My pal Hal is an investor in the pastime. He’s the sort of guy who buys boats. Last week, he emailed me an animated pitch of a yacht that he just couldn’t fathom. She was named after a large white whale and based on a Virginia-class submarine. Hal is a serial enthusiast, but he was unable to imagine such a thing. In deference to her creator, I shall refer to her simply as Dick.
“Why do people dream up such crap, and what the hell happens to the swimming pool and cabana when it submerges?” Hal asked as he reviewed the potential shortcomings of yacht designs based on nuclear attack submarines.
“Details, details,” I offered. “It’s just a concept.”
“Why would someone waste time proposing such a stupid idea?” Hal groused.
“You must understand, Hal,” I explained. “Technology has made Dick possible.”
Today, one can burp up dumb ideas and peddle them on the Web by wiggling a mouse from the comfort of an ergonomic throne while sipping a latte. It’s no more difficult than playing a video game. There’s no need to stoop over a drawing board, fiddle with a slide rule or dowse displacement with a planimeter. The computer can render the silliest of ideas and predict their future like Johnny Carson as Carnac the Magnificent. No slogging down docks with a portfolio on cold calls — simply post it. If it’s silly enough, it could go viral!
A primitive calculator was considered a high-tech luxury when I launched my design career in the early 1980s. With no mouse or monitor, a designer’s ideas were painstakingly chiseled on vellum with leaky pens guided by a cumbersome set of ships’ curves or flexible splines pinned with lead weights. I spent 80 hours a week at a drawing table covered with puddles of ink and eraser dust. It was a messy, unpleasant affair.
Given the effort, the thought of penning a design that a client wouldn’t dream of owning never occurred to me. Thinking outside the box was all well and good, but a designer who wished not to live in one moved the ball forward a yard at a time. Real clients were typically yachtsmen unable to find what they “needed” off the shelf, or they simply enjoyed the creative process of making a design their own. A Hail Mary pass typically attracted a committed following at the state prisons.
There were no animated movies to produce. Most kept it simple. It took me 20 hours to generate a preliminary ink presentation for a 100-foot boat. Some added more potato salad. I recall visiting a production builder that entered the custom game by erecting a state-of-the-art “design center” wallpapered with presentations. After the company pooh-bas wandered off, a weary designer took me aside to ask, “How many proposals do you have to do before one of these things sells?”
But back to Hal’s original questions. “The game’s changed,” I told him. “Who knows what’s next? Three-dimensional printed yachts? Virtual reality? Modern technology has unshackled the creative potential of a generation of young imagineers.”
“I suppose,” Hal grumbled. “They’ve come up with a design only Ahab could lust for.”