F5: Alexis Hope Talks About Sexual Health, Bacteria in Design + More

F5: Alexis Hope Talks About Sexual Health, Bacteria in Design + More

Dr. Alexis Hope thrives when free to create playful experiences that help people find joy, self-compassion, and connection with others. Her practice centers on designing spaces for artistic freedom, exploration, and community support. As an experimental designer who works across disciplines, she believes that anything can be the material for creativity. Currently, Alexis is a co-founder and Chief Product Officer of focused.space, a company helping people to reach their personal, professional, and creative goals in community with others.

“My practice often involves teaching and learning, mentoring, and taking creative risks. I’m here to have fun and bring others along for the ride,” Alexis shared. “This approach turns out to be a great match for co-founding a startup, which is what I’m up to now! Our members [at focused] include a lot of creative workers, freelancers, and fellow entrepreneurs whose struggles I can really relate to. We help people feel motivated and inspired, and provide lightweight structure and support to help them make progress on their work, and feel good doing it.”

light-skinned woman with blue hair wearing a blue dress walks among greenery and florals

Dr. Alexis Hope \ Photo: Wondra

Prior to co-founding focused, Alexis spent a decade at MIT, where she received her PhD at the MIT Media Lab in 2021, working with the Lifelong Kindergarten research group. As a designer, Alexis has worked across a variety of domains – ranging from cameras for deep-sea exploration, creative learning technologies for children, artistic tools for zero-gravity environments in orbit, hackathons to improve breast pumps (…what?!), low-cost ultrasound machines for providing prenatal care in areas with limited resources, and more. She’s currently a 2023 United States Artists Fellow representing the field of Art & Design.

As a musician, Alexis taps into her creativity in another way, singing and writing songs for two bands: Calico Beach Party and Double Bitch. “I’m really passionate about making music. When I sing and play the guitar, I really feel ‘in my body.’ My mind empties and I go somewhere else for a while.”

“For me, my work and personal life are extremely fluid. I take inspiration from everything. I don’t hesitate to take a long walk in the middle of the day if I need to. I’ll spend an hour talking to a stranger. focused helps me do all of that, while also making sure I accomplish the goals that really matter to me each day, the ones that are going to move the needle. I try to be really in tune with my energy levels and important commitments each day, and ride the wave.”

Today, Alexis Hope joins us for the weekly Friday Five!

four separate images of objects on light green backgrounds

Sexual Healing Collection (clockwise from top left: Brush, Mirror, Stone, Pelvic Sensor) \ Photo: Nienke Helder

1. Sexual Healing by Nienke Helder

Nienke is one of my favorite designers, and her area of expertise is sexual health. She is a rare mix of empathetic, thoughtful, and casual when it comes to topics that can feel taboo. (That’s something that really resonates with me from my own work on the “Make the Breast Pump Not Suck” hackathon). Her project “Sexual Healing” really inspires me – it is a collection of sensory objects for people who experience sexual problems after a traumatic experience. They are beautiful, functional, and really change the narrative around sexual trauma and healing. The objects help people find pleasure again, tuning into and prioritizing their own sense of safety and joy. I think her approach helps people who have experienced trauma see themselves differently. Instead of being a problem to be solved, you are someone who deserves to feel good.

purple book reading Feminist Designer on a lilac background

Photo: Ali Place

2. Feminist Designer by Ali Place

I can’t wait for this book to come out. (Ed. note: The book is now available.) Ali brought together over 40 contributors from 16 different countries to explore the intersection of design and feminist theory. I contributed a short case study about one of my projects (the “Make the Breast Pump Not Suck” Hackathon), and I’m really excited to read everyone else’s contributions. It’s the perfect book to help us reimagine the role of design in shaping culture.

science project kit in red, blue, yellow, and white

Photo: Julie Legault

3. Amino Labs

My friend Julie finds a way to be creative with any material. She’s formally trained in jewelry design, electronics, leather-working… you name it, she’s done it. But over the past decade, she’s been really focused on a pretty unexpected material for design: bacteria. She runs a company called Amino Labs – they create educational materials and kits for people to invent new things with biology. You can use bacteria to engineer new smells, pigments, biomaterials, medicines, and more. Julie lives in the future and every kit I’ve ever bought from them inspires me.

person dressed in black uses light to create tracers on a black background

Photo: Jimmy Day

4. Illuminate by Chelsi Alise Cocking

Chelsi is an artist and designer who uses code as a material. At heart, she’s an experimentalist. To me, she is a constant reminder of the value of play in building a strong design practice. Chelsi uses her Instagram like a journal, sharing the small visual delights that she creates each day – you can feel the joy and learning radiating out of every pixel! She also recently completed a larger project called Illuminate, an interactive piece that brings people’s movement to life in the space. It’s so lovely.

Photo: Ron Boszko

5. Reversible Bracelet by Biba Schutz

Biba Schutz is my cousin, and also happens to be one of the most creatively inspiring women I’ve ever met. She’s in her 70s, lives in NYC where she has her studio, and makes really incredible jewelry. She has a rare combo of playfulness and hard-won technical sophistication that blows my mind. The piece above is one of her most popular bracelets, it’s a reversible (!!!) chainmail cuff with a perfect magnetic closure. I don’t know how she figured out how to make it, but it’s a dream to wear.

Work by Alexis Hope:

animated gif of a revolving paper mountain on a yellow background

Electronic paper mountain: Lights up at night! Homemade circuits and low-poly laser-cut papercraft that required way too many hours to glue together.

four abstract-shaped flesh colored blobs on a black background

Designing Monsters: Creating a visual language for (slightly cute) horror.

three brown-skinned woman proudly display their work on a project

Breast Pump Hackathon: I was co-founder and Creative Director of the “Make the Breast Pump Not Suck” project at the MIT Media Lab. This project was a series of collaborative design events that brought hundreds of people together to improve the postpartum experience.

three colorful homemade paintbrushes

Homemade Brush Experiments: Finding ways to have fun with recycled materials.

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