Leadership Studio 2015

DFA Collaborative | DFAmily Events

Allison and CC, our 2015–2016 DFA National Fellows, give us the inside scoop on this year’s Leadership Studio.

Introduce yourself!

A: I’m Allison, and I just graduated from RISD, where I studied Industrial Design and did a bunch of other artsy fartsy stuff.

CC: I’m CC! Just graduated from Northwestern where I studied Social Policy and International Studies. I did less artsy stuff but probably a bunch more fartsy stuff than Allison.

Before we begin, what is Leadership Studio and what was the project topic this year?

DFA students collaborating at the Northwestern Garage

A: Leadership Studio is our annual student conference run by DFA National where we invite the champs (student leaders) from all the DFA studios to come to Northwestern and spend four days doing intense design and leadership training. This year’s project was to enhance the lives of those touched by Down Syndrome.

What did you (or DFA National) do to prep for LS?

CC: When Allison and I joined, we were immediately brought into the mindset that “Leadership Studio is the finale, not the prototype.” Which meant we were running to the finish line! Amidst the printing, cutting, table-moving, and late-night powerpoint editing, I was mostly excited to meet the leaders from all studios.

For those of you who don’t know, DFA National is piloting a new mentorship model this year where the studios are divided into 2 cohorts, each supported by two DFA National staff members. Stacy and I are mentoring the schools in the Midwest and the West Coast while Rob and Allison the schools in the East Coast and the South. We are constantly asking ourselves, “How can we inspire individuals about the possibility of the DFA network and empower them to build that connection back in their own studio?”

What were your top 3 moments and why?

Speaker & advocate extraordinaire Bridget Brown with Rob (DFA National) and Vijay (DFA RPI)

A: These moments aren’t in any particular order. I loved Bridget Brown’s keynote speech. A self-advocate and public speaker, she opened with a little joke that “she’s short because she has Down Syndrome” and then proceeded to blow us all away with her amazing accomplishments. I know I certainly picked up public speaking tips and in general a more inclusive world view from her.

Helping with the Build workshop was another favorite — I love making things and it was really gratifying to see students jump into prototyping. Stacy and I gave them only 2 minutes to make their first prototype and there was a mad rush to the supplies. It was messy and low-fidelity, but it got done. Like Shia Labeouf said, JUST DO IT.

The last favorite was the Studio Tool Expo, where all the studios shared some unique tools or cool things they do on their campus. Every studio runs things a little differently, but they could all still learn from each other. Plus I got the chance to say hi to everyone in my cohort. :)

Project expo: (from left to right) Scott (DFA UCLA), Carlos (DFA NYU), Joe (DFA Virginia Tech), Vanessa (DFA USC), and Amelia (DFA Wash U)

CC: Also not in any particular order! I also loved the keynote speech by Bridget because not only was she a confident self-advocate but also a coach who educates others with Down Syndrome to become self-advocates themselves. Her speech was amazing and her perspective about “inclusiveness” in her community helped participants see how designing for a small number of users, an extreme user base in this case, can still create big impact.

When studios shared their plans for the school year after the Studio Tool Expo. After sharing their tools, studios had time to figure out what to incorporate back into their studio and share with their cohort. I saw and heard that studios learned a lot from talking to each other this weekend and was excited for them to achieve great things this year!

Seeing how much the users appreciated and liked the solutions at the Project Expo. This is the time when teams got to share their solutions from their 3-day design sprint to the users, stakeholders, and the guests. When the users genuinely liked their solutions, I saw teams switch from feeling frustrated during the process to feeling rewarded from the experience and overcoming the challenge of going through a fast-paced project. Top moment indeed.

What did you think of the project topic and the different solutions designed by teams?

Testing their prototype: (from left to right) Iyad (DFA RISD|Brown), Lars (DFA Virginia Tech), Karishma (DFA UNC Chapel Hill), Justin (DFA Virginia Tech), and Christina (DFA Barnard|Columbia)

CC: I liked the topic a lot! I think designing for those touched by Down Syndrome was a great learning opportunity for all. The project allowed teams to learn about how they could design for different stakeholders within an incredibly complex issue. The teams focused on different issues within the Down Syndrome community like helping those with DS retain jobs, supporting new parents of babies with DS, and bringing the community together in support of DS.

Teams also learned about how to approach sensitive issues with respect and a learning mindset. The notion of help in special needs community is a sensitive topic and outsiders should be extra careful in the way they approach the issue to make the community members feel welcome. Sensitivity was a concern even before the project was scoped and I was glad to see teams switch from “How can we help?” to “How can we learn from the community?”

What was it like to engage alumni at LS through the career fair and alumni panel?

Alumni Panel with Justin, Ada, and Hannah!

A: Having alumni over was awesome! Because we’re still a young organization, our alumni are really relatable and I think that helps current students connect with them. Hannah had just met Obama earlier that week, but she brought it back to how scary it was to choose the startup life a few years ago. I had no idea Justin went from anthropology major to UX designer at Fjord, which is crazy cool. And Ada brings human-centered design to the pharmaceutical industry, a field I’d never considered HCD-friendly before.

From the feedback we received, a lot of people really enjoyed the events. Being a part of Collab as a writer, it’s great to see the growing interest in our alumni network. Hopefully next year we can bring more alumni from different schools and careers. ;)

What was the most challenging part of the entire event?

A: Remembering names! There were 91 total students and I couldn’t remember all their names and felt really terrible. (sadface)

CC: Yes, names were so hard. And we had to tie them back to schools!! I was also sad that I didn’t get to hang out with the student leads as much as I hoped. As organizers, we stayed after to prep for the next day instead of socializing. (sadface)

How was the experience different now that you’re alumni and not a student?

A: This was my first ever Leadership Studio! I really wish I’d gone as a student, but now as a facilitator I’m able to apply my training at National and learn from my mistakes as a student to guide others through the design process.

CC: I was able to look at the DFA experience from a high-level perspective and see the opportunity spaces more clearly. As a student, my life was entirely consumed by DFA. I attended the past 2 Leadership Studios and both were a way to rekindle my fiery but burnt-out love for DFA. As a student, all my time went to managing the studio operations, taking full-time classes, (not) getting sleep… Being an alumni clarify my vision of DFA in a larger context of social innovation and design.

What are you looking forward to for next year?

Jumping all day everyday

CC: After LS, many of the participants told us how they could connect, contribute, and benefit from the DFA network. That was my biggest takeaway from last year’s Leadership Studio and I ended up planning Midwest Meetup and inter-studio Google Hangouts. I’m excited to see what actions come out of many people sharing this mindset of utilizing the DFA network to learn from each other and develop professionally!

A: I’m psyched about probably getting over 100 students with even more sharing and networking than this year. I’d love to bring back more alumni and different kinds of companies and hard skills to show that you don’t need the traditional label of “design” to be a designer. I also have no idea what next year’s topic will be but am super excited to help plan!


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