Q&A: Elishia Whitchurch – one of the incredible speakers at #tdcbne18!

Elishia Whitchurch is the Principal of Art + Design, which means she’s in charge of creatively overseeing local and international design projects that are delivered through UAP’s design studio in Brisbane.

Elishia moved to China in 2010 to assist in the establishment of the UAP’s design studio in Shanghai. There, as Senior Design Lead, Elishia was responsible for managing the Shanghai design team to creatively meet client briefs and communicate designs. During her 5 years in Shanghai, Elishia delivered major projects including Shanghai Expo (China) and Guangzhou Four Seasons Hotel (China), and played an integral role in the success of UAP’s Shanghai office.

We caught up with Elishia to talk all things work, design, and tap-dancing.

Hot Chicks with Big Brains: How would you describe your work and your influences?

Elishia Whitchurch: My work is almost always responding to the practice of the artist, architect or creative that I’m collaborating with, so my style is adaptable and quite fluid. The creatives I work with often have quite a specific practice, whether they be a colourist, weaver, furniture designer, fashion designer, architect, sculptor, or digital artist. So I find I’m always learning something from them.

There’s this great exchange of knowledge in the collaboration process—I get the privilege of understanding a little about the incredible skills that creative has honed as part of their practice,  and I bring to the collaboration an understanding of how we might translate what they do into something site specific, often at larger scale, and for the public realm.

I like change and I like variety, being able to work with such a diverse range of creatives means my influences are also very diverse.

HCwBB: If you could pick one and one word only to describe your work, what would it be?

EW: Divergent.

HCwBB: What’s your vision for the future of design?

EW: It’s blurred! Not my vision, my vision is not blurred. I mean the boundaries of design are blurred.

In my opinion, some of the most exciting work is created by people who want to share knowledge and blur the boundaries between disciplines.

It’s not about collaboration for the sake of collaboration; sometimes those outcomes are a bit underwhelming. But when people’s paths cross and there is a genuine synergy between what they’re doing, the outcomes can be amazing.

HCwBB: What’s been the biggest challenge you have had to face during your career journey?

EW: Moving to Shanghai to start up the Design Studio. There was a steep learning curve.

HCwBB: What’s the most challenging part of what you do?

EW: Understanding how different cultures approach creativity, realizing that there are many different ways of seeing and understanding beauty, some of which you may not fully appreciate because you have not been indoctrinated into that way of seeing and thinking. Understanding that what you did in Australia doesn’t just transplant and grow somewhere else, you have to respond to that place, that culture, those people. In my opinion, to truly have a long lasting presence working in another country the end goal needs to be to build and mentor a fantastic local team, not just import designers from other places.

HCwBB: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve heard that you would like to pass on to others?

EW: Back yourself and make the decision. You can always make another decision later to counteract that one if necessary. But it’s better to keep moving and make a decision than stall. I still sometimes struggle with this one. I think designers are a bit notorious for it because in our minds it’s never quite right or perfect enough—there’s always something we want to change or refine further.

HCwBB: Where do you find your inspiration?

EW: From the myriad of diverse and talented artists, designers, architects and other creatives I work with every day. To have the opportunity to take a glimpse into an artist’s world is pretty cool.

HCwBB: What originally influenced you to pursue design?

EW: My mother is highly skilled dress and pattern maker. When I was young she used to design a new range of clothes each season. She would put on fabulous fashion parades for all her friends and customers. She would take orders from those parades, take measurements for every customer, and custom make her designs so that they perfectly fit each person who ordered something. I thought this was just incredible. I grew up around that creativity but she also had the skill to make really beautiful, tangible things. This is what influenced me to pursue design.

HCwBB: What self-imposed rules do you employ when embarking on a creative project?

EW: Pick up the phone. Don’t send the email. Even if you’re tired and don’t feel like having the conversation, when you’re collaborating with someone you need to build rapport or it will never work.

It’s always better to pick up the phone, especially if it’s a tough conversation.

HCwBB: What’s something which most people do not know about you?

EW: I can tap dance. Studied it for 25 years.

HCwBB: How do you keep your ideas fresh?

EW: Travel is always good.  As I mentioned I like change, so I find that when I travel lots of great ideas just flow forth. My sense of awareness is heightened and the smallest of details can inspire me.


Early bird registration for #tdcbne18 finishes COB (AEST) Friday 23rd March! Jump on it now!

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