The job role might sound self-defining, but what does a designer at a housebuilder actually do and what would someone interested in the role have to do to achieve their ambition? We speak to Joe Taylor of multi-award-winning Octagon Developments…
What’s your current role and where does it fit into the Octagon set-up?
My current role is designer, and I work across both our speculative builds and Bespoke projects. As our Bespoke portfolio is growing rapidly, I have recently been focusing more heavily on this sector of the business, meeting with clients, assessing their needs and requirements and producing sketches and designs – before finally submitting a planning application on their behalf.
Can you talk us through a typical day or week – the variety of tasks and responsibilities you have?
A typical week might involve multiple client meetings, initially to obtain a brief, and later to follow up to receive feedback and suggestions at the first stage. I also do quite a few site visits, assessing the progress of currently ongoing projects so I can answer any questions from either the client or the site-based staff, so everyone is kept in the loop at all times. Between these, I create new designs and put together the appropriate information in order to submit a planning application.
Have you won awards personally for your work, and/or are there examples of projects you worked on that have been awarded?
I have previously won a selection of local authority design awards, as well as working on a number of award-winning speculative Octagon projects. We respect the privacy of our Bespoke clients, so tend not to enter as many of the private projects into awards – even though many would deserve to win!
Are there any recent projects you are especially proud of and what is it about them that you find so appealing?
The most recent project I am proud to be working on, are two Bespoke homes that are underway in Meadway, Esher. Both of the properties are within the green belt, which means the percentage increase allowable for a redeveloped property is fairly limited. As such, designing a Bespoke property to a client’s specifications whilst working within these constraints has been challenging yet rewarding, especially as we have recently gained the appropriate approvals.
If someone young wanted a role like this, what’s the best way to get there these days?
I think it’s incredibly important to try and obtain as much on-site and office-based experience as possible. There is nothing better than getting hands on with a project, to see every phase of the process from site assessment through to design, construction drawings and then on-site build. I would also say maintaining your enthusiasm for architecture and design, and ensuring you constantly make time to look and assess old and new buildings and detailing.
What career/exam route brought you to this role?
I was born in Kingston, but grew up in East Molesey, close to the Octagon head office. My father, chief designer Tony Taylor, had been working there for as long as I could remember, but initially, I never envisaged following in his footsteps. I have always been interested in design, so after finishing my A Levels, I started studying at the London College of Fashion (LCF), but as the course progressed, I became disenchanted. On a trip to the V&A museum, my partner Nina noticed I was taking more photographs of the architecture and interior detailing, rather than the clothes that I was supposed to be studying. It became clear that the property industry was where my future in design might be. I left LCF and completed a degree in building and design at Southampton, and started my working life as a self-employed designer and technician. I was lucky enough to start working on some very high-end projects, which helped establish me within the field.
In between switching universities in 1999, I was employed at Octagon as an office junior, and enjoyed every minute of it. A few years after I had finished university and whilst self-employed, I was carrying out a project near to where Colin Tutt (our previous CEO) lives, and he asked me if I would be interested in coming back to Octagon, as they were looking for a new member of the design department – ten years on and I am still here!
What do you find most appealing about your job?
My job is very varied, and that’s what I love about it – from designing new homes, submitting planning applications through to helping with the interior design and bathroom specification, there is so much opportunity for creativity. I work very closely with our Bespoke division, and take great pleasure in assisting our clients to help design, specify and build their dream home from start to finish. My biggest highlight, as corny as it might sound, is working alongside my father Tony Taylor – his design work and attention to detail is fantastic. My passion for design and architecture has all been influenced by him.