hands of two people using graphic design tools

Closing the Diversity Gap in the Field of Design, One Workshop at a Time

If you take a look at all the newly licensed architects in the U.S., you'll quickly notice a diversity problem. According to a 2017 National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) report, 85 percent of newly licensed architects were white, and 64 percent were male. Maya Bird-Murphy wants this to change. That's why she founded Chicago Mobile Makers last year while finishing her master's degree in architecture.

"Those who are currently not represented need support and guidance for a clearer path to careers in design. Expanding the variety of people entering the field will create more diverse workplaces, leading to more equitable decision-making and design," Bird-Murphy says. "American spaces must reflect America."


She explains that Chicago Mobile Makers' mission is to "[create] programming that encourages Chicago youth to become advocates and changemakers in their own communities through design-focused skill-building workshops." Its objectives are threefold:

  1. Engage and empower youth through making and skill building
  2. Train and support future public interest architects, designers, and makers
  3. Advocate for social, economic, gender, and racial diversity in the architecture and broader design fields

drawing of five people with laptops at a table in front of a world map and a blueprint with drawing tools

In order to achieve these objectives, Bird-Murphy focuses on direct, hands-on education programs that target underrepresented populations in the field of architecture. "We bring free and low-cost youth workshops encompassing design, architecture, digital fabrication, basic construction, and place-making to Chicago communities that may not have these resources," she says.

In just one year, Chicago Mobile Makers has hosted 25 workshops, engaged with over 100 Chicago youth, and held workshops in eight different neighborhoods. The organization was also featured in Fast Company as a 2018 World Changing Idea.

Using Time-Saving Tech to Focus on What Matters

Though they are mission-driven, nonprofits nonetheless need to be run like efficient businesses to be successful, and this includes adopting sound accounting practices. Like most organizations, Bird-Murphy wasn't using any specific bookkeeping software when Chicago Mobile Makers was first getting off the ground. But after coming across the Intuit Donation Program at TechSoup, she realized that a tool like QuickBooks Online was suddenly within her budget.

"Before QuickBooks, there was no organization with our finances. Now I don't have to think twice about tracking our expenses and donations because QuickBooks makes it really simple," she says.

Removing the painstaking hours of corralling her organization's finances opens up her schedule to build programming aimed to inspire the next generation of architects in Chicago.

"I can categorize all of our expenses (supplies, marketing, etc.), and it's making it easy for me to understand setting up payroll. I'm the only employee, and I'm trying to start paying myself, she says. "Using QuickBooks means that I spend more time hosting workshops than doing accounting work."

The Road Ahead for Chicago Mobile Makers

Bird-Murphy is feeling good about the future for Chicago Mobile Makers. Now in its second year, it continues to consistently offer hands-on design workshops for kids of all ages. For example, she's kicking off a nine-week workshop this month for high school students at Walter Payton College Prep in Chicago's Near North neighborhood.

But she has plans to bring her mission to even more places soon and plans to reach out to TechSoup once more for support.

"We are ramping up to build a mobile makerspace, a used step van that houses all the tools — power tools, digital fabrication tools, laptops, materials, etc. — we need to teach design and construction to youth. We will definitely be coming to TechSoup to find some of the tools we'll need in the makerspace."


Additional Resources: Nonprofit Accounting