Aesthetic Form VS Function

Discussion in 'Boat Design' started by Chris Ostlind, Dec 29, 2008.

  1. Chris Ostlind

    Chris Ostlind Previous Member

    Recently, over at the Yahoo Group for Boatdesign, there has been an on-going discussion regarding the timeless argument of the things that drive design in the boating trades. One of the members posted the following set of comments and I posted a response. The two postings, representing nearly opposite positions are shown below.

    Initial post:

    While it is true that many of the important developments in yacht
    design have already been made, there is a lot that can be learned.
    Most of the high tech studies have aimed at the high stakes racing
    scene with the narrow focus on raw speed. In the suitability for
    purpose other than racing is largely still a big, black hole as far
    as knowledge and development are concerned.

    Another thing I point to are lessons learned from the past, so
    instead of having to reinvent the wheel we can see what worked and
    what did not and why. It looks as if most pleasure yacht design is
    still by artists, not engineers, who design to what looks right
    rather than to what acts best. If more engineering were applied,
    would we see more advances?


    My response:

    I do not see non-racing boating development as a big black hole at all. Rather, I see it as quite the opposite. High tech studies are not simply limited to racing applications. While it is true that many racing boat studies do have suitable budgets for extensive R&D at the cutting edge of technological capabilities, the process is not limited to the genre.

    Case in point: Right now, there is an on-going study to produce a high efficiency, low/non wake hull for sensitive waters. The study has already seen several iterations of different hull configurations with each development being tested at varying scaled speeds and displacements. The results look very promising with a couple of the tested models being built to full size for real world testing in the intended environment.

    That's but one of the environments where serious work is being done. With the inevitable escalation of fuel prices, along with further environmental restrictions that are just over the horizon, there will be many programs to develop even more fuel-efficient designs that incorporate low emission technology for propulsion.

    Literally, there are hundreds of areas in the marine design discipline with plenty of room for future exploration. We are a very long way from exhausting a process that is, essentially, infinite in its scope.

    I have no problem at all with the development of technological discoveries for racing machines in the boating world. No matter what some might say to the contrary, there is a large potential for trickle-down applications that could be useful for the more available needs of the everyday boating enthusiast. Racing developments are not just directed to the production of stuff for raw speed. There's a significant durability mode that also has to be satisfied for anything that goes racing. The age-old adage in the racing world, no matter the vehicle involved, is... you can't win if you don't finish. This is all about durability for the assigned task. That same durable part development potential does trickle down to the less critical environment of day sailing and we're all the better for it.

    As for design motivation being driven by looks or function... well, I believe that there are fluctuating realities in the design world, be it for boats, toasters or nose hair clippers, that move the focused needs bell curve of around as the intentions and demands of the paying audience dictate. Once in awhile, a design idiom emerges that steps-out from the mob scene and it either works as intended, pushing the conventional wisdom in a new direction... or it does not work as promised and it is soon shoved to the side of the road by market pressures and realities. It does not necessarily mean that the discarded idea has no merit, it just might be that there's a small component element missing that would have made all the difference in the world.

    Design process is a tricky thing to get a handle on. There are all kinds of schools of thought and there are arguments for each of them that deserve attention. Generally, you can design for function with a very specific goal in mind, or you can design for aesthetic pleasure, also with a specific goal, but much more for the look and feel of the thing, rather than the pure and confined function of its use.

    Going with either of these does not preclude the design from being powerful in the other direction. In fact, a really nicely thought-through design can do both things... both form and function, if all the elements are juggled adeptly with a very solid understanding of the materials involved.

    As for designing for what "acts best"… this is a very subjective position from which to generate any product, no matter the end use or target market. Pick an element for the term, "acts best" within the boating community and then go out and ask a dozen people just what that means to them. You'll probably get five different answers, if not more. Acts best and looks best go hand in hand as impossible things to provide for every customer.

    Designing boats strictly by engineering solution does not mean that it's going to be a successful product, either. There have been plenty of boats that functioned wonderfully as technical solutions to the design brief... and failed miserably in the marketplace because the sailing public just couldn't get into the way they looked. This process is not an either/or thing. It's much more about some of each as a well managed meshing of all that makes for the final successful product.

    There may be a perception that the engineering aspects of design in current boats has suffered at the expense of the 'artist's" input. I don't necessarily agree with the position. There are enormous market pressures being applied by the buyers, as well as the competition to continue to step-up to the plate when it comes to state of the art production concepts. To support this, I'd direct you to the business of a rapid changeover from the typical chopper gun production of hulls, to much a much more environmentally friendly application of closed mold build techniques. These new techniques are represented by fully vacuum bagged builds and in some case, full infusion bagged production systems that yield much lighter and much stronger boats. That is but one example of how the business changes on a regular basis in favor of engineered solutions.

    Would we see more advances if more engineering were applied and less artistic control? Maybe. It pretty much depends on how you perceive an advance in the trade.

    The thoughtful designer heeds the call from both sirens and typically gives himself fits all along the way as the battle for each discipline rages on until the final drawings are turned loose for someone to build, be it personal or production forms.
  2. amolitor
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    amolitor Junior Member

    The contention that "artists, not engineers" are doing the design work is hilarious. Modern pleasure boats include, indeed are dominated, by some of the least creative and most ugly crap I have ever seen in any market.

    They're designed by naval architects who have been crammed into such a tiny little box by marketing requirements that they cannot but look the same as one another.
    1 person likes this.
  3. Eralnd44
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    Eralnd44 Wanderer

    Is this a joke, this idea of initial post?

    What is this person thinking for boat design purpose in new ways?

    Molitor has the correct way in his statement. Very much on the point.

    Chris is firm in the manner he has put out his argument and I like this.

  4. tom28571
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    tom28571 Senior Member

    We have to remember that pleasure boats are only necessary in the sense that they provide pleasure. If they are not aesthetically pleasing in some way, they will fail to gather a market and fail to be produced.

    The first poster is completely wrong in his premise that functional development is not taking place though. Chris rightly points out many ways that this is happening in both large design offices and even more so by individual designers who can more easily choose the outcome. There was considerable interest in better fuel economy even before the recent price spiral up and down.

    On this forum, discussions of performance characteristics far outnumber those centered on styling. Professional BoatBuilder contains much detail on speed, fuel economy, stability, handling and comfort, construction advances, ergonomics, production improvements in product and safety as well as styling, etc., etc. I see more good work going on in these areas now that ever before. The fact that many big production yachts look like Nike running shoes and perform about as well should not smear the whole industry.

    Nevertheless, the buying public must be served. Builders and designers must give them what they will buy or starve. A dealer pointed out when I was whining about how ugly and excessive most of his boats were that, "I can't have a boat on the lot that is too fast, has too much power or has too many bedrooms, if I want to sell it".
  5. PAR
    Joined: Nov 2003
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    PAR Yacht Designer/Builder

    It's really not fair to compare production yachts and use these as examples of yacht design evolution. No more then the racers. The racers fit into a well defined package and a narrow one at that. The production craft are at the opposite end of the spectrum attempting to stuff ten pounds of boob in a 5 pound bra.

    In reality innovation has been happening at a nice clip for a few decades now. Just look at the material usages now compared to 20 years ago and what they do for the durability, connectivity, weight and usability of any given yacht.

    Engineers design pretty boring stuff. The manufactures long ago realized this and hired marketing staffs to address this. Focus groups, market nitch studies, etc. all have made the most basic of yacht, more enjoyable for the average owner. Unfortunately, this same thinking has "blanded down" the production offerings.

    If you look at the custom and semi custom stuff in recent years, much innovation has been employed. This is, has been and always will be the driving force with style, efficiency, capabilities, etc. The commissioner of a custom has a blank slate and wants it all. Any reasonably designer will attempt to satisfy these desires, usually with a healthy daub of style, other wise, what's the point.

    I'm not sure who the original poster was, but I'm fairly sure I don't want to know them, mostly because I'm convinced that Apollo 11 did all their film on the moon, not in the Arizona desert.
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    FAST FRED Senior Member

    Just look at the material usages now compared to 20 years ago and what they do for the durability, connectivity, weight and usability of any given yacht.

    All true , but to the vast majority of folks that will be getting a USED boat, I notice service life and repairability are omitted.

    Much of the "new" lightweight construction is virtually unrepairable.

    I notice many of the pilot and lifeboat services are choosing repairable (Airex) rather than fly weight , thin skinned performance hull materials.

    The first purchaser may be the customer the add dept targets , but if a boat has little resale value , it makes boating really expensive for all.

  7. Tcubed
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    Tcubed Boat Designer

    Well i must agree with amolitor 100% in post #2.

    At the risk of annoying a lot of people i will say that , imo , the majority of modern production boats are very well designed to fullfil a marketing purpose and increase the bottom line for the manufacturers, but when it comes to funcionality on the sea , performance , durability , seaworthiness and looks they fall short. Really shockingly short.

    On an aside , anyone interested in whether or not the moon landing was really filmed on the moon or in London, should watch this full documentary
  8. Ad Hoc
    Joined: Oct 2008
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    Ad Hoc Naval Architect

    Form versus Function. Hmmmm...

    So, what is 'design'?...the shape of the superstructure to appeal to the jetset, the shape/style of the furniture, the interior colour schemes designed to give a certain ambiance, the design of the main access doors to look like an entrance to a cathedral etc etc ad nauseum.

    Design has many facets to it and means different things to different people. Consequently it is subjective.

    The person who styled the exterior shape of a vessel, beit a yatch, ferry etc, will say it is their "design"...well the shape will have been created by that person.

    The person who did the calculations to ensure the vessel met speed, will say they designed the boat.

    The person who did the weight estimate will say they designed the boat

    and on it goes.....

    Design is not one simple word with a simple answer/definition.

    The Function, follows the form. If there is no room for life rafts owing to the sleek styling of the superstructure, then the function, must follow this "form", otherwise the compromise may be a shape not suitable for the customer. However, as a result of the form, creative design may well have been employed which would not have otherwise been envisaged.

    To say that naval architects cannot style/design is pure bollocks. Naval architects know in advance what will or wont pass regulations or be cost prohibitive, in advance. Ergo, their initial position is one of compromise, even subjective.
    A "stylist" will not be aware or even care of such matters and create a shape, which is pleasing to the customer, which ultimately sells the boat.

    So, Q, which is more important??.....

    Can't get the sell without the sleek shape or sexy interior design layout,...BUT, the vessel wont work without the numbers being crunched correctly to say it'll work, ie meet speed, safety etc etc

    A..both are need, all in varying degrees.

    Doesn't mean a naval architect can't do both (some do very successfully)...but a stylist certainly cannot do both. Which is why Bannenburg/Disdale etc all employ naval architects to make sure the concept will work.

  9. Brent Swain
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    Brent Swain Member

    The purpose of a pleasure boat is the maximum output of pleasure for the minimum input of work and expense( displeasure.) There is far less pleasure in a boat that is ugly than there is in a boat which is beautiful. Thus uglines in a boat by itself reduces the efficency of the boat in accomplishing it's main function, the bringing of pleasure .
    Efficiency can only be defined in terms of what it is you are trying to accomplish. Ugly boats are often no faster than pretty ones and are often slower, not that a fraction of a knot in boat speed has much bearing on pleasure, the main purpose of a pleasure boat, and the definition of its efficency.
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