Q&A with Mark Tucker of Design Unlimited

Written by Vivian Hendriksz

Establishing a successful yacht design studio is by no means an easy feat. Ensuring the studio continues to grow and thrive is another challenge in itself, one that Mark Tucker, founder and managing director of Design Unlimited has relished over the past 18 years. Having worked on numerous award-winning projects over the years including the 64.68-metre Shemara, 53-metre Mirage and 46.2-metre Pink Gin VI, the British studio has gone from strength to strength, thanks to the vision of its founder and his team. As Design Unlimited focuses on its upcoming projects SuperYacht Times took a moment to catch up with Tucker during METSTRADE to learn more about the team, their projects and his thoughts on yachting.

Mark TuckerPhoto: Justin Ratcliffe / Justin Ratcliffe

You set up Design Unlimited in 2000 - what are some of the studio's significant milestones?

That's a tough one! There are certain boats stand out to me, but all of our customers have amazing yachts. Some of our earliest boats like Visione, a Baltic 147' that was the biggest composite sloop at the time, comes to mind. She was built 18 years ago, but the owner still owns it and is still sailing it, which is great! Other milestone boats I’d say would be Shemara, a beautiful, classic gentleman’s motor yacht. We just completed another one which is named Alyssa, for a very different market sector of the world. Then you get your Pink Gin’s, Pink Gin V, Pink Gin VI - an evolution of a famous name. She is a unique boat, with a very, very different feeling. We designed three yachts for that particular customer, and we got to know him and his taste very well.

Pink Gin VI cruising

Design Unlimited works on both custom superyachts as well as production series. Do you have a personal preference when it comes to design?

I get rewards which are both similar and different from both. Custom work is very rewarding in terms of its status in the industry, the feeling you have once you have achieved a new, unique design. However, production design is also very important regarding what you can bring into the market, such as responsible design, and how it reflects on other yards. We do a lot of production work with Sunseeker, Baltic, Hansa Group and Windy and we are proud that we have good relationships with those companies. Although it’s a different section of the market than custom superyachts and can be quite challenging at times because you have a number of cost-control measure, design and USP to keep in mind, these things make it quite interesting as well. At the end of the day, if you see someone having a great time on one of your boats - custom or production - it's the same. The owners get the same pleasure across the board.

Can you tell us a bit more about some of your recent projects - such as the new aluminium model for Sunseeker & Icon?

Well, we just started working with Sunseeker on the Icon product line, and that is a very big step for them. However, our work with Sunseeker is more of a behind-the-scenes collaboration - any model we create is 100% a Sunseeker yacht. We previously worked with them for several years, up until 2008, and developed 12 of the former models, so it is nice that they have come back to us to work on this new range. We are working on a few other projects with them, but I can't say anymore I am afraid!

We are also working on another new, very exciting range of explorer yachts which will be announced in BOOT - Dusseldorf - it is a very recent signing, so I can't share any more on that either!

Mirage yachtWhere do you look for inspiration when working on a new yacht design? 

We look at everything for inspiration - including yachting! The yacht design industry is an amazing industry to follow, full of incredible designers and you should always respect that. While Design Unlimited may not be the oldest design studio, I think it's essential to learn from what some of our peers have done over the years. We also find inspiration from all sorts of other areas - the world is a big place. Think art, colour, seasons, textures, architecture - they all come into the equation. Our team is continuously looking and observing what is happening in the world and that's easier to keep track of today thanks to the internet and tools like Pinterest. 

I do rely on our team for inspiration as well. I am very much a team believer, and I feel that working with other people and listening to them helps me come up with new ideas.

Shemara yachtHow would you describe yourself and the design team at Design Unlimited?

I am a team player. I like working with people and think we have quite a nice, mixed team. It's invigorating working with young people and the fact we can give them a chance to work on amazing projects is great. I like to think that we promote diversity in our designs for our customers - if you look at our projects and our range of boats, there is no stereotypical, hit-studio style. I'd never force my own personal ideas onto a project - our team is involved in all projects,  whether it be custom or production. I think it is good that there is more than one person behind a design because young people have great ideas - they haven’t got the clutter that some of us oldies have got, they see things differently sometimes. And also it's just really good fun working with them. We just hired a new lad, right out of university and he has brought a fresh injection to the studio, new ideas, new ways of doing things.

Visione in Palma de MallorcaPhoto: Merijn de Waard / SuperYacht TimesDo you think that there is sufficient innovation in yacht design?

I would say there is - especially among some of the more trendier styles, such as explorer yacht. While everyone has their own opinion on what an explorer is or isn't - a true explorer, in my opinion, is one which helps develop responsible systems. However, trying to put all these newer systems together in a whole package can be difficult. We are working on a new range of explorer yachts at the moment, they are not superyachts, but they are absolutely true explorer yachts, and the whole ethos is started from scratch, with a new platform. We only signed the contract a few weeks ago, but after the briefing, the entire team went 'wow'. There was a buzz going around the studio, and everyone was going on about it - it is sure to turn a few heads. 

How do you foresee the superyacht industry evolving?

The superyacht industry is small, with a lot of people in it. It’s a matter of can it and will it sustain itself, especially as more and more people come into it. 

Historically we are not a very green industry either. I think that we would all like to be more responsible and conscious, but it has to come from so many different aspects - starting with the engines, the main oil burner. There is much responsibility across the board, but not all clients are willing to pay the extra costs linked to hybrid systems. Fortunately, there are owners out there who are looking at the explorer platform with the idea to do something more green. Overall I think change is afoot, I think that the next generation that comes along will push harder in certain areas, I think that is inevitable. But we have to give them the platform to move it along. 

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