The interplay between place and design


26 July 2023

Ux Design


This represents Part 2 of a series of highlights and thoughts from The Design Conference 2023. At the end of each article, you'll encounter prompts that I found myself pondering at the end of each conference day.

Answering these prompts can act as gateways for your creative exploration, as they have for me.


Similar to themes from TDC 2022, the interplay between place and cultural identity continues to wield significant influence in design. It is this very influence where design can dance with the intricacies of the human experience. A handful of speakers touched on recognising the intrinsic connection between design and the environment from which it springs.

#3 Embrace culture and culture embraces you.

Tyrone Ohia presented works that encapsulated the very essence of place and cultural identity. Through monochromatic colours, fluid shapes and use of earthenware materials he illustrated the potential of design to honour and recognise the lands we inhabit.

As we engage in various projects, this message prompts me to ponder whether there exists an opportunity—a space—to enrich our designs with a sense of culture. How can we infuse our creative endeavours with a deeper understanding and reverence for the diverse cultural tapestry that surrounds us?

“Indigenous expression can be hard to access, but you would do good to look beneath the soil… embrace culture and culture will embrace you.” - Tyrone Ohia

Josephine's sketch noting

#4 Things are not fragile to touch as long as you do it respectfully.

Evi-o spoke about a recipe book she and her studio designed and successfully published. The book beautifully showcased a collection of Japanese recipes paired with vibrant illustrations deeply influenced by the rich Japanese aesthetic. She then went on to reveal the conflict she experienced in presenting such culture-rich work when the face behind the culinary expertise was a white man.

She continued this discussion with the key point: culture and its expression are not inherently fragile entities. Instead, it is the respectful approach we take towards cultural representation that safeguards its integrity and honours its essence.

This carries a timeless truth and reminds us that encompassing diverse influences can thrive as long as we navigate the terrain of culture with sensitivity, authenticity, and a genuine commitment to understanding and appreciation.

“"Things are not fragile to touch as long as you do it respectfully." - Evi-o

Connection with empathy post card

Last year WorkingMouse reviewed and reimagined our core values. We recognised that our previous values served us well in their time and that we were now entering the dawn of a new era. It was within this transformation that the value 'Connection with empathy' emerged as a cornerstone of what motivates us.

As we sought to visually manifest this value, it became evident that we needed to delve into our history with the land.

Inspired by the wisdom of Indigenous songlines and the symbolism of spirals, our visual representation began to take shape. Indigenous songlines are the invisible pathways that weave across the land, connecting people to country, evoking a sense of unity.

"Songspirals are the essence of people in this land, the essence of every clan. We belong to the land and it belongs to us. We sing to the land, sing about the land. We are that land. It sings to us." - Gay'wu Group of Women

We saw that the spirals resonated as a visual language that speaks to the interconnectedness of our ecosystem - the people that move in and out. This encapsulated the notion that our identity is made up of our people and those we work with.

With this intention, we embraced indigenous songlines to best represent this value.


  • Where are the places you feel most connected to?
  • What in particular makes you feel that sense of connection?
  • How do you/can you engage with your heritage or country?

Part 3 will be released in a week :)

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Josephine Nguyen

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