DFA is all about creating projects that build solutions for problems throughout America. Project teams work throughout the year on a cause that they decide on together, on something that’s meaningful to each project team member. Although that’s wonderful, there’s not much opportunity to connect with studios around the country.

That’s the hole that DFA Leadership studio filled. All 29 studios came together to learn from each other, to understand their methods for both creating amazing projects, and building a strong, connected studio.

This year, Leadership Studio focused on the needs of people with Down Syndrome. Within the timespan of one short weekend, teams followed the 6 steps of the DFA Process to conceptualize ideas and build prototypes. Our secondary research had been conducted off-site before we arrived, so we were able to move right along to interviewing and primary research. Meeting with people whose lives had been changed by Down Syndrome, along with the people that taught, aided, and cared for them was incredibly eye-opening, and gave us many pain points to begin to ideate. The time constraint made ideation brutally fast-paced, but thinking on our feet made us really hone down on ideas that were simple to implement but had lifechanging consequences.

Once we narrowed down ideas, we built simple paper prototypes, and returned to test them. This was one area we all wished we had more time for, and in that moment, we realized how important the iterative process is in design.

At the end of the weekend, we had an expo for each team to showcase their ideas. The people that we had interviewed were honored guests, and it was incredibly rewarding to see their reactions to our prototypes.

Interspersed throughout our design activities, we focused on team building and collaborating with the other studios. We learned about new recruitment tools—like Cornell’s studio leaving Legos around campus like DFA calling cards, and Oregon’s game of NACHOS to warm up. We planned the future of MIT’s Studio: where we see ourselves in five years, and what we’re going to do this upcoming year to reach that goal. We met the faculty founder of Design for America (Northwestern),Dr. Liz Gerber. We met DFA Alumni, learned about their careers and how DFA had influenced their lives. We met Jerry the Bear, a DFA project-gone-startup, and Sproutel co-founder, Hannah Chung.

DFA Leadership Studio was an amazing experience that reminded us all why we joined Design for America in the first place: to connect with talented, service minded individuals to make the world a better place together!