It is not hard to be impressed by a superyacht. After all, they irresistibly draw the eye as they make their stately progress from port to port.
They are the pinnacle of the luxury experience; but that luxury is most certainly based in their design and engineering. It is the superyacht designer who is responsible for creating a vessel that is unique to each owner and that manifests that owner’s specific vision of performance and appearance. However, there are those that argue that the world of superyacht design could use some shaking up. One such mover and shaker is Alexander McDiarmid.
With a strong background in Industrial Design via both undergraduate and graduate work at the Schools of Design and Engineering at Coventry University in the UK, Alexander McDiarmid acquired extensive design experience working in the studios of Gilles Vaton Architecture Group, Philippe Briand, and Tony Castro. Projects ranged from motor yachts, sailing yachts, catamarans, tenders, and superyachts; he was also fortunate to work with the late Claudio Castiglioni, considered “the Godfather of modern Italian motorcycling”.
In 2011, he founded McDiarmid Design, his multi-disciplinary design studio, in Aix-en-Provence, where he has gained a reputation for innovative and visionary creations in not only the superyacht but also the wider transport industry. He also picked up the moniker “L’enfant terrible” from Stephan Luc Larose, a Canadian luxury lifestyle journalist who viewed some of his early yacht concept work. The nickname ultimately stuck, and Alexander bears it modestly: “It is a label, but very humbling at the same time. I guess it’s a reflection of my creativity in what is still a very conservative yachting industry. A rebel with a design cause perhaps, but with a responsibility to create great design.”
Alexander spoke with EAT LOVE SAVOR at length in this exclusive interview.
You hold some strong opinions on the state of superyacht design, particularly with regards to the lack of innovation. What do you believe is holding the industry back in this regard?
The industry is slow to adopt in general but there are simply not enough visionary large yacht clients who want to invest in innovation. It’s often forgotten, there would be no superyacht industry without the owners and while the shipyards build what owners want the industry’s future will always be determined by owners. There are talented designers and engineers capable of some great thinking but real innovation often costs money, shipyards are rarely prepared to develop ideas independently so rely on the few owners to fund progressive innovation that maybe incorporated into their new build projects.
With the arrival of M/Y A and more recently the incredible S/Y A these are true bespoke superyachts in every sense of the word. Not just for their LOA or size as is often the case, but fresh design thinking by their brave, innovative and visionary owner. They are by no means to everybody’s taste but that really does not matter. Sadly these are far too few and far between.
It is for these reasons we welcome the integration and introduction of the new and next generation of superyacht owners. With a focus on Millennial and Asian owners, who will bring their visions of yacht design to the industry. A recent article with one of the main brokerage houses described the next generation of new build owners and concluded:…
“…they like daring designs, and they don’t want to own a yacht like their grandad’s.”
How do you balance the desires of the client with your concept of their creation? Of course it all comes down to the client’s wishes, but is there a balance between your vision and theirs?
Ultimately, it’s the owner’s yacht, not the designer’s. You have to remember that and they are always King and/or Queen. Nonetheless it should be an enjoyable and creative experience for both parties. This is a huge personal project for clients to undertake and therefore their experience should be enjoyable and memorable. It has been said that the designer needs to be part diplomat, part psychologist and part life coach. What the client wants, the client usually gets. But a designer must have the crucial ability to say ‘No’ to their clients if needed. If the laws of physics or manufacturing dictate something cannot be done, find a suitable solution.
Do your clients come to you seeking inspiration or do you guide them?
Large yacht clients don’t need inspiration. It is the job of the designer to provide intelligent solutions to the clients design brief. These are top 1% of wealthy, smart, driven, visionary and very quick thinking individuals who know exactly what they want. The client perceives the designer as a subject matter expert. Guidance is a fundamental duty of any designer to their client.
Clients know what they most definitely don’t want but want to work with a professional designer as they have perhaps previously seen one of our concepts or projects that aligns to their vision. I’m very lucky to have an imagination and often it is just joining the dots by making relevant connections.
We guide and help clients to visualize ideas and bring their project to life.
When creating a superyacht concept, do you add features that are not yet able to be technically realized, or are they more “grounded” and less “dreamy”?
I did at the beginning but these were often flights of fantasy concepts and studio name building. Also there was the issue of ideas being taken by others which is unfortunately an occupational hazard of many designers. You still see people doing crazy and often unrealistic concepts but to make that crucial engineering jump from concept to reality you need projects of real substance. Our industry needs this type of thinking but more often than not silliness becomes viral in the media all too easily.
When thinking in terms of aesthetic balance, how influenced are you by the Golden Ratio, or by mathematical precision? Is this something consciously striven for or just serendipitous?
This is hugely influential and it is something we consciously strive for. Visual balance is at the heart of every project we undertake and I believe a foundation of true beauty. Designers should seek perfect proportions and balance for a projects successful outcome. Get that right and everything else starts to fall into place.
Do you have a “signature” design feature that you always incorporate?
No. That’s not good for design in my humble opinion and I don’t think I have a style either. I try to repeat some details that I’m particularly fond of but give them a new twist and make a little change here and there to make it more original and make sure that the clients feel that they’re getting something completely different.
Based on what you’ve shared via social media, automotive design has a particular resonance for you. Can you discuss some of the parallels between automotive and superyacht design?
It is a subject very close to my heart as someone who received his training in automotive design before moving into yacht design. Yachts are simple, long surfaces; cars are an amalgamation of a number of surfaces, often tight and complex, converging on various points. Controlling and resolving those surface changes on a car’s relatively small body area in comparison demands a great understanding of form. It is a lot harder to design a car exterior and has made me pay more attention to yacht surfacing, proportions and balance. We experiment and develop yacht ideas more because of this.
We are currently working on some Electric Vehicle projects and they require a whole new design language so maybe some yacht design influence such as big, bold surfacing with key details…But with any project be it yacht or automotive it should be exciting to look at, fun to operate, desirable and worth owning in all respects.
What are some of your principles of good design?
Patience. You cannot rush creativity. Great design is always simple design. Proportion, style and stance.
Get those right on the exterior design of a yacht or vehicle and then see how everything connects with the interior design. The initial General Arrangement of a yacht and exterior design should always start at the same time so there are no surprises and realistic solutions can be found and client requests integrated. More often than not yachts and vehicles are designed from the inside out.
Collaborate. I have found the best collaborations are when there is mutual curiosity.
I am very fortunate to work with some extraordinary talented individuals who push me to be better.
One of your most eye-catching concepts is based on the Stradivarius violin. Do you find inspiration in other types of art? Music? Literature?
Absolutely, everywhere and often in the most unexpected places.
But you need to analyze the inspiration and break it down to see if there are cross pollination similarities and relationships. Sometime it can be a very literal interpretation but that’s not always a bad thing. Music and Literature help set a tone and mindset and exercise the imagination outside of the studio too. The Stradivarius concept might not have happened if the music museum in Venice was closed that day! They had various instruments at different stages of construction, machining, glorious displays and various cutaways. It’s the longest time I’ve ever spent in a museum and photographed everything I saw. You never forget that initial ‘what if’ moment when inspiration hits. Many music genres play in the studio while working and depending on the type of project and end result required we listen to an appropriate genre.
How did your collaboration with Ghost Yachts come about?
“The best collaborations are when there is mutual curiosity.”
When I founded the studio in early 2011 we were in the middle of the global financial crisis. I attended the major boat shows and let contacts and companies know that we existed, what we could offer and that we wanted to work with them. Of the few that replied or gave any face time, nobody had anything positive to say, except for Björn Moonen at Ghost Yachts. I knew I was entering a heavily saturated part of the industry in terms of designer’s offerings but Ghost Yachts had always stood out with simple, timeless design and I like a challenge.
We stayed in touch over the coming years and I would show them a new concept that we were working on and eventually we started working together in late 2015. They set the design brief and I now see why they stand out; for their superior design quality. It was one of the hardest design briefs of my career to date demanding constraint from stem to stern.
Over two and a half years in development, countless 3D CAD models, long conversations, constraint and the proverbial, blood, sweat and tears, we reached design sign off. You can clearly see Ghost Yacht’s mission throughout their range from the smaller boats right up to our flagship 80m design the G250 aka ‘Mon.Star’; ‘Redefining Superyachts’.
It is real innovation from the propulsion systems, naval architecture; a new wave piecing hull design, lightweight materials and construction methods and of course timeless design for both interior and exterior style. The hull design is incredible. The end result is a truly exceptional, fully class compliant superyacht. I occasionally remind Björn of our early correspondence where I said it would be great to create a Ghost one day, as we continue with other superyacht projects together.
We spoke about the influence of automotive design on yacht design, but you’re also involved in some very unique electric vehicle projects. Please tell us more about them.
A client came to us with the idea of a ‘Harbour Truck’ that could be used by the crew of a superyacht when in port and easily stowed onboard when at sea. My first thoughts were of a 1980’s Range Rover with matching livery on board M/Y Cedar Sea. The conversation quickly turned to electric vehicles and specifically the popularity of pickup trucks. Pickup trucks are some of the most enjoyed and desired vehicles on the market and could benefit greatly from electrification. Truck-E is a full size, electric, crossover pickup truck solution now in the 3D design and development phase. A truly exciting project from the very start including the brand and logo design creation.
In discussing the electric vehicle projects, you mentioned the need for a “new design language”, can you elaborate?
When you talk about ICE (internal combustion engine) exterior car design you could note organic, Germanic or manic style lines, shapes, form, creases etc. Most automotive brands are identifiable by certain design cues, their brand ‘design language’. The classic technical and ergonomic package, wheel at each corner and engine up front layout changes somewhat with EV vehicles due to no ICE. Electric vehicle design changes this traditional layout. Batteries, and smaller motors etc require a different technical package and subsequently free up more space in the vehicles interior.
The front trunk or ‘frunk’ as it’s now known has evolved and is located where the classic ICE used to sit. Take the vehicles front face grille for example, you don’t need one with an ev so the face of the car will change somewhat. LED exterior lamp clusters are now very powerful and don’t require as much space so bigger, bolder bodywork surfacing can occur. This new era of car design, styling and market segment requires new design solutions with new exterior design languages as designers help visually usher in these new vehicles.
We should however note legendary industrial designer Raymond Loewy’s MAYA principle – Most Advanced Yet Acceptable: The adult public’s taste is not necessarily ready to accept the logical solutions to their requirements if the solution implies too vast a departure from what they have been conditioned into accepting as the norm.
What is your personal definition of luxury?
If it makes you happy, is enjoyable, relaxes you and is fun to do then do it.
For more information, visit: http://www.mcdiarmid-design.com