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What influence does where you live, or where you're from, have on your work? Design Studio

What influence does where you live, or where you're from, have on your work?

  • 12 read
  • 26/01/2023

Established in 2018, Not Not Smiling, aims to amplify the voices of female and female-identifying creatives, and provide a platform for them to connect and share their knowledge, experience and work.

In this series, we ask creatives from around the world, short questions covering topics including the meaning of creativity, inspiration, their processes and how we break the gender bias in our industry.

In this edition, we ask what influence does where you live, or where you're from, have on your work?


Shabnam Shiwan

Creative Director, Osborne Shiwan. Auckland, New Zealand.

We are strongly influenced by place.

"Tāmaki Makaurau (Auckland) is an inspirational city where diversity in immigration has seen creative and design culture grow in a positive way. Tāmaki Makarau is now the largest multicultural city in the Pacific. As a studio, we probably exemplify this - I’m from Fiji and my co-director Lloyd, is from the UK. By contributing to the design language of Aotearoa (New Zealand), we hope to create unique work with a global viewpoint. With everything going on over the past few years, we are very fortunate to work with great people. It’s an exciting time to have a creative voice."

Born in Lautoka, Fiji, Shabnam Shiwan grew up by the Pacific Ocean, near tropical rainforests and colourful marine reefs. As Creative Director at Saatchi & Saatchi Design Worldwide, Shabnam created memorable work for Delverde, Fisher & Paykel Healthcare and Spark NZ. Shabnam has been recognised in AGDA, Clio, AIGA, One Show, TDC, ADC, Good Design and Red Dot awards. Her work has been exhibited in Objectspace and published in Graphis (USA), I.D. (USA) and Page (Germany). Clients include Auckland Art Gallery, Taupō Tourism, Allpress Espresso, Fiji Tourism, Godavari Diamonds and Atamira Dance Company. Shabnam is a participant in Here Now, an international mentorship programme for BIPOC creatives.

Website, Instagram, Instagram

An illustration created by Fuchsia in response to the question

Fuchsia MacAree

Illustrator. Dublin, Ireland

My work is very connected to place and a sense of belonging in Ireland. I love knowing the quirks about a place and highlighting them, and reflecting people's experiences there back to them.

"My work is often about the ordinary and everyday - I'm really into elevating small moments of normal life. That could be drawing a road or a view that means something to me. It's a lovely feeling to put something like that out into the world and have it resonate with others too. I love being part of a community in Dublin and in Ireland, and realising that I share common feelings about places makes me feel stronger within that community. I also like making a semi idealised version of the world around me, one that just takes out the gentle and positive details - say, focusing on a flower growing out of a wall rather than the line of traffic just out of shot."

Fuchsia is an Irish illustrator who grew up in the Irish Countryside and now lives in Dublin. Her interests lie in nature and human connections.

LinkedIn, Website

Atlas, At Last by Zoe Pulley (Copyright RISD GD MFA 23 Cohort, 2021)

Zoe Pulley

Designer. Rhode Island, United States

My current practice all begins with my family. I have always been interested in our familial histories, and in recent years I finally have had the space, time, and resources to begin surfacing these stories that might otherwise be left unseen, heard or preserved.

"Both sides of my family hail from the American south and have migrated to various cities throughout the states during the 20th century. For me, there is no way to create the work I do without recognizing and reckoning the legacy of the Great Migration. By uplifting narratives from members of my family’s lived experiences, the work itself intrinsically speaks to the places I’ve lived, my parents lived, my grandparents have and theirs."

Zoë Pulley (b. 7/93) was born in Chicago, Illinois and grew up in South Orange, New Jersey. She currently is based in Providence, RI, pursuing her MFA in Graphic Design as a Presidential Fellow at Rhode Island School of Design. She received her BFA from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2015 and began a career in apparel design in New York shortly after graduating. She designed many a legging and sport bra during this time for brands such as Under Armor, Splendid and Spalding. Motivated to preserve generational narratives of Black experiences through print, textiles and other media, Pulley pursues ongoing projects including the jewellery line GRAN SANS and the collaborative open-call project called Black Joy Archive.

Her current work primarily focuses on the narratives of Black folks and questions the visibility of Blackness and meaning of these stories within various spaces. She loves to laugh, she loves her grandma and she currently loves the color orange (again).

Instagram, Website

A glimpse into Joanna Shuen's portfolio

Joanna Shuen

Graphic Designer, Sydney Theatre Company. Sydney, Australia

As I learn more about myself, I realise that my parents have shaped me more than I thought.

"As an employee, my strong work ethic and pride in work stem from them. Both my parents possess a 'DIY' mentality, and I am also rather crafty, often preferring hands-on (and often ad-hoc) processes. If I can make it myself, I will. I live around an hour's commute from work, and the train rides give my mind time to wander. When it's not midnight, and I'm not wishing I lived closer to the city, I have found that commuting always allows my mind to uncover insights into the issues stuck in my head. Being the youngest child by eight years, I would always be too young to join in conversations, so I would always observe. Just as train rides give me much to look at, the everyday also inspires me. The projects that I had the most fun making were those that bring attention to the mundane and overlooked. For example, year-long research into digital screens as material spaces was only possible through an obsessive curiosity developed during childhood. Food is another repeated topic in my projects – a result of Mum always ensuring the family ate dinner at the table together and my baking hobby – lending to many playful food photography series."

Joanna Shuen is a designer and artist whose practice is bound by material exploration. From print to image-making to digital, her practice involves playful experimentation and in-depth research that examines the past and analogue processes to help inform and communicate her ideas. The result is a unique visual style with strong conceptual solutions that present reality in unusual and visceral yet thoughtful ways. Her hands (and house) usually bear remnants of her current project. She is currently a graphic designer at Sydney Theatre Company.

Website, Instagram

An image created by Gurpreet in response to the question

Gurpreet Raulia

Writer. London, United Kingdom

My work is influenced by the fact that I am from nowhere. That’s why I love the stream of consciousness style I often like to use in some of my pieces; I’m everywhere and nowhere all at once, defined conclusively by nothing.

"I take so much pride in being Punjabi, a community of people living in northern India that has been subject to attempted genocide by the government but refuses to die. A culture so rich that it would be wrong not to bring it into this England. This is probably my primary influence. When I went to University I felt so constrained by my compulsory modules, reading literature from 1500 England. It was interesting, don’t get me wrong, but everyday I was reminded that where I live, it’s white cis middle- and upper-class narratives that get emphasised. After that, I did everything I could to engage in the more creative side of Uni, taking poetry and fiction modules where I was able to give voice to the part of me I felt I had to hide in order to get the best grades. I actually ended up doing in better in these modules, probably because it made me ‘different’, but that told me enough about where I thrive. I had always written in my free time, and although I can’t say I fully agree with academic gradation, I can’t pretend that it didn’t give me well-needed validation and motivation to keep writing these stories.

More so, I have lived in a city, I have lived on the coast. I have lived in sub-zero temperatures in a small town in eastern Canada where I’d trudge through 3 feet of snow to get to class; quite the feat for someone who wrote a book called ‘looking for summer’, and does not thrive in the winter. I’ve learnt what putting myself out of my comfort zone can do for my personal growth. All of these places have taught me so much about myself, about my art, about people and about the world.

I try to surround myself with different cultures as this also widens the possibilities of my work. This can be visual culture, literary culture, social practices and even languages. This is not to say that I borrow, or fabricate; this is only to say that I try to find inspiration in things bigger than me and further away from me. It’s so easy to get tunnel vision and pretend that the only thing we have is right here and right now. Whatever I do, whatever creative or critical practice I undertake, I ensure it is not defined by or constricted to one thing, or one influence."

Gurpreet Raulia is a writer and poet from West London. Her experiences as a second generation immigrant largely inspires her work, in particular, exercising her ability to openly express and emote which has not historically been afforded to women in her culture. Gurpreet is currently working on honing her writing and completing a novel. She one day aspires to be the editor of her own magazine.


Sarah Gladwell and an example of her work

Sarah Gladwell

Design Director, Here Magazine. Auckland, New Zealand.

Where I'm from, my experiences and understanding of the world absolutely influences how I see and create things.

"I find if I try to design as someone else, the work feels indecisive, unconvincing – I don't feel confident about it. That's taken a long time to learn but there have been plenty of lessons along the way."

Sarah Gladwell (she/her) is a graphic designer from Aotearoa New Zealand, based in Gadigal Land, Sydney, Australia. She is the design director of Here – an architecture and design magazine about what it's like to live in New Zealand right now.

Instagram, Website


Through Not Not Smiling, we have worked with a number of charities local to each of our offices that support and uplift women. This year, we are delighted to be supporting:

Young Women’s Trust in London who are working to achieve economic justice for young women.

Hour Children, a leading provider of services to incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women in New York State.

Women’s and Girl’s Emergency Centre (WAGEC) is a feminist, grassroots organisation that supports women and families in crisis and advocated for social change in the community. They are based in Redfern, Sydney and work on the lands of the Gadigal and Wangal people of the Eora Nation.

We will be sharing more on each of the Charities across our blog and social channels soon. Please be sure to check them out and support their work if you can.

Not Not Smiling