Female Founders: Larissa Murphy, On Building Contrast – Designing Space for the Digital Age


As a part of the Morning Lazziness series about empowering women who are encouraging and doing incredible things with their ideas in society, I had the pleasure of interviewing Larissa Murphy.

Larissa has extensive knowledge of Workplace innovation and transformation. First & Foremost, Larissa is a Visionary. Having a powerful imagination and the ability to formulate clear ideas about how things might or should be in the future. This is what she does; every day, she helps Contrast’s clients to see their workplace of the future.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

With a passion for design, I studied Architecture. On a college trip to France, we visited the Nemausus social housing project by Jean Nouvel in Nimes. It was celebrated by Architects for being ground-breaking. While visiting the building, I struck up a conversation with a resident and cheekily asked if she could show me her apartment. While the Architecture community were celebrating the quality of accommodation this development provided, the resident painted a very different picture; she hated the space. This reinforced what I had begun to understand from my fellow architecture students. We can’t design for people without engaging with them. Most Architects design monuments to their own egos; they focus on the aesthetic they like and the functionality from their perspective. They rarely consider the perspective of the people who might use the space. The overwhelming arrogance that architects know best astounded me. From that point on, my studies took a different direction. I started to study and read more about psychology than design. Upon qualifying as an Architect, I went to work for a multidisciplinary practice and learned that commercial Architects have little opportunity to work with end-users, so I switched teams and started to work on workplace interiors. People spend more of their waking hours in their workplace than they do in any other space. Since that day in Nimes, I have been on a mission to work with people to design spaces that they don’t just occupy; I want them to enjoy their workspaces.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

My career has had many twists, turns and surprises, some good, some less so. There are many stories, but for me, the notion of an interesting story is subjective, everyone is unique, and what some may find interesting, others may not. It is not universal. What matters for each of us is that we each enjoy our own story as it unfolds. It is important to keep the perspective that when things are going badly or when they seem dull and boring, this is just part of the story, we own it, and we have the power to change the narrative if we want to.  

What do you specialize in, and why should someone choose you over your competitors in your field?

I specialise in designing workplaces. There are many competitors in our field, and we all work in different ways. I think those that choose to work with me over my competitors do so because of my knowledge, passion and approach. I challenge everything; I don’t follow the rules; I always push the boundaries and go further, not resting till we exceed the project objectives. Of course, this is not for everyone; many employers don’t care about the quality of workspace they create or the implications in terms of business output and return on investment. Some are happy as long as it looks nice or fits everything in, they don’t want to be challenged, and they don’t want the space to achieve more. However, post-covid, the employers who see the benefits of employees coming to the workplace are starting to realise that workplaces really do need to achieve more. 

What are the three things that mostly helped your business succeed?

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Perseverance, Knowledge & Energy

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Ivy Chiam and Larissa Murphy

My business partner Ivy Chiam, When I was 7 months pregnant and running the Singapore studio of an Australian firm when I discovered my bosses’ fraudulent transactions. I had to report him to the police and resign immediately with no job to go to. Ivy was my first hire when I moved to Singapore and had followed me when I changed companies. I was stuck, and I couldn’t find another job as a director as my ex-boss refused to remove me as the registered director. In a conversation with Ivy, who was 8 months pregnant at the time, I confided that the only option for me was to set up a company myself and try to find some clients. Without a second thought, she volunteered to do it with me. She was not in the same situation as me and could easily have found a job, but she chose to take a leap of faith, a huge risk and join me. She is brave and daring beyond words; she both challenges and supports me. When I achieve things, she celebrates with me. When I make mistakes, she fixes things. Every day she inspires me.

What’s your piece of advice for readers who want to achieve wealth and success in life?

Give up! Wealth and success are much overrated. Others perceive success, stop caring how others judge you and do what you love instead. Follow your dream and enjoy the journey. Achieving financial wealth may have a fleeting feel-good factor. However, the questions you ask and the knowledge you gain in the pursuit of doing what you love while constantly striving to be better are of far greater value long term.  

Where do you see yourself and your business in five years?

I don’t have a crystal ball, so I really have no idea. I’ll still be doing something I love, surrounded by people I enjoy working with and spending time with. I would like for that circle of people to expand. Hopefully, we will find some adventurous clients that are willing to take the risk of thinking differently about workplaces, and maybe we can create some outstanding spaces that people love to spend time in. 

What’s your piece of advice for people who want to quit their 9-5 job and start a business?

Question yourself and your motives for doing this. If you want to do it because you think it will make life easier, you will have to work less, you will be financially more successful, and people will be more admiring of you. Then don’t do it. Only do it if you absolutely believe you can make a difference; you can make the world better in some small way. 

The future of the digital world might be ruled by blockchain and cryptocurrency. Do you think it would be challenging for all age groups to gain knowledge about the same? How can we educate them?

Blockchain and cryptocurrency are not the future. They are the present. The future has the potential to be anything. As human beings, one of our best skills is our ability to gain knowledge and adapt. This is not constrained by age and to suggest so is ageist. Gaining knowledge is more determined by the level of interest, so I guess those that are interested and curious learn more than those that are not. I see no need to force people to learn about things that don’t interest them. Simply explaining the benefit of knowledge is sufficient, and then it is their choice. 

What do you think could be the future of NFT? How useful can they be for everyone?

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Personally, I don’t see NFTs as being useful. They provide certificates of ownership. In many cases, they are defining ownership for things that cannot really be owned or that can be easily replicated and copied without the ability to determine any difference between an original or a duplicate. How is this useful? I think they need to evolve and find a way to be useful beyond their current limitations.

Do you think NFTs, which are open to virtual reality, could adversely impact our health due to increased screen time?

Given that in Q3 of 2021 in Singapore, the average time spent looking at a screen is 13.24 hours, broken down as follows; 7.29 hours on the internet, 2.53 hours watching TV (broadcast and/or streaming), 2.31 hours on social media and 1.11 hours on a game console. I don’t think NFTs in virtual reality are going to increase this significantly. 

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

  • Don’t try to conform if it doesn’t fit comfortably – We waste too much time trying to live up to others’ expectations, and it benefits nobody.
  • Smile more – It makes people around you feel better.
  • Let people do things their own way – There is no right or wrong, and forcing people to do things the way you think is best limits their potential to find a better way.
  • Learn something new every day – It feels good.
  • Don’t worry – things always work out, and worrying is a waste of energy, although it’s still hard to achieve this.

What would you tell yourself ten to twenty years ago that you wish you knew then?

There is nothing I would have told myself ten to 20 years ago; life is a journey of discovery. Most of the fun and benefits are to be gained by learning things first and sometimes the hard way. Being able to tell me 20 years ago something that I know now would be like somebody telling me the ending of a movie before I’ve seen it. 

Lastly, what do you think this world needs the most? 

More people with genius-level creativity to solve problems. 





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