• Envisioning New Futures through Alternative Practice
    Verda Alexander & Maya Bird-Murphy

Rafael Robles and Carlos Robles, “Multicontextual Design,” 2022. Gouache with ink and pencil on Fabriano paper, 18 x 24 in. Courtesy Duo

Every day, there is a new reminder that climate change and growing inequities are fundamentally changing how we live. Although designers have many tools necessary to address these issues, there must be a serious rethinking of how design is practiced. An alternative practice operates outside traditional modes, both in how it is structured and how it approaches design. Through research of experimental, risk-taking alternative practices across the United States, this work aims to address questions such as: How might we accelerate systems change in the design field? What can traditional firms learn from alternative practices? How might we collect, store, and share open-source knowledge? How might we foster authentic connection and dialogue? How might alternative practices more effectively solve the world’s most pressing issues?

Verda Alexander has spent 30 years in the design industry redefining the workplace and looking ahead to the future of work itself. Combining a multidisciplinary career with a passionate commitment to improving lives through design, her typical contribution to a project is to question received wisdom, test basic assumptions, and look beyond conventional solutions to a more creative path. Over the past decade, she’s focused on experimental projects; installations, activations, interactive exhibits, and a mobile design lab that engaged with communities across California. Her current work focuses on expanding the conversation around design, social justice, climate activism, and art. Alexander is the editor-at-large at Metropolis Magazine, the cofounder of Studio O+A, and cohost of Break Some Dishes. She holds a MFA from San Francisco Art Institute and attended Harvard University Graduate School of Design and University of California, Berkeley, and earned her master’s degree in landscape architecture.

Maya Bird-Murphy is an architectural designer, educator, and the founder of Mobile Makers, an award-winning nonprofit organization bringing design and skill-building workshops to underrepresented communities. Through youth design and skill-building workshops, community engagement, public installations, and pop-ups hosted out of a retrofitted mail truck, Mobile Makers encourages conversations about positive change in the built environment. Bird-Murphy believes the design field must expand to include more people and perspectives. She was selected by Theaster Gates and the Prada Group as an Experimental Design Lab awardee, featured as one of 50 people who shape Chicago in Newcity magazine, received the 2022 Pierre Keller Prize at the Hublot Design Prize ceremony in London, and was a 2023 Wheelwright Prize finalist. Bird-Murphy earned her master's of architecture at Boston Architectural College and her bachelor's of science in architecture at Ball State University.