This is the first in a series of posts dedicated to developmental updates from Loft.io, a new digital platform for the DFA community.

LOFT  Home

With 17 studios across the nation, hundreds of projects and thousands of members, DFA is no doubt a large community. Yet, common goals hold this large network together. Balancing these two paradigms, Loft.io hopes to bring together the DFA community through common interests and shared experiences within a digital platform that aims to foster a nurturing online community.

“The learning that happens within studios might not happen between studios, which is why we’re very excited about digital media and seeing how far it can go,” says Daniel Rees Lewis, a DFA learning consultant and one of the creators of Loft.

With a grant from Mozilla and the MacArthur Foundation, Lewis and his team has been building the platform on behalf of DFA and Delta Lab. Still in its formative stages, the team is constantly beta-testing and updating the site.

“We proposed a platform to try and help students connect and learn from each other, but also to draw the community closer and make use of professional mentors and more experienced students.” Lewis says the goal of Loft is to make the DFA community stronger. While the main audience of Loft is the DFA community, Lewis defines it as a broad term that encompasses not only DFA members but also other professors and students interested in design and design-thinking.

The platform will include profiles of projects as well as a detailed process toolkit that members can draw upon. “We try and lay out a process with a lot of flexible tools that projects can put together in whichever way they want and use that to help them solve whatever are their particular challenges,” says Lewis.

LOFT  Personas

The currently seven-step process includes actions within each step that helps teams execute certain tasks at hand. For example, one step is “Immerse: Understand the problem,” which includes several activities within it, such as “Concept Mapping” or “Novice Interview.” Each activity provides a step-by-step guide of how to execute the task as well as a list of experts — other DFA members like professors — who are able to help.

“No two projects are the same, but the world of design research has certainly parsed out lots of effective ways of doing stuff,” Lewis says. “And within DFA, we draw on that.” Lewis also hopes that people will post examples of their activities online so that other teams can observe and potentially improve upon the experience.

In addition to a focus on the design process, Loft will also include profiles of DFA projects. Members of teams can log into the Loft community and update their own projects. Compared to the regular DFA site, “it should be much easier for students to have control over their own projects and their own studio,” Lewis says.

Each project includes project details, reports and an activity feed. Not only can members easily update the progress of their projects, but Loft also integrates a social aspect. Lewis comments on the importance of crit sessions, especially when taken online.

“The challenge with crit sessions is that if you have a big group, not everyone can speak at once and It’s difficult to parse all the difference pieces of advice,” he says, pointing to other problems of a regular crit session, including the challenge of taking in every piece of advice at once.

LOFT  Report Detail

In response to this, Loft will provide a space for all DFA members to join in a crit session within the context of a forum-like format. “Everyone on the system can at give feedback at the same time, and you can upvote and downvote it,” Lewis says. “It’s kind of like Reddit, trying to reduce noise. It’s much better to have an upvoted piece of feedback, which you know lots of people approve, than to have two pieces of the same feedback.”

While Loft is still in formation, Lewis says the team hopes to have a working platform across four studios by January and a fully functioning platform by next summer. As for immediate next steps, the team is looking to improve the social functionalities of the site. “We’re working out the social aspect, how that works best and how that aligns with the existing ways that DFA students are currently doing things,” Lewis says.

Lewis adds that the team is also looking to implement a badge system that rewards members who provide useful examples for the rest of the community. “We have the existing functionality, but the question is what are other things within DFA that we want to celebrate?”

Finally, the team hopes to make instructions for the process activities as easy and as digestible as possible. “How do you help people scan through all these different techniques and work out which one is best for them at this time?”

As the Loft team continues to work on the platform, Lewis hopes that solutions to these questions will be addressed.