Ship design is a complex endeavor requiring the successful coordination of many disciplines, of both technical and non-technical nature, and of individual experts to arrive at valuable design solutions. Inherently coupled with the design process is design optimization, namely the selection of the best solution out of many feasible ones on the basis of a criterion, or rather a set of criteria. A systemic approach to ship design may consider the ship as a complex system integrating a variety of subsystems and their components, for example, subsystems for cargo storage and handling, energy/power generation and ship propulsion, accommodation of crew/passengers and ship navigation. Independently, considering that ship design should actually address the whole ship’s life-cycle, it may be split into various stages that are traditionally composed of the concept/preliminary design, the contractual and detailed design, the ship construction/fabrication process, ship operation for an economic life and scrapping/recycling. It is evident that an optimal ship is the outcome of a holistic optimization of the entire, above-defined ship system over her whole life-cycle. But even the simplest component of the above-defined optimization problem, namely the first phase (conceptual/preliminary design), is complex enough to require to be simplified (reduced) in practice. Inherent to ship design optimization are also the conflicting requirements resulting from the design constraints and optimization criteria (merit or objective functions), reflecting the interests of the various ship design stake holders. The present paper provides a brief introduction to the holistic approach to ship design optimization, defines the generic ship design optimization problem and demonstrates its solution by use of advanced optimization techniques for the computer-aided generation, exploration and selection of optimal designs. It discusses proposed methods on the basis of some typical ship design optimization problems with multiple objectives, leading to improved and partly innovative designs with increased cargo carrying capacity, increased safety and survivability, reduced required powering and improved environmental protection. The application of the proposed methods to the integrated ship system for life-cycle optimization problem remains a challenging but straightforward task for the years to come.