A design Forum was recently asked why a client should not hire a designer to design by the hour, with the client retaining the intellectual property.

I think most designers would love to work by the hour, an
instant return, but certain practicalities seem to nearly always kill such a scenario.

Not the least of these: A Designer is unlikely to try as hard on someone else’s intellectual property as they will on a Stock plan sold purely on its merits, and to be associated with the designers name forever.

The reason the stock plan set-up is as it is, is that the hours taken from conception to full amateur-level detailed building plan stage, combined with the competition driven low price that the home-building industry has embraced as "fair", are such that it often takes 50 sales before the designer recoups a low hourly rate. This gets better with the size of the boat, and 40 footer plans still command a decent fee, but small home build boat plans are a great
bargain, some going for a tad over copy and mail costs.

"A custom Design to Client Specification Scenario"….
To Professionally Paranoid Designers this reads “A lemon with my name on!”

Clive the CEO Client wants to take his family high speed world cruising in a purpose built catamaran. He knows all about sailing fast…he started in Lasers and moved up to Elliotts, and there is not a seven-meter sports boat in the world whose limits he has not tested. He figures his family will enjoy the flat fast 240 nautical miles a day that he will extract from a roomy catamaran, and reckons he’s got a design in his mind that can “create a Seamless Market Niche” on a world tour, all he needs is

  • 1/ A boat faster than the other cruising multis.
  • 2/ Total rights to the design.

Clive hits upon the idea of having his brainchild drawn up by Des, an established cruising Multihull designer who may even have a few good ideas to add.

Clive has drawn out his design on a piece of graph paper, it has 6 berths, a dishwasher, stereo, fridge, freezer, washing machine and dryer in its 38 ft length, along with a wine cellar, and its communications/computer/office space. All air conditioned of course. It can be chartered to defray costs, which will be controlled by subcontracting the work and supervising it personally in the gable-roofed double garage he has had knocked up behind his tennis court. All it needs is a designer to shape it up for speed, and do that stuff they do to carry the weight while making it go fast. Its true that it carries all the comforts of home, but a man like Clive doesn’t want his family to suffer. Plenty of sail area will take care of everything. Lets rock and roll! The accommodation plan has gotten the hard work out of the way for Des, he can just tweaks it and give it the stamp of approval. Wait till he sees how much I’ve gotten in 38 feet thinks Clive proudly.

But Des is implicitly endorsing the product by working on the project at all, & Des wants PRIMARY control. Else the project will founder immediately on the simplest of disagreements, and Des doesn’t know what he disagrees with most. Probably the concept of an overloaded boat set to planing by brute force. Where does one start with this. ..

By now Clive, excited by the words Carbon Fibre, has scooped up a 2nd hand 64 foot rig super cheap. Des says he won’t be associated with ANY boat sporting that rig, if it is to be on a Waterline Length under 44 feet. Clive’s building shed is 40 feet long. Clive bludgeons his personal doubts to death with a rapid-fire CV of sailing exploits in a tangle of yachts. Des says "Jolly good show, but sadly I don’t care if you are the Official Resurrection of Sir Peter Blake, I won’t bet my reputation against your ability to NEVER make a mistake. In my opinion you have already made the mistake in overloading the yacht, then compounded the problem by overpowering it. In your brash overconfidence, you wish to set up a disaster, then pit yourself against preventing it”

At this point Clive has realised that these designers “seem to be a bit unreasonable”, wonders “who is working for whom” and who is the Boss, Des points out that the Ocean and the Weather are the Committee in Charge of Cruising, and they don’t like Corporate Takeovers. Clive and Des must talk about whether they can work together at all.

If they agree to disagree and Clive keeps artistic control Des will view the entire job as trying to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

If Des takes primary artistic control and Clive wants a one-off custom that no-one else can ever build without his Royal approval, a fair fee would seem astronomical, and would result in a boat that Clive wouldn’t like. The fee would also be near impossible to calculate as Des, fully hooked into the problems of what to sacrifice and keep from the hodge-podge drawn by Clive, is working on it 24 hours a day, including while he’s asleep. Des occasionally stops at Green Traffic Lights and stares vacantly at Loved Ones. Des cant see them, he is staring at a Cross-Beam Detail at Station 3.

This is why we generally see Customer Control stopping early in the process. To see a customer controlled design, look at a Designers own boat, or one for a very, very close mate, or a for a sponsored racing Syndicate.

Designing yachts is not an area in which people can charge about like a bull in a china shop, then slip an expert substantial dollars to “do it up right”

Listen to your designer, he or she listens to you.

Jeff Gilbert 2003.