How Does Brand Image Inform Cruise Interior Design?

Cruise interior design
Ruby Suite onboard Saga’s Spirit of Discovery. Design by SMC Design. Image courtesy of Franklin and Franklin.

The past five years alone have seen some of the world’s major cruise operators undergo drastic (and some not-so-drastic) branding evolutions, switching up everything from typefaces to logos to straplines and everything in between.

To mark the occasion of CSI’s very own branding evolution, we’ve decided to reflect on some of the major brand revamps of the last few years and delve into how that impacts cruise interior design. Read on to find out how cruise line branding and interior design intersect. Plus, we reflect on some recent examples of brand switch-ups.


The age of rebranding

2016, otherwise known as the year Leonardo di Caprio finally won himself an Oscar, may have been just three years ago but in the fast-paced world of cruise it feels like a lifetime has passed since then. But what other events of note took place in 2016? World-leading cruise lines, including Holland America Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Celebrity Cruises, and MSC Cruises all underwent brand refreshes. It’s hard to say what it was about 2016 that made so many key players rethink their branding. Could it be the introduction of yet more new players into the industry? The surge in cruise tourism? Or the ever-increasing urge to stand out in a saturated market? Whatever it was, something caused these industry giants to transform their brand, inside and out.

At 143 years old at the time of its rebrand, Holland America Line (part of Carnival Corporation) worked alongside creative agency Copacino+Fujikado to realise its new vision. Soon after, the operator’s logo was transformed, the typeface updated, and its previous tagline “Signature of Excellence” was switched out for “Savor the Journey”, reflecting the line’s penchant for world-class cuisine.

Around the same time, Celebrity Cruises (part of Royal Caribbean Cruises, and so a direct competitor of Carnival Corporation) was undergoing an even more radical transformation. Spearheading the company since 2014, Celebrity’s President and CEO Lisa Lutoff-Perlo told publication Skift that she wanted her line to stand out from other industry players: “I didn’t want a campaign that looked like the others […] I wanted something that said, ‘Hey, Celebrity’s kind of cool, Celebrity’s different, Celebrity does it in a different way.’ And that’s what this campaign was designed to do.”

Unlike Holland America Line’s revised branding which continued to home in on the brand’s classic, timeless ethos and experience, Celebrity veered away from traditional cruising experiences, binning formal nights in the process and opting for more relaxed experiences, such as their outdoor film screenings and nightly DJs, instead.

But in the words of Trimline’s Simon Dawkins, speaking at Cruise Ship Interiors Expo America’s 2019 event, cruise line branding is more than just a logo or colours, it’s important to “get the ethos of your brand throughout the entire ship correct”. So how did Celebrity go about implementing its new, “modern” outlook into its vessels?

Brand-new interiors

Another instance where interior design studios and cruise lines are tasked with collaborating closely, cruise rebrands entail vast amounts of work in terms of design. Old vessels must be revitalised in order to harmonise with the entire fleet, whilst newbuilds will be on the cards in order to cement the brand’s refreshed image.

As Dawkins said, it’s not enough for lines to decide on a new brand vision and just say that’s the case, passengers really need to see and feel that ethos throughout their cruise, through the design and the experiences available to them, which is why Celebrity timed its rebrand with the introduction of its most innovative ship to date, Celebrity Edge. Speaking on the 2016 rebrand, Lutoff-Perlo claimed that “the timing was critical” in order for the line’s revised brand message to coincide with the launch of Edge.

From the interior design to the experiences offered, Celebrity Edge breathes modernity and is a far cry from cruise ships of times gone by with Las Vegas-style interiors, fixed dinner sittings, and limited choice. The brand’s revitalised image of not being like the other cruise lines was certainly implemented when it came to the designers picked. Instead of opting for an existing studio which had prior experience in the cruise market, Celebrity brought in land-based designers such as Kelly Hoppen, Tom Wright, and Nate Berkus to implement its vision.

Similar strides have been taken with other players entering the industry, such as Virgin Voyages, who chose British designer Tom Dixon to spearhead its design efforts, leading to some very unique results, including Scarlet Lady’s elaborate Rockstar Suites.

A more recent example of an established cruise line that’s interiors saw a major refresh in line with a rebranding is Saga Cruises. Generally known for targeting the 50+ age bracket, Saga was keen to show that it had more to offer than just leisurely experiences. With its target market being healthier and more active than ever before, Saga wanted to expand its perception beyond the age it catered to. The line’s new tagline, “Keep Doing” captures the brand’s new efforts aptly, as it hopes to play a part in its demographic continuing to be active do-ers in society. Speaking on the rebrand, Matt Atkinson (group CMO and former Tesco marketing chief) told Marketing Week: “We are not a brand for old people, we’re a brand for people who are getting on with life after 50.” Tasked with reinforcing this vision into the line’s interiors, London-based design studio SMC Design rolled out refreshed interiors across the line’s newest ship Spirit of Discovery. Additionally, in an effort to showcase the line’s design journey, SMC Design shared a series of videos explaining the process of revitalising the ship’s interiors, reflecting the fact that Saga continues to be a key player in this increasingly digital landscape. Speaking on the project, project manager Ben Wilson commented: “Between the four of us, the shipyard, ourselves, Saga, and the naval architects, we work towards the clients’ ultimate goal.” The results of this line’s rebrand were tangible, with SMC Design’s art consultancy branch even landing on the shortlist at the Design Awards.

The age of cruise line rebrands may be coming to an end but given the fast-paced nature of the cruise interiors industry (and guests’ changing desires), it’s unlikely a cruise line’s brand evolution will ever be finished. Certainly, interior designers will continue to push the envelope and enact cruise line’s changing visions, whatever those may be.   

Discover the ins and outs of cruise interior design at Cruise Ship Interiors Expo America, taking place on 16-17 June 2020 at the Miami Beach Convention Center.

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