Devlin studied music at the Royal Academy of Music from age 12 as a Junior Exhibitioner while attending Cranbrook School in Kent. She went on to gain a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English Literature at Bristol University, writing her dissertation on the American poet Adrienne Rich. A fine art foundation course followed at Central St Martins College of Art and Design before she studied set design on the Motley Theatre Design Course in London under Percy Harris, Alison Chitty and Kandis Cook. While studying Devlin worked as a stage hand for Le Cirque Invisible – the circus created by Victoria Chaplin and Jean-Baptiste Thierrée. She also assisted the artist Damien Hirst on Agongo, an installation at the Richard de Marco Gallery in Edinburgh in 1992.
Devlin was born in Kingston upon Thames to author, campaigner and former teacher Angela Devlin, and Tim Devlin, a journalist. Devlin lives in Peckham, South London with her husband, costume designer Jack Galloway and their two children.
On completing the Motley Theatre Design Course in 1995, Devlin was awarded the Linbury Prize for Stage Design – part of the prize was her first professional commission: Edward II for the Octagon Theatre, Bolton. More projects followed in small fringe theatres in London including the Bush Theatre (pictured) where she was appointed Artistic Associate from 1997–99. Devlin invited Trevor Nunn (director of the Royal National Theatre at the time) to see her work at the tiny pub theatre – he saw the show and commissioned her to design Harold Pinter's Betrayal at the National Theatre.
Devlin has gone on to design for many of the major UK theatre companies including the Royal Shakespeare Company, Royal Court Theatre, Old Vic, Young Vic, Almeida Theatre, Arcola Theatre, Hampstead Theatre, Soho Theatre, Duke of York's Theatre, Haymarket Theatre, Comedy Theatre, Royal Exchange Theatre, Out of Joint and Theatre de Complicite plus productions in New York, Madrid, Dublin and Tokyo.
Devlin's first major opera commission was Ernst Bloch's Macbeth in 2003 at Theater an der Wien in Vienna. She now designs for many of the major European opera houses including La Scala Milan, El Liceu Barcelona, Netherlands Opera, Copenhagen Opera House, Greek National Opera, Finnish National Opera, Theater an der Wien, Vienna Staatsoper, Dresden Semperoper, Leipzig Opera, Oper Frankfurt, Ystad Festival Opera, Scottish Opera Go Round, English Touring Opera, Royal Opera House, English National Opera and Glyndebourne Festival Opera. In 2017 she collaborated as stage designer with Kasper Holten on an arresting, giant Carmen at the Bregenz Festival, issued on DVD within three weeks of its premiere.
Devlin also designs for dance – including pieces for Russell Maliphant, Rambert Dance Company, Northern Ballet Theatre, Sadlers Wells and Cullberg Ballet, Sweden.
In 2005 Kanye West saw images of Devlin's installation for the post punk band WIRE – a collaboration with the artists Jake and Dinos Chapman for the Only Connect Festival at the Barbican Centre. Kanye was in rehearsal for his Touch the Sky World Arena Tour. He commissioned Devlin to re-conceive his show 10 days before the first performance. More projects followed, including Jay Z and Kanye West's 'Watch the Throne' tour, Lady Gaga, Muse as well as Beyonce's 'Formation' tour, arena and stadium tours for Adele, 'Legend of the Fall' tour for The Weeknd, 'Innocence and Experience' tour for U2, 'Fundamental', 'Pandemonium' and 'Electric' tours for Pet Shop Boys, 'Circus' and 'Progress' tours for Take That, 'Ellipse' tour for Imogen Heap, as well as tours for Lenny Kravitz, Mika and Goldfrapp; for many of these projects Devlin provided the creative direction for the performance as well as the stage design.
Devlin's notable large scale project for Take That European Stadium Progress Live in 2011, featured a 20metre high mechanical man that stood up in the centre of the stadium. It was large scale stadium projects like this that led LOCOG to select Devlin and Take That's creative director Kim Gavin to conceive the Closing Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games. Devlin was also part of the design team on the Opening Ceremony of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
Devlin's film work includes direction – a music video for Imogen Heap and a one-hour film for London's London IMAX to the music of Nitin Sawhney as well as costume design for Sally Potter's feature film RAGE and production design for short films and music videos by Mike Figgis.
Her TV designs include MTV Europe Music Awards (EMAs) – 2011 and 2010, Rihanna's performances at the Grammy Awards and Brit Awards 2012, Pet Shop Boys Lifetime Achievement Award performance at the BRIT Awards 2009, a short film for BBC2 plus TV performances for Kanye West on American Idol, BET Awards and VH1 Storytellers. Devlin was profiled in the first season of the Netflix docu-series Abstract: The Art of Design.
Devlin designed the London 2012 Olympic Closing Ceremony (under the creative direction of Kim Gavin, within a creative team formed of music director David Arnold, lighting director Patrick Woodroffe, and executive producer Stephen Daldry. ) Devlin worked on the Closing Ceremony at the same time as designing David McVicar's acclaimed production of Les Troyens by Berlioz at the Royal Opera House.
Devlin was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2015 New Year Honours for services to stage and set design.