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Superyacht Design Festival 2022: 'Multi-sensory engagement' is key for designing superyachts

11 August 2022• Written by Katia Damborsky

How do we make sure that we are designing with all the senses in mind? At the BOAT International Superyacht Design Festival, Professor Barry C Smith took to the stage to talk to answer this question.

“Multi-sensory engagement” is becoming a key focus in design, according to Professor Barry C Smith, founding director of the Centre for the Study of the Senses and professor of philosophy and director of the Institute of Philosophy at the University of London’s School of Advanced Study. 

During his panel 'Designing a Superyacht for the Senses', Smith touched on research he had conducted in partnership with Dutch shipyard Heesen. The yard wanted to understand how our sense of hearing can have an impact on other senses on board, particularly taste, and was concerned about noise from the engine room affecting guests in the dining areas. Smith explained that senses can override each other and it’s important that designers abide by “rules” when “combining the senses”.

Smith noted that “vision tends to dominate”, but highlighted the importance of allowing all of our senses to work harmoniously.  

Understanding how our senses combine and interact with each other is a cornerstone for "good and successful designs". All of our senses exist in a “single, unified, conscious experience,” said Smith. However, these senses “interact with each other in intriguing and surprising ways".

Creating a harmony between the yacht and its environment has been an increased focus recently
Francisco Martinez

“Sensory congruence” is another defining factor when designing yachts. “It matters that you are in harmony with the surroundings that you are in,” said Smith, saying that humans feel “adapted” in spaces which employ shades and colours and textures that echo the environment. He spoke about sensory congruence in the context of ancient cities, which were built around narrow roads and slender streets to help people feel “enclosed” and “safe” from the wide open surroundings.

By playing senses off each other, “designers intuitively know how to elicit a response from someone,” claimed Smith. He asked the audience to answer what makes a design “good or successful” and introduced the concept of “predictive processing”, which describes the way our brains create “expectations and predictions based on the sensory information around.” When that sensory information is matched, it elicits a positive response.

“Multi-sensory integration is not an exception,” added Smith. “It's the rule.”

The Superyacht Design Festival takes place in conjunction with the BOAT International Design & Innovation Awards. Nominations for the awards are now open, and will remain open until Friday 7 October 2022.