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Give Them What They Want

Yacht designer Jonathan Quinn Barnett sees consumer tastes changing, and says marketing needs to be far more specific
Barnett says his clients are demanding ever-efficient hull forms. 

Barnett says his clients are demanding ever-efficient hull forms. 

The Covid-19 pandemic changed the way boaters, builders, parts and accessory suppliers, dealers and pretty much everyone else thinks about the way they do business. The same is true for Seattle-based yacht and industrial designer ‑.

Barnett is best-known for designing the interior or Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s 414-foot Lurssen Octopus. He also drew the Horizon Vision 68 production yacht, and is involved with various interior design projects at the Delta shipyard.

“There is a lot more interest in the exploration vessel,” Barnett says of where post-pandemic design trends are headed. “They were originally a less-expensive alternative; people were taking what were commercial vessels and converting them.”

Expedition yachts are in high demand,  according to Barnett. 

Expedition yachts are in high demand, according to Barnett. 

Today, he says, buyers are looking for new builds that are ready to explore with some panache. The pandemic taught people that they truly want a way to get away from it all, and design trends are likely to reflect that consumer desire for a while to come — but in ways that also offer better-than-traditional performance for long-distance cruising.

“Buyers want to have a boat that can go greater distances,” Barnett says. “Traditional trawlers don’t go very fast, but performance has gone up. Boaters want to be cruising a little faster, more like a 21-knot cruise.”

Barnett uses the word “hybrid” to explain what he sees clients seeking in new-build designs today. He thinks of the boats as a combination of an explorer yacht and a performance boat. “That’s the evolution of hull design these days, high-performance motor­yachts,” he says. “These are performance vessels with aggressive looks, crossovers between an exploration-style vessel and luxury, go-fast yacht.”

Jonathan Quinn Barnett designed the interior of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s superyacht Octopus.

Jonathan Quinn Barnett designed the interior of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s superyacht Octopus.

Other Consumer Interests

Efficiency has long been something that fans of long-distance cruisers think about, but today, efficiency can top a buyer’s list because of the rising cost of fuel and climate-change concerns.

“Increasingly, clients are asking for better performance because they don’t want to tell their friends they are building an inefficient design,” Barnett says. “They want to say they are building the most efficient, greenest yacht for their money. There is no prize for the slow and heavy luxury boat these days. Nobody is impressed if you build a gin palace.”

Barnett sees creating efficiency as a holistic discussion about everything from a boat’s refrigeration to its audiovisual system to its interior layout. Fuel efficiency and range involve a multitude of factors that can be marketed to consumers in numerous ways. “The bragging rights for many of these yachtbuilders are that ‘my boat is more efficient,’ but in what?” Barnett says. “If it’s resistance through the water, OK, it’s an efficient hull for the displacement. That’s only one aspect.”

As an example, he says, battery-diesel hybrids may have some advantages, but how does the whole system account for the increased weight of the battery bank and extensive copper wiring?

“Sometimes, the more-efficient, simple diesel engine with the least amount of plumbing and wiring ends up coming out pound-for-pound the same,” he says.

The Horizon Vision 68’s galley is an example of  Barnett’s clean design philosophy.

The Horizon Vision 68’s galley is an example of Barnett’s clean design philosophy.

Smart Marketing for the Future

Builders would be wise, he says, to tell consumers what they’re actually buying in terms of efficiency. Innovations in materials such as ceramics, glass, carbon fiber and composites are all promising, but they’re far from revolutionary concepts. “I hear ‘Tesla of the water’ all the time,” he says, “but it’s not quite there yet. I don’t know if that’s a letdown for some people.”

Being more specific when describing innovative on-board features is a better marketing strategy, he says. As an example, he cites the 600-hp V-12 Mercury Verado with a pivoting lower unit. Simply telling consumers what it is makes for a compelling sales pitch. “Twelve cylinders in an outboard — can you imagine?” he says. “The innovations in that engine alone are unique and exciting, and open all kinds of possibilities for designers.”

To Barnett, these are exciting times for yacht design. “I am constantly amazed at the innovations and extent to which builders today — around the world and certainly here in the United States — how they build efficient vessels at the root of it,” he says. “If you dig into every system, the engineers at Delta are doing unbelievable things at the very edge of bleeding technology.

“As Jacques Cousteau always said, ‘Tu dois aller voir’ or ‘You got to go see.’ Or was it sea?” says Barnett of his passion for yachts and design. “I also like Elon Musk. who said, ‘The United States is essentially a nation of explorers.’ ” 

This article was originally published in the May 2022 issue.

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