article was first published in the 2018 issue of Cruise & Ferry Interiors. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

“In shipbuilding the schedule drives everything – you simply cannot let a deadline slip,” said Andy Yuill, managing director of London-based firm SMC Design. His opening gambit makes it clear that this is a discussion about the design process – not the creativity or the frilly finishes.

A rigid process with a tight schedule allows SMC to fulfil its ultimate promise to clients: to deliver on time and within budget, while still leaving ample time for creativity to flourish. 

“In 30 years we’ve never missed a deadline,” said Alan Stewart, senior associate. “Yes we’re creative, fresh and innovative, but for cruise lines to build large and complex ships, all parties must deliver on time.” 

Once everyone on the project understands this imperative, the team embarks on the first phase of the project. However, it’s a while before anyone picks up a pencil. “If the design principles aren’t set at the very beginning then there’s nothing to bolt our ideas to,” explained Matt Fyvie, design associate.

“We analyse three primary statistics – fleet size, passenger demographic and the cabin mix,” said Stewart. “By applying parametric planning to this and other data we can accurately model the revenue return on different cabin combinations to optimise profitability for the owner.” 

SMC remains fully engaged with the client throughout this process. “Communication is paramount because you have to build up a phased narrative until you’ve reached a full set of design principles,” said Yuill. “You can’t say you’re going to design a lounge without asking why. Everything you design has to fulfil a purpose for the ship.”

During this first phase, SMC builds a strategy for how passengers will engage with both the individual spaces and the ship as a whole. “In stage one we work through the entire general arrangement (GA) – there’s no design yet, it’s all about areas, positions and passenger flow,” said Stewart, “We’re doing it much more intelligently now, using data to manipulate space planning and use.” 

The company creates an area card that lists all the requirements, a design direction and a reference vessel so that it understands the complexity and budget for each space. “This ensures that when we sit down to design the space, we all know exactly what we’re working towards,” says Yuill. “There could be more than 30 boards working together to ensure conformity across the ship.”

After producing a conceptual plan so the client can see the GA, SMC starts to build up the floor plans, artwork and material finishes during stage two. 

“We sketch how lighting will work and refine the spaces by integrating more detail, choosing artwork styles and commissioning pieces, and developing and positioning decorative, wayfinding and environmental signage concepts,” commented Yuill. “We aim to reach a point where the interior is fully specified and costed, matching the standards and budget set by the reference cards.” 

Next, SMC generates CGI imagery to accompany the GAs and sketches and meets the client for final design sign-off, before heading to the shipyard. “We’re on site and in each area as it’s built to make sure it’s accurately realised,” noted Yuill. “The personally curated owner’s supply stock is shipped into each area for dressing and finally the true personality of each space is physically revealed.”

SMC Design has taken its craft far beyond its renowned fresh and creative output: it has made interior design a science with a formula that drives profit for both the company and the cruise lines. 

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Jon Ingleton
By Jon Ingleton
14 January 2019

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