Having served in the yacht design trade I can tell you that nothing causes more wear and tear on a designer's fingernails than launch day-there are simply no guarantees. Will she float on her lines? Will she make speed? Will her owner be satisfied or will the market embrace her? Successful yacht design is ultimately a blend of art, engineering and luck. Recently I had an inside pass to Sea Ray's Product Development & Engineering facility (PD&E) and learned how the world's largest boatbuilder improves the odds.
It was not my first visit to the Merritt Island, Florida, facility, although this visit would be different. The builder's product development process is the earth in which seeds of new designs germinate and Sea Ray does not often show its hand. When Sea Ray's Vice President of Marketing, Rob Noyes, offered me a behind-the-scenes look I was surprised. I have known Noyes for more than thirty years and recognized his enthusiasm. "It's not just the process, it's the people," he explained.
Sea Ray Design Director Tom Bucaccio greeted me at PD&E. In the five years Bucaccio has spent at Sea Ray, his goal has been to raise the bar of what is arguably the marine industry's most sophisticated design organization. After earning a degree in industrial design from the University of Bridgeport, Bucaccio worked on transportation design projects including aircraft, cars, and trains. His first taste of marine design came at Bombardier where he served as a design manager responsible for personal watercraft and sport boats. A twenty-five-year product design veteran, he has a keen understanding of the synergy that exists between successful design and the marketplace. While creative designers like to think outside of the box, Bucaccio explained that successful brands and products evolve. "Not every product needs to be transformational- good design does not have to be pushed to the extreme. Sea Ray is a brand with a distinct heritage-the challenge is moving forward without forgetting the past."
Bucaccio formalized Sea Ray's design organization, establishing a distinct creative space within PD&E that is not pigeonholed into specific product categories. Designers work as a team on everything from sport boats to larger yachts. Bucaccio believes that this variety keeps creative minds fresh. Brand focus is also critical.
"It is not uncommon for companies to lose sight of their brand identity when they are challenged or mimicked by competitors," said Bucaccio. "We have developed brand guides for each of our lines that serve as foundations for all of our design work." For the yacht program the guide's keywords include "heritage," "confidence," "elegance," and "timelessness." This is the essence of Sea Ray yachts as determined by its loyal customers in focus groups. Bucaccio's team begins a design with little more than these keywords and a simple design brief. The tone is also tempered with examples of good design-a fine automobile or fine furniture for example. Bucaccio refers to this stage of the process as the "bubble-up or churn-up" where new ideas are explored free hand.