At Octopus Energy, we're quite unusual in that all aspects of design are done in-house.
That means everything you see, from our website to our ads, is dreamed up and built by a small group of committed, creative people.
I recently had the privilege of chatting with these designers to find out what led them to Octopus, what makes them proud and what makes design at Octopus so special.
Meet the designers
Octopus co-founder and Creative Director
First we’re chatting to Pete, Octopus' co-founder and Creative Director about his mission and vision for design at Octopus.
Samsam: What is the overarching mission of the design team?
Our focus is on making sure the transition to sustainable energy is so simple and comfortable that people barely even notice it's happening.
Starting from the initial first impression - that we're a company with ethics and morals that can be trusted - and continuing throughout the entire customer journey.
Most people don't want to spend loads of time thinking about their energy supply, they want somebody they can trust to act in their best interests on their behalf, which is exactly what we want to do. So our mission is to make things as efficient, consistent and transparent as possible, never asking for more time than we need from our customers.
Samsam: So, what do the Design Team do at Octopus?
Pete: From phones to buildings, our society is made up of a wide range of interfaces that we interact with every day. I spend most of my time thinking about how we design our Octopus experience and how this will affect customers. Our job is essentially to ensure we’re consciously designing interfaces that work for people from a whole range of different backgrounds, in different contexts, with different needs.
Samsam: The Design team is made up of some brilliant people - what are the most important qualities you look for when hiring for the design team?
Pete: I think of humankind as being like the awkward teenager at the start of a superhero movie. We've found we've got some pretty cool powers: reasoning, communication, and imagination, and we can combine them together to do amazing things. If we combine them just right, we can create empathy and bring people together, which is the nascent super-power that we haven't really mastered yet – it's really powerful, but it can also get a bit out of control and be pretty destructive. Thanks to our empathy, we’ve created ‘tribes’ that could work together for everyone's benefit, but we’ve come to view other ‘tribes’ as threats that need to be brutally dealt with, through a misguided sense of protection. So there's this issue with the breadth of our empathy, and who or what falls outside it.
If our movie is going to be a superhero story and not a dark tragedy, we must broaden our sense of empathy to include people who might not share our beliefs. That's when empathy becomes a powerful prism that supercharges our other powers. With that in mind,
I look for people with a knack for reasoning, imagining, and communicating, and a strong sense of empathy.
Design is transformational – interacting with it changes you ever so slightly, so I hope that the artefacts that we design can inspire and develop those same qualities in whoever we reach. That way, hopefully we can nudge the human storyline a little closer to the blockbuster superhero movie.
Samsam: What sets design at Octopus apart from other companies?
Pete: Digital design has changed massively in a few years. Until recently the technology was cumbersome - it used to take ages to make big changes. That’s no longer the case. At Octopus, we've set up our design and tech culture so that you don't have to wait a week in order to ship. A feature or a product can be done in a day or an hour if you know exactly what you're doing, and that ability to respond quickly to customers’ needs and a changing market really sets us apart.
Our approach isn’t to wait 6 month to launch the next big killer feature, it’s about consistently taking lots of small steps so we’re constantly transforming and keeping up to date.
Ultimately, I think it's really important to constantly challenge our views of the world, and ask ourselves what's changed. People change slowly, but culture, context, and technology change increasingly quickly. In design, we obviously think a lot about people, and what they want, and how they think. But good design isn't just about what's desirable or useful, it's also about what is technically feasible, and that's constantly changing too.
We're a team of generalists. That's very deliberate, because it means we can adapt quickly to changes in the world around us, and we're not overly invested in doing things one particular way.
I think we're also a very curious bunch, and we enjoy being slightly out of our depth, so an unpredictable and ever-changing world is the only way we'd have it.
We focus on taking thousands of tiny steps, rather than one giant leap – because in a changing world you can never be sure where you're landing.
Samsam: How important is socially conscious design to you, and how do you go about incorporating that element on a practical level?
Pete: I think design is fundamentally opinionated. Whatever you're designing – whether a billboard, an app, or a building – it's a conduit for the change you want to see in the world. It's not the artefact itself that's important, it's the impact it has when it's released into the wild – how will it change the world around us?
Most of us in the design team are here specifically because we want to create something fairer and more sustainable. And that can be really hard – it's not always black and white, there's thousands of different shades, and we need to navigate those choices. This is where our iterative approach really helps – we get many chances to reassess our choices and fine tune them for the right social or sustainable impact.
I think it's also about focus – as we've become known as a company with an ethical perspective, a lot of people and companies want to team up and work together on all kinds of amazing causes. Often, we need to bring it back to the cause we're fundamentally here for, and the big one that the world desperately needs: to accelerate the transition to a fully renewable energy system.
Monica joined Octopus as a Designer way back in 2018. I had a chat with her about how Octopus does design differently.
Samsam: How would you describe your role?
Monica: My role includes a lot of video and animation work internally or for our marketing department. It varies massively - on any given day, I might be doing anything from editing videos to working on design branding, or creating a landing page for one of our partners.
It’s a very creative role. I’m lucky to have a ton of freedom to explore my own ideas or take on interesting projects, like our Octopus Pub Quiz to entertain customers during lockdown, or making fun animated educational Youtube videos.
Samsam: What was your background before you came to Octopus?
Monica: I have a Diploma in Art & Design and a BA in Visual Communication where I learnt about a range of ways to make the world a better place using a visual medium. After I graduated I started a design internship in Madrid, which is where I’m from - it paid pennies but I did get a lot of experience and really fell in love with design there. At that time I was also doing creative community work, offering free courses to adults with severe disabilities, and learning to teach English in ways that incorporated creative practices.
I spent some time working in advertising but I found corporate life really monotonous, and I wanted to work somewhere that I could feel the positive impact of my work, so luckily I landed this incredible opportunity with Octopus!
Samsam: What sets Design at Octopus apart from other companies?
At Octopus, we really value applying a human touch.
We like doing campaigns and nice things like pub quizzes or giving away freebies simply because we like to do nice stuff for our customers. This sentiment extends to our design and illustrations as well - it’s the most impactful way to show our vibrancy, personality, and our genuine care for everyone who’s with us.
Samsam: Is there a project that you've been really proud of?
Monica: When we first started Octopus Energy Services (our smart meter installation service) I was asked to design a wrap for the vans.
I spent a long time thinking about how to make ours stand out and I loved the idea of doing something based on Hot Wheels using Octopus tentacles instead of flames. It really stands out and we’ve had a fantastic response!
Samsam: What’s been your biggest challenge and how did you overcome it?
Monica: Becoming a manager and finding a junior designer to join our team was pretty challenging. I was looking for someone really passionate about the work, and who was happy to pick up new skills (rather than prioritising a particular skill set).
You create great products when you give people the freedom to be creative and do the things they are good at.
As soon as I met Amy and saw her portfolio I knew she would be perfect for the job. It’s been really important to me to not stifle her creativity and create an environment where she can thrive and grow - the process has been challenging but ultimately super fulfilling and a massive success.
Samsam: I know you do a lot of work with Octopus Japan - how has your role evolved with this partnership?
Monica: I started working on our Japanese venture into Tokyo, working alongside the Tokyo Gas team in March. My role has changed a lot over the past few months and I have worked closely with our Front-End Developers, Operations Team and everyone in Tokyo to understand the needs of customers in Japan and what they expect from an energy company. Finding ways to surprise our new customers and hiring amazing new talent to work with us and working with our marketing director for Japan on how we can launch our product in the most Octopus way possible. It has been a very challenging, emotional ride and I am so proud of the work we have all put in to bring this venture to life.
I’d never imagined that 3.5 years after starting at Octopus as a Junior Designer that I’d end up being a creative director of our start up in Japan!
Samsam: What has been your biggest learn during this process?
Monica: It’s all been a massive learning curve for me and one of the largest, most creative projects I’ve ever been a part of. So far, I have managed to produce a working website + user journey and I have learnt a lot about the marketing and advertising world of Japan in our goal to create culturally relevant marketing. One of the most satisfying things about this project has been designing in Japanese and I am actually learning Japanese at the moment which is incredibly fun and has made me realise how many unnecessary words we have in English! Exploring the rules of this new language and culture has been eye opening, and I am grateful for this incredibly unique learning that I could only have been a part of through this project.
Samsam: What’s it like working with Amy, Maya and Pete?
We all have a really different set of skills so it’s really fun to learn from each other. We often share our work with one another and we all genuinely get along so there is a nice dynamic - we have each other’s backs.
I feel really lucky to work in such a lovely, creative and collaborative environment.
Samsam: Do you get to work on other design projects in your own time?
Monica: I am currently doing an MA equivalent in animation so I don’t have much spare time, but I have been able to be a part of some really cool projects. My favourite was Solpowered, a renewable energy charity founded by a few Octopus alumni, which provides reliable, sustainable energy to hospitals in impoverished parts of Zimbabwe. I worked on designing their website, and we successfully received funding from Octopus Giving and Engineers Without Borders. They’re doing incredible things so it was a wonderful project to be a part of.
Most memorable day at Octopus?
My first day at Octopus was the day that we celebrated 200k customers, moved offices and threw a huge party in the old office. I was launched into the deep end without knowing anybody!
The Receipts Podcast - they crack me up
Pride & Prejudice
What is your work comfort or ritual?
I love baking and recently made salted caramel macarons which came out pretty great.
Any unusual skills or hobbies?
I love crafting! Obby is a cool website with craft workshops for creatives with super fun things like pottery and ring making.
Your best trip ever?
I took a 10 day family trip to Jordan recently, which was an absolutely beautiful experience.
What is something you really want to do this year?
I want to go on a long pottery course, and craft my own dinner set.
I spoke to Maya, our UX/UI designer, about the importance of perfecting the online customer experience.
Samsam: How would you describe your role in a few sentences?
Maya: I lead on our UX (User Experience) and UI (User Interaction) Design, and I guess you could say I’m a bit like the brand police, especially as Octopus grows globally. In my UX & UI capacity I have to make sure that our customers have the best digital experience possible which is a constant iterative process as with most digital products.
Samsam: How did you begin working in design?
Maya: I was one of those children that was constantly drawing, making things and expressing my own creativity, and that carried me through school and into University, where I studied Graphic Design at Central Saint Martins. After that I went to LCC to study Interaction Design where I learnt about the relationship between people and technology, focusing on how we interact with design through technology.
After I graduated, I moved to Berlin and lived the hipster dream interning at creative agencies of various sizes and designing creative campaigns for big brands such as Adidas and Red Bull. I also lived and worked in Reykjavik, supporting the design festival there and eating a lot of salted fish.
Around the time I got back I wanted to find a career that could incorporate my skills at design, empathy plus harness my interest in technology, so I enrolled at the General Assembly UX course. This turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made, as not long after I was able to get a UX job at HAVAS Lynx where I was involved in creating apps and websites that would go some way to alleviating the stress that sick patients felt when receiving their treatments.
That then led to the wonderful Olivia, Octopus’ talent acquisition extraordinaire, getting in touch with me about a designer role here, which I leapt at, given Octopus’ position as both environmental protectors and a great company to work for.
A beautiful example of Maya's art work
Looking back on all my experiences I definitely feel the most pride at the jobs that had a purpose behind them, designed to improve lives and make a difference.
Samsam: What are you currently working on?
I recently took the initiative to develop our brand guidelines, which is going to help as we expand, ensuring that the brand is consistent across the globe. We are not a strict ‘rules’-based company and we all get a lot of trust and autonomy which I love, but my role was to make sure that all our designs agree with our brand, and that we’re all on the same page across offices.
Samsam: What resources or websites would you recommend for people who are trying to get into UX design?
Maya: Have a look at NNGroup, Interaction Design Foundation, Muzli Inspiration and Mobbin if you want to be inspired by great UX and best practice, and if that tickles your fancy then try and get familiar with Figma and Adobe Illustrator. Past that I would of course highly recommend the GA UX short course I did, which is where I really developed my UX portfolio.
Samsam: What is your favourite part of the job?
Maya: I love the collaboration across the company. As part of my role, I work closely with the front-end development team who keep growing from strength to strength. Not only have we learnt a lot from each other but we really trust each other which is massively important.
No two days are the same at Octopus and there is always such a great variety of projects to work on.
Samsam: What work are you most proud of?
It would have to be our “Portraits from the Precipice” campaign in collaboration with Artfinder. We asked members of the public to send in their art about climate change and the responses were phenomenal. We then selected the best ones in order to broadcast them on billboards all over London. It was unofficially one of the largest environmental exhibitions in the UK. The pinnacle of this was going to Waterloo station with my family to watch my work get broadcast on the 40-metre-long digital screen, which was all quite surreal.
Maya's billboard designs (spot her checking them out in Waterloo Station)
Favourite Octopus Pet?
Nellie the Dog, in her most adorable little Octopus hat!
Most memorable day at work?
The super fun London Queer Fashion Week event, where I got to make a cool, grungy version of our Octopus mascot in neon light form, Constantine (I’ve been told it looks like a fried egg though).
Best place you’ve lived?
I took a year out in Berlin where I had the most incredible experience working for VICE - I almost didn’t move back to the UK!
Favourite music genre?
I actually DJ myself and I’m really into house/disco/techno/world music.
Check out my mix here - Shamaya Twain - No Kisses at Midnight
What's your most memorable DJ set?
I lived in Iceland for a while, where I held my own rave in an old salted fish factory. I got to book and showcase a load of female DJs which was such a joy - I’m so inspired by them.
Ghosts by Dolly Alderton
Top TV show recommendation?
Any more unusual skills or hobbies?
I’m into DIY, cycling and cocktail making
Favourite place in the world?
Peru, the arts and crafts there are beautiful!
What are you looking forward to?
Dancing in sweaty crowds with no care in the world.
Amy is a designer and illustrator who joined Octopus in 2019, and whose designs have become an integral part of the Octopus ‘look’.
Samsam: How would you describe your role?
Amy: My role in the Design team is really broad and I get to do a bit of everything. I mostly focus on illustration for online and 'out of home' ads (like billboards), social media, or for our UX. I was initially hired to develop Octopus’ illustrative ‘look’, as that hadn’t really been pinned down yet.
One thing for sure - my role is never boring. I tend to have a different project week to week which might include internal designs for Octopus or our partners, whether that be content for social media, billboards or merchandise. Occasionally, I also work on special awareness projects, like designing the illustrations and posters for our Black History Month Magazine.
Samsam: Do you have an art background?
My mom used to create fine art, which is what first inspired me to pursue a creative career. I did a BA in Illustration, and I was lucky enough to get this job immediately after graduating. Monica hired me and I think she just knew I was moldable, and didn’t have some corporate brand identity imposed on me so I was free to be creative and innovative.
Samsam: What initially drew you to Octopus?
Amy: I was really selective with the jobs I applied to...
I didn’t like the idea of working in a super corporate environment. I was drawn to the Octopus job as it was clear that it wouldn’t be a very rigid environment and I would be given lots of autonomy, trust and support to get things done.
I am also really interested in environmentalism and sustainability which was a big draw.
Samsam: What is being a part of the Design Team like?
There is a really great, non-hierarchical dynamic and nobody hesitates to ask each other for help or advice, so we get to be very collaborative.
Plus, I feel really lucky to have Monica as my manager. She’s always encouraging me to try new things and explore creative concepts she thinks I might enjoy.
The team is mostly made up of women which is a very different experience to my University which was very male dominated. Being one of the few women always made me feel like I needed to overcompensate with my work, so it’s been nice not having to feel that way anymore.
Samsam: What are some skills you’ve been able to develop?
Amy: When I joined, I had only ever used Photoshop and since joining Octopus I have become proficient at using Adobe Illustrator, InDesign and Sketch. As time’s gone on I've done a lot of UX and helped build websites. I've also done quite a few big campaigns like the Arsenal partnership, which has been really exciting.
Samsam: What project are you proudest of?
Amy: Due to the pandemic and lockdown a lot of companies have changed their marketing approach because it’s obviously pretty insensitive to be advertising when circumstances are so difficult for so many people. However, we had already bought some ad space and didn't want to pull out of the commitment - we do all our ad-buying in-house and have a great relationship with the people who own the space. So, we decided to create something cheery, bright and optimistic for people to look at and enjoy, without selling anything. I am really proud of the piece I created and I hope it elicited a feeling of hopefulness and nostalgia during a difficult time.
Samsam: Are there any cool projects you’re working on outside of your usual role?
Amy: When I get a chance I do like to take on freelance projects, and I have done quite a bit of political and satirical art online. Mostly I focus on women’s rights, and the trans and gay community. I have also helped make designs for the ‘Bloody Good Period’ charity which tackles period poverty.
Samsam: Do you have any advice for somebody who might want to work in Design and Illustration?
Amy: If you're anything like me, just don't overthink it. There is lots to learn which can be intimidating, but just know that it takes time and experience and that is okay.
I didn’t join Octopus wielding a lot of skills but I had lots of support and learnt over time so don’t worry too much about what you don’t know, and focus on what you can learn.
As long as you have a strong work ethic, a positive and energetic attitude you will be fine.
Also Skillshare is incredible!
Most memorable day at Octopus?
The day Boris Johnson was coming to the office, a tour around the office was planned and we wanted to brighten up the office walls a little. I got a last minute call and came to the office at 2pm on Sunday and worked nonstop on whiteboard illustrations to get it done, which was pretty crazy.
Favourite TV Show?
Spanish Saharah - Foals
Favourite Worst Nightmare - Arctic Monkeys
Favourite Greg story?
Well, he once handed me an entire watermelon to eat as a snack.
The best gig you have even been to?
Your favourite city?
San Francisco because it’s really cultural and creative.
Your favourite trip?
I love travelling on my own and I did an incredible 3 month solo trip from San Francisco to Boston when I was 17.
Skip back to read more about each Octo-designer...
Creative Director and Octopus Co-founder
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