Jan 21 2019, by Fleetwood Urban

A coffee with Joel Watson, Design Lead

Q. What’s your role at Fleetwood and what does it involve day-to-day?

A. I’m the Senior Design Lead within the company, and I’ve been at Fleetwood for almost a year and a half now. I’m based at our Victorian office, but I’m typically in Sydney weekly as well. I’m working a lot with our Victorian clients, but there’s nothing like good old-fashioned face-to-face time and collaborating together with my Sydney team and colleagues, too.

The team I typically manage on each project includes a Design Technician who brings client sketches to life and is a primary creative lead within the team, a Structural Engineer who produces that next level of buildability for a project, a 3D Modeler who turns the designs into a nice photo-realistic image, and a Shop Detailer who fine-tunes the construction details.

Q. What’s the process for you around a typical project?

A. Each project is unique and carries its own nuances, but we have processes in place to guide us no matter what. Typically, it starts with a meeting where myself and one of our Project Leaders sit down with the client and talk objectives, approaches, budgets, and timeframes. I take this back in-house with my team and we can either use our estimator team to pull together a quicker top-level budget, or we can embark on a more thorough set of drawings and costings to arrive at a more definitive, fixed price.

As we progress through the project, my job is to act as a go-between our client and the design team to reduce any gaps, ensure a shared understanding, cover off any necessary changes which could impact the design, and ultimately help meet everyone’s expectations. For me, I love staying close to the detail. I have to be happy that the design intent is captured all the way through to the finish line.

Q. What’s your background and how does it apply to your role at Fleetwood?

A. I’m a qualified landscape architect, which is obviously very useful as I’m talking to them almost every day! But I’ve also got a corporate consultancy and project management background. Those consultancy firms can be pretty high-pressure environments, but that’s definitely helped me in terms of client service delivery.

I’m really passionate about what we call ECX – which is an Exceptional Client Experience. That’s a guiding principle for us, and it’s a personal ethos for me, too.

For my role, ECX can also be seen in stakeholder management terms. If you think about the design industry as a whole, it’s not like you’re very often going to present something once, and that’s it – signed off, job done. By its very nature, design can be a back and forth, moveable process. Not just because design elements can be subjective, but because projects and site variables naturally change for any number of different reasons. That’s why it’ so important to stay flexible, but balance that understanding with the presentation of your best advice and professional recommendations.

To me, that’s what delivering an exceptional experience is all about: doing our job to the best of our abilities, and ensuring our clients get what they want and need while remaining happy in the partnership they enjoy with us.


Q. With all of that in mind, what does communication and stakeholder engagement mean to you?

A. On the communication front, I often reflect on how people can be quick to deliver “good news” but often not so fast to relay “bad news”. My take is I just deliver the “news”. No qualifying adjective, no surprises, no radio silence. It’s much better to be upfront and to communicate regularly. And if the news isn’t wonderful, well that’s OK. Things happen, so as long as you’re always proactively suggesting the best ways to remedy the situation, then, in my opinion, you will find your stakeholders will 100% appreciate that approach. It’s important to me to always stay honest and authentic too. Following these two principles makes your professional life a lot less stressful than it needs to be. That’s my top-secret tip right there!

Q. Any Fleetwood projects you’d like to call out as being significant for you?

A. One of our recent Victorian projects we’re about to complete has been really great. It’s at Stockland’s Highlands project, called Sustainable Park. Basically, a large 8-metre high play tower that looks like a giant bird’s nest. We collaborated with a local artist and included elements of interpretative play around the wingspans of different birds, which makes the project really unique. I’ve been involved from the first meeting 10 months ago to a construction meeting this week on site – from brief to delivery – so that’s been satisfying for me and the whole team. This project really benefited from DesignExecute2, or DE2 as we call it. It’s our unique delivery model which is generating a lot of business for us in a competitive market.


I can point to another playground project in Sydney called Oatley Park which has been really interesting too. It’s an adventure playground involving community consultation which we’ve been able to feed back into the design, so we know we’re ensuring an outcome the community really wants. We’ve also collaborated with experts that specialise in the study of children’s play. Myself and Mark Jol (Design Technician) share a major interest in play-based design and construction.

Playgrounds have moved far beyond prescribed play like swings and slides, into a more fascinating area where you’re able to provide a framework that fuels the imagination and allows kids to figure out the way they want to play. This gives parents a better experience too while broadening the age group that can enjoy the setting. It’s a beautiful thing.

Q. What are your major interests or hobbies outside of work?

A. I’d have to say fitness is a major passion of mine. I find going for a bike ride, or a swim, or run, or even a paddle almost every day acts as an awesome release for me. As many before me have said, it’s a meditative process that refreshes the mind and the body at the same time. It’s all about getting the balance right between work, family, socialising, and everything else.


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