In conversation with | Donna Payne

“Good design outcomes respond to all constraints, great design outcomes create opportunity out of the constraints.”

On completion of her degree at Queensland University of Technology, Donna relocated to Sydney and soon thereafter joined PMDL as an ambitious graduate. Within four years she made the move to Melbourne to establish our Melbourne Studio.

What got you into Architecture?
From an early age I developed a love of drawing and making things. At school, my favourite subjects were graphics, art and music. I studied Architecture part time at QUT, the course required working 4 days in an architectural practice with an additional 12 contact hours at university. The experience gained working within architectural studios during the 6 years of study was invaluable.

Do you talk about your work with people outside your studio?
Yes and often. It’s important to seek alternative perspectives and reflect.

What are your values as a company leader and how do you ensure these values are upheld by employees?
I value many things and as a leader you have the opportunity to share and prioritise the things that are important. I value our team, open communication, strong connections and a healthy life/work balance. Our strength is in our communication and the connections we value across our teams. With studios in numerous locations and the added new norm of people needing to work outside of their usual environments, strong communication and connections is what it’s all about.

Your expertise ranges across many sectors. How different/similar are they?
The significant differences between sectors is often language. I have worked across education, workplace, commercial, retail, hospitality, leisure and residential sectors.  Expertise stems from an intricate understanding of the sectors you work within. There is a discipline to the way we think that is applicable across all sectors.

What are the key factors in leading our Leisure Sector design and how do you see it evolving over the next 5 years?
The Leisure/ Entertainment sector was unfortunately one of the first sectors to be impacted by COVID 19 outbreaks across the globe. Ultimately, we need entertainment and leisure for our own wellbeing so the sector will respond strongly.  Like all sectors, to remain current you need to anticipate market evolution. Change is a constant.  We work with our clients, to anticipate future needs with the aim of delivering design solution that are agile and can support change.

Construction of Islamic College of Melbourne’s new learning, library and canteen building

How do you work across studios?
Connecting with our team on a regular basis informally and formally. We currently utilise technology for these connections rather than flights which has brought us closer together providing equal opportunity for everyone to connect. Within PMDL and our leadership structures, we have developed a number of opportunities and groups that support meaningful and purposeful connections.

Do you think constraints often produce better work?
Absolutely, the nature of what we do as designers is to find the solutions. You need to really understand the problem to do this. There is never a problem to solve that doesn’t have constraints. Good design outcomes respond to all constraints, great design outcomes create opportunity out of the constraints. This is why we take the time to understand our clients and their needs at a deep level.

What does a typical weekend look for like for you?
My weekends are pretty full traveling between various sporting venues, drama classes, etc. Spending quality time with my boys is a priority as is catching up with friends. If I get the opportunity to ride a few kilometres, thats’ a bonus too.

Last question, what do you love about Melbourne?
To understand and love Melbourne, you need to get under its’ skin. Melbourne has a number of hidden gems that make it unique. I love its’ multiculturalism, its’ tolerance, its’ arts and music culture along with its’ passion for all sports.