A Courtyard Penthouse on the Norwegian Epic“Not only are the ships getting much bigger, the designs are also more relevant, making it easier for passenger to relate based on their land experiences,” said Andy Collier, managing director at SMC Design in London.

At Tillberg Design in Sweden, Fredrik Johansson, partner and senior architect, attributed the progress being made to cruise lines hiring more people from hotels and resorts that bring fresh talent and ideas to the table.

“Some lines are also bringing in big-name designers and use us as coordinating architects, to make sure new design concepts will work in a shipboard environment.”

Collier added: “There is now less emphasis that a ship has to look and feel like a ship. The entertainment, shopping and such features as ice bars are more like you would expect to find ashore. These features help make the majority of passengers more comfortable.”

“Ships are closer to leading edge design than ever before, but the high end hotel chains still set the trends,” Collier continued.

Ships have historically lagged behind design-wise, according to Johansson, “as much as five to 10 years,” he said.

“Shipowners used to look to other owners for ideas,” he said, “instead of looking at what was happening ashore. Imagine, sushi used to be considered ‘radical’ on a ship only a few years ago.”

But change still takes time. While top management wants changes, according to Johansson, getting these changes and new designs through middle management is often a different story.

“Hotel operations and maintenance often find reasons why something will not work,” he added. “Shipyards can be reluctant too if they have to change from their standard work routines.

“But there is only one way and that is forward,” Johansson said.

SMC Design recently helped convert the Ocean Village Two into the Pacific Jewel for P&O Australia, and is slated to work on the Ocean Village next, converting her into the Pacific Pearl.

Other clients include Norwegian Cruise Line, for which SMC designed the ice bar on the Norwegian Epic. SMC has been involved in other interior work on the Epic in addition to graphics and artwork onboard.

SMC also worked on the P&O Cruises UK new Azura, and before that, the Queen Mary 2, and has done refurbishment projects on the Norwegian Star and the Asuka II.

Tillberg Design has also worked on the Epic, which Johansson, described as a large prototype, with all that brings in terms of extensive new development.

“For Disney Cruise Line, we are doing all the staterooms and suites, and a few other areas.”         In addition, the Swedish Tillberg firm is presently working for Viking Line on a new generation of cruise ferries, “with several new and unique features.”

What Johansson said he finds a little depressing, however, is the external design of some ships. “I can understand the financial reasons for certain designs, but why do they have to be clumsy, generic and even ugly?

“Most ships look the same except for the funnel,” Johansson continued. “Somebody ought to be a little bolder and use the ship design as a marketing tool, like a sports car, like a Maserati.  I think the look of a ship will have some effect.”

Excerpt from Cruise Industry News Quarterly Magazine: Summer 2010