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As a former senior designer of naval vessels and, more recently, a leading researcher in ship design, the author has previously presented a description of the ship design process in terms of the important decisions a ship designer makes in concept exploration. Such decision are made consciously or unconsciously in order to produce a new design or, preferably, any design option. It has been contended in many publications that the first real decision that a ship designer makes, in order to proceed, is the selection of the “style” of the design study or of a specific design option. This term was adopted in order to cover, not just a host of design issues and standards implicit in a given study, but also, at this very initial step, the overall characteristics of any particular study. So the term style could be said to be doubly important.
The current paper considers the nature of the early ship design process for complex multi-functional vessels and then retraces the origins of the particular use of the term, where it was seen as the last of the five elements in Brown and Andrews’ 1980 encapsulation of the ship design issues that matter to the naval architect, incorporated in the term “S to the 5th”. This leads on to consideration of the various aspects of design style, many of which could be considered “transversals” as they apply across the naval architectural sub-disciplines and to the component material sub-systems comprising a ship. One of the distinctive advantages of the architecturally driven ship synthesis or Design Building Block approach is that it can address many of these style issues in the earliest descriptions of an emergent design study. Examples, drawing on a range of built Royal Navy ship designs, are presented to show their top-level style characteristics, followed by a series of ship design research studies illustrating how the impact of specific component style aspects can be investigated in early stage ship design, using the UCL Design Building Block approach. Finally, recent research led investigations into integrating ship style into early stage ship design are summarized to demonstrate why the choice of “style” is seen to be The Key Ship Design Decision.