Career Profile: Joanna Biggs

As part of our Career Profile series, we caught up with Joanna Biggs, Hospitality Interior Designer. We’re thrilled to share Joanna’s journey and hope you can find inspiration that you can apply to your own creative career.

Here is what Joanna told us:

My name is Joanna Biggs. I am a Design Consultant specialising in Hospitality Interior Design.

I studied at the University of Teesside. In my final year I exhibited in the New Designers Show at the Islington Design Centre where I was offered my first job in as a Junior Designer for Hotel Design company KCA International. 

Whist doing well on my Degree course, it was hands on experience at KCA where I learned the fundamentals of the design process. I seem to recall working on lots of public toilets, so it was very much starting at the ‘bottom’! 

Westin Yokohama, Japan

I’ve been working in Hospitality Design now for over 25 years, with the majority of this time at GA Design International. Beginning as a Designer, when the company had only 15 staff, this increased to over 100 during my time there. I became Project Manager, Associate and then a Director of the London Office. I still enjoy the process of creating design concepts and guiding the client and construction teams through to completion. There is always an amazing buzz to see your ideas developed into a 3D form.

What most designers don’t appreciate about Hotel Design is the timeline to completion. Typically, it can take 5 years to build a hotel from scratch, but this can slip and there can be lots of unseen eventualities which can affect the natural flow of work, such as inflation, stock market fluctuations and natural disasters.  

Westin Yokohama, Japan

In my experience, it’s the relationship between the Owner, the Operator and the Designer which is the most crucial to achieving a successful outcome. It is not always easy to second guess what an owner/developer is thinking, but building a good relationship at the outset can set a smooth path for creative, innovative and well thought through design. 

Design is not just a job, it’s personal. Each project becomes you. Long after your contract is complete, there is always a small piece of you still there.

The best thing about International Design is the amazing travel opportunities. I feel very fortunate to have been able to be immersed into new cities in ways that you can’t reach as a tourist. 

There are certain projects I feel honoured to have been a part of.

I spent much of my time at GA working on projects in India. We helped create the Grand Hyatt Goa, a fascinating Indo-Portuguese styled resort project nestled in Bambolim Bay near the capital Panjim.

Grand Hyatt Goa Bay

I have so many great memories of that project, but my first visit to site was the most memorable. We were walking through the hotel areas down to the sea in the steamy monsoon heat and I was asked if I’d like a coconut. Within seconds a swift barefooted man scaled one of the coconut trees, grabbed the fruit and with a machete and expertly fashioned a drinking hole for a straw. The best, freshest drink I’ve ever tasted! 

JW Marriott Hotel Nara

Some of my more imaginative work has been in Japan. There seems to be a great synergy between the English and Japanese, where quality and pride are important in every project. The JW Marriott Nara became a favourite of mine. We delivered a unique luxury ‘residence’ style hotel in Nara, (a city often overshadowed by its neighbour Kyoto), which is also the area where the owner grew up. Although this was a new building, we created spaces which picked up many of the historical elements of Nara province, such as the fire festivals, the Nara hills landscape and the amazing Nara deer which roam freely throughout the city.

Westin Yokohama, Japan

The latest hotel project I have completed is the Westin Yokohama, Japan. This new build hotel packs a punch! Open green spaces on the top floor lobby level, with views to Mount Fuji, majestic ballroom spaces with ceilings of theatrical proportions, a fresh serene spa and pool area, 3 dynamic restaurant spaces and a killer bar in the round! This has been a most challenging project as most of the site work has been done via video call due to the travel restrictions over the last two years. It is testament to the design and the dedication from the team that the end result looks as amazing as it does. I can’t wait to sip a cocktail in that bar we helped to create! 

Mrs Chew’s Chinese Kitchen to the Café Court at Westfield London

I recently decided to make the move from directing teams within a global design company, to working independently. Still consulting on projects for the GA Group but also on design and development of new restaurant concepts with Sherliker Design within the UK restaurant market. This has been a real eye-opener! Restaurant owners have been hit hard throughout lockdown, but some have seen the quiet period as an opportunity to pivot and embrace a new emerging market of hospitality. It’s an exciting time to be part of the restaurant scene in London right now.

The advice I would give to emerging designers is to not expect too much too soon. Hotel design is an amazing and rewarding area to start a design career. It covers everything you think you need and more! But there is so much to learn, and in my view, it takes a good 10-15 years to get to a decent level in which to say, ‘I design hotels’. There is so much to learn, but many rewards to reap! 

I’m really happy with the path my career has taken so far, and I aim to continue creating new spaces, Hotels and Restaurants for people to experience and enjoy.


About Alys Bryan

Alys is a knowledgeable design editor who is focused on instigating conversations, both online and in-person, with industry experts which challenge, educate and advance the commercial interior sector. Her training and 15 years of professional experience as a furniture designer for the commercial sector makes her uniquely placed to lead Design Insider as Editor
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