Category Archives: San Fran

SFO: Living Innovation Zone

The Living Innovation Zone Program (LIZ) seeks to create a flexible framework that harnesses the city’s creativity by using City-owned assets, such as public spaces, and partnerships with leading organizations as catalysts for exploration, innovation and play.

LIZ is a partnership between the SF Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation, SF Planning, and SF DPW.

I stumbled upon this walking to breakfast and it is yet another great example of progressive public space thinking in SFO, and nicely is also an example of when my worlds of urban design and museums collide.  It is my own dream to be seeing this type of content and collaboration more that is not only contributing to urban spaces but pushing museums past the traditional walls.

The “Pause” Project on Market St was with the The Exploratorium who were “given the opportunity to build an interactive educational experience on the city sidewalks that open people’s eyes and illuminate how the world works”.  One of the chairs is really neat as it takes social interaction and 2 people to sit next to each other to close the circulate (hold hands) and play music on the seat’s arm rests.

*The website only notes things from 2013.  I do hope this great idea is still going on


SFO: Visit to Walt Disney Family Museum

I had gone to Presidio earlier in the week to see Lucas Films as part of Wired by Design,  I found myself back there, slightly lost and trying to find the Walt Disney Family Museum.  It feels like a peculiar enclave of historic buildings and federal land, but the destination was well worth it.

It was one of the few museum experiences I’ve have that left me moved, inspired and wanting to go find the book and know more.   Perhaps it was just this great story of a creative man, dreamer, innovator and a great museum layout to help tell this story.  Or more perhaps it was the content – of pure childhood nostalgia. Disney movies felt magic in my childhood and it still does.

Fave museum design ideas to steal = 

  1. Their integration of screens into display was so very well done.  I really enjoy when they were inset into other 2D graphics 
  2. The lift to the 2nd level gallery was “a train car” and had a small voice over.  It represented the literal transition to his move to Hollywood.  Using the building as experience was a great touch
  3. The layout of galleries was essentially a timeline, and sometimes I’m not a fan of such linear models, it also just works really well.   The story about his work and career was also really well integrated with family stories, and insights. 
  4. The last rooms felt emotional to me reflecting on his death and legacy.  The final room was a quiet pause of reflection.  (A recent QM exhibition had a similar space and I think it really is in tune with what visitors need)

SFO: Visit to Exploratorium

I had mostly heard of the Exploratorium as pioneers in interactive science centres, so in my mind I was picturing just a grander version of QM’s type of science centre.  To my surprise it was much more richer in themes and had a great integration of art and science that was also unexpected/ unknown to me.

There are 6 main galleries –

  1. Human Phenomena (thoughts, feelings, and social behaviour)
  2. Tinkering
  3. Seeing and Listening (light and vision, colour, sound and hearing, and motion and spatial perception)
  4. Living Systems
  5. Landscape Observation (explore the local environment)
  6. Outdoor Gallery

I really liked Living Systems personally but the “seeing and listening” area seemed the busiest. It was huge – almost overwhelmingly so!  Right from the entrance, there is so much going on in every surface (walls, floors, windows, ceilings) I actually hardly knew what to look at and didn’t feel like I could take it all in.

Fave museum ideas to steal:

  1. Their ability to bring back-of-house to front-of-house was amazing.  It is so different to the building configuration of QM, and an exhibition construction workshop in the middle was great and mind-blowing to me.  Mirco labs and some research offices were glass and facing visitor areas too
  2. “Notes from Bio Lab” was a quick handwritten ways curators could change and update the info.  More bringing BOH to FOH, and giving personality to people behind the scenes
  3. Outdoor Gallery and Observatory – commenting and reflecting on local place and acknowledging its environment was great, and sent a real message of “everyday science” and it being closely all around us.
  4. Outdoor playground – the use of outdoor space for play, seating, displays and exhibits
  5. Artist in Residency.  There was many works from various years of the long-running program.  The weaving of art + science was really well done.
  6. I stumbled upon Fire Services Week, and it was great to see special programming and community collaborations and engaging with wider things going on in the city/community.

SFO: Chasing Parklets Part 2

Stumbled on more parklets on my visit to Valencia St in Mission District.  Literally I wasn’t looking for them and then found 3 on one block!

My photos don’t do it justice but a favourite one being “The Deeplet” which is San Francisco’s first (and only) residential parklet.

IMAG1823 IMAG1824 IMAG1826 IMAG1828

Since my day job is no longer in urban design, I sometimes struggle with my relationship to it…but ever since hearing BIG at WiredxDesign and days of parklet and city exploring, I’m feeling especially re-inspired by the size, scale and impact of neighbourhood and city change.

SFO: Visit to California Academy of Sciences

I certainly look at museums to see what is happening in experience design, but the California Academy of Science was also on my list for architectural reasons.  With a new natural environments gallery planned at QM I couldn’t help but be jealous of their live animals, bio-dome rainforest and aquarium environments, huge ceiling spaces, and great forecourt.

Fave museum design ideas to steal =

  1. Centralised “stage” in natural lighted area put public programming literally in the middle
  2. “Lab’ area showing current works and research in development
  3. Immersive theatre experience
  4. Building as “science experiment” and with sustainability measures built in for visitor awareness (eg- number of water bottles saved by those using drinking taps)
  5. Museum going outside with “curated’ landscape design with local plants and tags with scientific names in surrounding gardens

SFO: Visiting Stanford

My visit to the Stanford dschool, felt more like a pilgrim than just a visit.  I mean (A) it was felt pretty far and I got a bit lost …literally, and (B) since first learning about it in 2008, I’ve always wanted to go.   It’s been an instrumental part of my career development, in my Toronto/IwB days, in many projects and a key part of my original QMX role.

The school runs weekly tours, and I had stumbled upon a information session for prospective students so I tagged along to that.  The tour started with some improv “yes and..” activity in pairs which is a great ice-breaker and also a perfect demonstration of a dschool process.

It felt great to just see the space in-person and to resolve my curiosity, but I also took away 2 main insights from the tour


The first stop was the foyer, where all students who take classes add their polaroid to the wall.  The guide explained it is purposeful because the school is focussed on the the people not their design products.   It is not about innovation but rather on the innovators

What a subtle but great message! It made me realise why design-thinking falls over at work and in other places where a working culture still has a design focus on output not process.  It is often the object/end product which appears to be driving budgets, success measures, and seems to more valued, more understood or more judged/critiqued.   So if design-thinking process isn’t providing something radical, or not project managing to deliverable output, it can too often be misunderstood or not seen as “valuable”.  I guess that’s why design thinking is often attached to change management or brand management as it only successfully works in the right culture

2) CREATE THE SPACE TO INNOVATE have written a whole book on the spaces and furniture they use and it really resonates when you see it in person. The book is called Make Space.  Each studio room has a series of movable things and a “reset” reminder that means people always take it back to a clean slate.  This forces the next people to create the spaces they need and want.  It does this to help create flexible areas for collaboration (such as boards on walls) and to also break down the “sage on stage” teacher-student models.  As I reflect on the layout of offices and boardrooms I’ve been in, I can’t say they are always conducive to this.  In fact I would some goes completely against it.

Design- thinking and design innovation makes most sense to me when it moves outside just product thinking to holistic systems thinking, and again the studio furniture is a perfect example of that. Systematic, modular, flexible and personalise-able just like many other design innovations are in tech, furniture, fashion etc




Despite my own shifting relationship with design thinking in my day-to-day job, the visit did remind me of the wonderful energy and hope it has. I don’t think the high energy of great collaborative teams and processes really goes away, and it is in those creative times and spaces I find most rewarding, memorable and still worth finding and fighting for.