A day in the life of a Design Manager

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15th Oct General

Penny Fearon, Adlington Retirement Living.

What are the main responsibilities of your role?

The role of a Design Manager is to work across core areas of the business to create and design the apartments and communal spaces from a technical perspective.

The architects create and design the overall concept for our retirement communities, then our team of architectural technicians add all the construction detailing and devise technical drawings for construction.

My role, as team leader is to ensure that everything is fully compliant with NHBC standard building regulations, planning requirements and construction specification.

In addition to making sure that all that happens, and everything runs smoothly, one of my key tasks is to focus on apartment design and communal areas, to ensure they meet our high standards.

On a typical day, the team meet to review the design programme. We cover many topics, such as roof trusses and foundations, or specification finishes and kitchen design. It’s broad spectrums really, from the bigger construction requirements to the final touches.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

I love a technical challenge. If there is a problem to solve, I like to get my teeth into it and collaborate with the skills in our team to find a solution.

My role offers variety too and it’s important we visit as many locations as possible, at different stages of construction, right through to when homeowners have moved in.

We visited The Folds in Romiley a few weeks ago. This community was completed last year, and it was lovely to see homeowners enjoying our finished product, that’s really satisfying.

How did you get into the role?

I’ve always loved design. My favourite subject at school was Design and Technology, so I wanted a career that enabled me to continue with that. At school, females were in the minority in that subject, I think there were only four of us in the group studying Design and Technology.

At university I was the only female on my degree course in Architectural Design and Technology. I try to be an advocate for getting women into the construction industry because everywhere I’ve studied or worked, female students or colleagues have always been in the minority. It’s nice to see more women coming into the industry recently, that is something I would like to encourage.

What attracted you to this area of expertise?

Adlington Retirement Living appealed to me, because the communities we design, build and operate, help to combat loneliness in the elderly. Being able to create an environment that makes a difference to someone’s life gives me real satisfaction; knowing that at the end of each project we’re enabling somebody to have a better lifestyle, in a safe environment.

Being part of something that allows people to improve their later life is really special. It’s not just creating an apartment block; it has much more purpose.

What are the most significant challenges in your field of work?

Adhering to industry regulations can sometimes be challenging. At the same time, we deliver the quality and high standard of product for Adlington, such as functionality and accessibility for our homeowners. Balancing all those requirements and making sure it all comes together on time is a big part of my job.

Keeping up to date with the latest industry standards is vital. We constantly need to be ahead of any changes. For example, one of the approved documents in building regulations is Part L which is energy and conservation, so we’re always looking at improvements towards zero carbon, better energy rated homes in terms of how they’re constructed and how they’re operated.

How do you overcome these challenges?

Working as a team is the key to overcoming challenges. It’s never down to just one person. We’re always trying to look one step ahead of what’s coming up in the industry, so we create specific working groups in our department to specialise in different areas. The team are all hard-working, talented individuals. Everyone has their part in pulling a scheme together.

We also need to make sure that the products and materials we use are both aesthetically pleasing and fit for purpose.

We do a lot of research to find ways to make life a little easier for our homeowners. You can see examples of this throughout our apartments. We design the patio doors with level thresholds to get out onto the balcony or patio, in some cases we have sourced kitchen units that are designed to avoid having to bend down and in others we have installed actuators to open and close windows at the touch of a button.

We constantly review the market, search out new products and be mindful of what is happening in the sector. How changes can be implemented technically and if they are viable from a cost point of view.

What gives you the most satisfaction?

We use a lot of 3D visuals in our design process, which is beneficial. They enable everyone across the business to visualise our proposed designs.

Seeing the project at the very end and once homeowners have moved in, after all of the hard work has been put in, is the most satisfying. As a team you can look back and see that all the hard work was worth it.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in your career, and how have you made use of it?

You never stop learning. There is always something new to learn each and every single day. The most important thing is when in doubt, always question and evaluate.

As a member of the Chartered Institute of Architectural Technologists and the Chartered Institute of Builders, I keep on top of industry changes, read articles online and in trade magazines, attend webinars and seminars. It’s a continuous learning process, and also helps to keep the role interesting too.