FullStudio_picHello from Cleveland!

When three of us flew out to Northwestern University last summer for the DFA Leadership Studio, we knew we were in for a wild ride.

The previous year, we had scraped together enough interest from fellow students and worked our butts off to get accepted into DFA.  We were exuberant about launching this cross-disciplinary, cross-campus, inter-generational, new-fangled organization on campus. As the Fall semester approached, we had no idea who would show up, and what started out as three Studio Leaders and a few ragtag supporters grew into a university-wide recognized organization with membership 30-people strong.

We launched 3 projects in the Fall and 3 projects in the Spring. We are proud to be a band of idealists who are passionate and committed to using design to change the world.

Here are a few of our highlights and successes from 2012-2013:

  • Winning the pitch contest for student clubs at the Weatherhead School of Management. woot!
  • Securing a meeting space at the Cleveland Institute of Art for the studio every week. Not a permanent space, but a studio space we can call home.
  • Launching 6 projects; 3 in the Fall, 3 in the Spring. Two will continue next year.
  • Official recognition at both the Case Western graduate level (MBA program) and the Case Western undergraduate level.
  • Generating passionate interest.  We put out a call for applications 3 times this year. Each time, we had more people apply than we had room for.
  • Growing our email list to over 300+ dedicated subscribers.
  • Defining our position. Case Western thinks we’re a student club. We see ourselves as a startup.
  • Developing a solid, core group of committed members.
  • Navigating inter-generational waters. The more diverse we are, the more we learn.


Project Recap:


GembaCare, Fall 2012

How can we improve the experience of waiting in the ER?
Project Lead: Saron Ketema

The term “Gemba” is taken from lean six sigma principles to mean the ‘real place’ where value is created and necessitates face-to-face visits to understand the context and components. The GembaCare project initially sought to reduce wait time in the ER. After observations and outreach to University Hospitals and the Cleveland Clinic, the team pivoted to focus on improving the experience of waiting in the ER by facilitating communication and reducing anxiety.


SuperFresh, Fall 2012

How can we reduce homesickness for incoming college freshman?

Project Lead: Baillie Davis

The SuperFresh team focused on reducing homesickness by educating incoming freshman about the brave new world that they have entered. Extensive observations and interviews were conducted with resident freshman from which the team narrowed their focus further to look at information delivery and accessibility.


Retake the Lake, Fall 2012

How can we keep young talent in Cleveland?

Project Lead: Sara Mesing

The Retake the Lake project aimed to solve brain drain in Cleveland by attempting to isolate the factors (other than financial compensation) that anchor bright, young professionals in the Cleveland area. Research included surveys and interviews with local young professionals, recent grads, and Cleveland-based business incubators. Ultimately, the team narrowed their focus to generating and hometown pride through play and new media.


ThinkER, Spring 2013 (Continuation of the GembaCare Project, and will continue next year)

How can we educate young adults about necessary ER logistics prior to emergencies?

Project Lead: Tom Tran

As a continuation of the GembaCare project, the ThinkER team surveyed patients and staff about prior, during, and post-emergency experiences. The team synthesized their findings into four areas of issue; administration, sanitation, physical layout, and communication. The problem was reframed as Emergency Rooms becoming bottlenecks due to lack of education about viable, altnerative emergency care options. The user was defined as young adults because this population has the most the gain from the greater education, namely saving themselves thousands of dollars in medical bills.


Longevity Team, Spring 2013 (continuing next year)

How can we convert idle time to active time for Cleveland’s kids?

Project Lead: Bill Tomwseki

The Longevity Team sought to solve childhood obesity by focusing upon the physical environment that kids inhabit to induce more physical activity and therefore increase longevity and reduce obesity. The team sifted through the mountain of current research on childhood obesity to partner with Rob Low, author of The Last Child in the Woods. After observing and interviewing kids in various environmental contexts such as, at the park, waiting the for the bus, at home, at school, the team chose to locate focus upon converting unused space into micro-parks with ambiguous structures for kids to climb up, crawl through, and run around.

Fo-Fo-0h-6, Spring 2013

How can we create cohesion between students and local residents in University Circle?

Project Leads: Lauren Lubell and Alex Taras

“Fo-Fo-0h-6” refers to the University Circle zip code of 44106 and seeks to acknowledge the current class divide between the upper middle class, ethnocentric student population and the largely African-American, working class, local neighborhood residents. Drawing upon principles of Interaction Design, the FoFoOh6 Team focused upon the emotional experience of the local neighborhood in contrast to the university “bubble”. The team explored how to best engage students in local interaction via entertainment, urban redevelopment, or an exposé of social class avoidance.


New Studio Leaders


Baillie Davis is representing the Cleveland Institute of Art and hails from Clearfield, PA. Baillie is Senior majoring in Industrial Design with a passion for building furniture and keeping her hair Red. She has been instrumental in the launch of the organization, working in close partnership with the MBA co-founders in getting DFA off the ground.

Phil Larinto is representing the Weatherhead School of Management. Phil is from Los Angeles, CA. He will be a 2nd year MBA and he loves everything from excel shortcuts to krav maga. His enthusiasm is contagious.

Lexi Schlif is representing CWRU undergrads. Lexi calls Chicago home, and will be a Sophomore next year, majoring in Biomedical Engineering. Lexi is passionate about re-designing fashionable women’s high heels and she’s a feisty Phi Mu member. Watch out, world.


Lessons Learned

  • Intentionality is key.  As a new, baby studio, we intentionally put the focus on the studio, the structure, and the people, rather than the projects. It’s always a balancing act between projects and people, between community partnerships and recruiting. We’re proud to say that we emphasized team bonding with potlucks, “me-eatings” (meetings with food, family style) and trips to Mitchell’s Ice Cream. It took intentionality to do that, and we feel that it’s well worth it.
  • Inter-generational makes us stronger. We are a mix of 30 year-old MBA students, 18 year-old undergraduates, and everything in between. One of our biggest challenges this year was navigating that spectrum. We had a quite a few MBA students leave DFA because we hadn’t figured out how to establish work expectations across various levels of professional experience, maturity, and understanding of Design. In response, we applied contextual inquiry to ourselves. We developed personas representing different motivations for joining DFA and broke out into groups to discuss and ideate upon solutions that would accommodate different needs/desires. We walked away from the exercise stronger as a studio and more empathetic as individuals.
  • Transparency increases engagement. We tried to make it “easier” for studio members by showing up with a plan, rather than fully including members in the planning process. We learned that the most effective way to see who was really committed was to start giving folks real responsibility and to be as transparent as possible about our plans for the studio.
  • Community Partners are vital. Our greatest disappointment was that none of our projects truly manifested into real, live, impactful outcomes. We see the lack of community partners as the biggest missing link in making this happen. Advice to all new studios: prioritize partnerships just as much as you prioritize recruiting!
  • Measurable Impact. Although we didn’t have community partners to measure our impact out in the field, we learned that we needed measurable milestones to mark our impact inside the studio. Fall semester, our goal was to get every project to the prototyping phase, which we did. Spring semester our goal was to transition leadership and hold elections to set up a solid foundation for the next year, which we did.  We learned that we needed to mark our progress and to define impact and success for ourselves in order to achieve a sense of accomplishment. This was particularly important when our ideal outcomes did not turn into reality, which, hey, is kinda all the time.
  • Every little bit counts.  Every time, we pushed to make something happen, (even at the last minute) it paid off. Greatest example? We pushed it to make sure we had a booth at the undergrad club fair before school started, even when only one DFAer was available to staff the booth. Payoff? That’s where we found Lexi, our new Studio Leader.


Special Thank Yous!

CIA Industrial Design Majors CIA kids, I’m talking to you! Baillie Davis, Tom Tran, Alex Taras, Lauren Lubell, Rob Walker, a HUGE thank you for holding our teams together with your knowledge of Design coupled with your desire, passion, and commitment to sharing it with others.


Fred Collopy Thank you for being a steadfast supporter and voice for us among the administration.


Simon Peck Thank you for supporting DFA as a compliment to the Design in Management curriculum.


Dick Buchanan Thank you for your direction, guidance, and encouragement. Keep sending your undergrad students our way.


Kaja Tooming Buchanan Thank you for your feedback and your vision. Your students are clearly applying your teachings outside the classroom.


Kip Lee Thank you for your encouragement, advice and for taking us seriously!


Matt Beckwith You were the central and crucial link to CIA. Thank you. We will be ever grateful.
Dr. Patrick Crago Thank you for your support of the undergraduate chapter, for your poignant questions, and for attending all our open studio sessions.


Sally Levine Thank you for your ideas, questions, and advice.
Jo Sinclair Thank you for your enthusiasm, and support.



All in all, it’s been a phenomenal year and we can’t wait to make it bigger and better next year. Watch out Cleveland – we’re coming for you.  We are thrilled to be part of the DFAmily. We loved the mentorship from DFA HQ, and we are eager to give back by strengthening the relationships between all DFA studios. Did someone say Midwest Meetup? We’re all over it. Stay tuned.


Written by Sara Mesing