Build in Progress is an online community for makers to document iterative design practices.

I developed Build in Progress as part of my PhD research at the MIT Media Lab, partnering with K-12 schools, after-school programs, and university design courses, with over 2000 registered users.

design principles

Making often involves an iterative cycle of testing and re-designing in response to setbacks as well as serendipitous discoveries. Yet, this iterative process is rarely shared in step-by-step DIY tutorials

What might documentation look like that captures the full story of how a project was created?

I started the project with a several goals for supporting process-based documentation:

• Bring transparency to the design process

• Encourage feedback on work-in-progress

• Create opportunities for authentic reflection in support of learning

While the interface in this video is outdated, this early video for the project still captures the overall mission of the platform:


A sample project page on Build in Progress

A project on Build in Progress consists of steps that can be organized into branches by clicking and dragging step "blocks" in what was called the "Process Map."

The Process Map enabled you to see the overall structure of a project to more easily see iterations.

A project page on Build in Progress consists of the Process Map, a visualization of steps in a project, along with a detail view for viewing information from a single step.

Each step could contain images, videos, and text descriptions, along with attached design files. Users could ask for advice to pose a question to the community:

Asking for advice on a project page

Active questions would then be displayed on the homepage so anyone visiting Build in Progress could help out if they had ideas.

Questions were featured prominently on the homepage

For a full build log, check out the very meta Build in Progress project on Build in Progress.


One of the wonderful things about creating an online community is that you discover projects from people you've never met before. These are some of my favorite projects that were documented on Build in Progress by members of the community:

Virutal Reality Tour of MAL : This project from students at UC Boulder documented a crowdfunding initiative to build a virtualy reality tour of the awesome Media Archaeology Lab, a home to functioning vintage computing technology open to the public.

Woodside Uncicyle Mechanics: This project is from a school that uses unicycles to teach data analysis, robotics, and more.

Elucidator-Kirito's Blade: A project about fabricating an anime-inspired prop.

Tower Defense Arcade Game and Box: A collaborative project from middle school students creating an arcade game.

Designing and 3D Printing Chess Pieces: A high school student's 3D printing project.


Throughout my research, I interviewed learners building projects on the platform and used inductive coding to identify themes around supporting users documenting work in progress:

Facilitating Feedback

Documenting throughout the design process provides new opportunities for facilitating feedback. In a safe and supportive community, opening up about the potential weaknesses of a project invites others to leave constructive feedback. As one user stated,

“It was really helpful to get feedback during the process, as opposed to, “Here’s my final project. What do you guys think?”

Expressive Documentation

Documentation can serve as a venue for creative storytelling rather than prescriptive instructions. The documentation itself becomes a form of creative expression in which the maker can communicate their personal journey of creating a design.

Representing Effort

Because make-throughs capture both successful and unsuccessful experiments, they can be used as tools to communicate the effort that goes into creating. Having space to showcase these efforts can be especially important in educational settings where problem-solving efforts are, in many was, more important than the tangible output of a project.

For in-depth discussion about these themes, check out the paper I wrote for Fablearn.