The merging of soul and role is a laudable idea—it refers, very broadly, to the ability to bring a set of personal, mission-driven values to your professional life—but it’s hard to integrate into full-time practice. For most designers, it means working on public projects with a community engagement component, or collaborating on one-off social impact design projects, or cordoning off pro bono work into a separate part of their business. Mia Scharphie wants to shake that up a bit.
Scharphie runs two consulting businesses—Proactive Practices, a research collaborative with Gilad Meron and Nick McClintock, and Build Yourself+, a workshop series. At first glance, they seem unrelated, but when you talk to her, you begin to see the kind of connections that are at the core of Scharphie’s work. Drawing on her training in landscape architecture (she began her career at the firm Public Architecture in San Francisco), which Scharphie says is “supercore” to spatializing community projects, she also brings in current thinking from the world of entrepreneurship, citing Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, Tara Mohr’s Playing Big, and Eric Ries’s The Lean Startup as touchstones and agents for social change that shape both Proactive Practices and Build Yourself+.
Build Yourself+ is a six-week course aimed specifically at women working in the design fields, investing women designers with the skills to articulate issues and obstacles to their own success and then get past them. Scharphie says designers, and women designers in particular, can be hobbled by the total work ethic of design. “The strange irony of design is that we do these renderings of super-happy people in our parks walking with infinite numbers of dogs and strollers,” yet the design culture of work-all-hours doesn’t permit any of this. “There’s a disconnect between what we try to imagine for people and what our social lives are like.” It’s a workshop approach that frankly acknowledges that the personal is deeply embedded in the professional, and it builds on the current cultural conversations about gender equity and cross-cultural communications in the workplace.