Co-design communication innovation with City Studio and the Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco

My roles

  • Team leadership
  • Project management

Our process in theory

Our process in reality

Introducing our partners

City Studio is a program run by The San Francisco Arts Institute, directed by JD Beltran. Their mission is to offer underserved youth after school art classes from SFAI art teachers, as well as provide them with the necessary art supplies. To host these after school art classes, they partner with other organizations including the Boys & Girls Club in the Tenderloin District in San Francisco. Throughout the year, City Studio also organizes public exhibitions and other events, showcasing the kids’ artwork.

Even before City Studio started partnering with the Boys & Girls Club in the Tenderloin District, the club already had an art program, directed by Kay Weber. During our first meeting with him, we were immediately excited about working with him and the kids. He greeted us in the lobby, and guided us through a courtyard and into a small room. Its walls were filled with colorful artwork and its chairs occupied by drawing, sketching, and laughing kids. All of them seemed extremely happy to be in this small art room, in the heart of the Tenderloin district.

JD Beltran from City Studio and Kay Weber from the Boys & Girls Club in the Tenderloin District

Understanding City Studio and the Boys & Girls Club in the Tenderloin District

The Tenderloin District in San Francisco is definitely not the easiest place to grow up in. During one of our meetings with Kay Weber, he showed us a small booklet that he had worked on a few years ago. Through various photos and stories of the kids, we gained some insight into what it’s like to grow up in a neighborhood that others shun.

Moreover, most of the kids have immigrant parents, and some of them are immigrants themselves. So in addition to adjusting to a rough neighborhood, they also have to adapt to a new culture, with a foreign language and different customs. On top of that, they’re trying to figure out who they are, just like any other teenager.

Despite all of these challenges, City Studio and the Boys & Girls Club in the Tenderloin District seem to be filled with passion and hope, with Kay Weber and JD Beltran in particular. They wholeheartedly believe that offering art classes to underserved youth as well as showcasing their work, will help them design a better life in both the short and the long term.

Despite numerous challenges, City Studio and the Boys & Girls Club in the Tenderloin District seem to be filled with passion and hope

Defining key challenges and opportunities

After synthesizing our desktop research, fly on the wall observations, and ethnographic interviews using actor mapping, we decided to focus on the following challenges and opportunities.


“The greatest challenge is communicating with the parents. They come from a variety of cultures, and some of them don’t speak English very well.”

– Kay Weber


How might we showcase the value of an art education to the kids’ parents?

“Parent’s rarely show up for exhibitions.”

– JD Beltran

How might we invite the parents to engage in their kids’ art education?

“It’s hard to make sure that the kids stay committed to the art program, especially if their parents aren’t engaged.”

– Kay Weber

How might we ensure the kids’ commitment to the art program?

Through actor mapping

Ideating solutions

Based on these opportunities, we ideated several solutions. Together with JD Beltran and Kay Weber, we plotted them on an impact-feasibility matrix (with the x-axis being impact and the y-axis being feasibility) to help us decide which ones to prototype.

By co-creating an impact-feasibility matrix with JD Beltran and Kay Weber

Designing and prototyping solutions

After analyzing our impact-feasibility matrix, we decided to prototype and test the five solutions with the highest impact and feasibility; tickets, an art gallery, a toolkit with homework, and posters.

We also reminded ourselves that our prototypes should still be in support of our main challenge; showcasing the value of an art education to the kids at the Boys & Girls Club in the Tenderloin District, as well as their parents to ensure their commitment and engagement.

With the highest impact and feasibility, and still in line with our main challenge

Rotating art gallery

“I do have interest in seeing my kids’ artwork, but she never brings anything home.”

– Boys & Girls Club Parent

When picking up their kids, parents are asked to wait in the lobby. Instead of looking at the cables under the desk, we designed and prototyped an art gallery with the kids’ artwork to cover up these cables.

As a result, parents will become more aware of the Boys & Girls Club’s art program and more engaged in their kids’ art education.

Engaging the parents in their kids’ art education

Posters with success stories

“There are so many success stories that no one knows about.”

– Kay Weber

Most of the kids’ parents don’t see art as a career option, mainly because they know of very few success stories if any at all.

If only they knew about the kids who stayed committed to the art programs of the Boys & Girls Clubs, especially those that have received monetary prizes and scholarships.

Showcasing the value of an art education

Take-home toolkit and homework

“My parents don’t even know that I’m in the art program.”

– Boys & Girls Club Student

Many parents don’t know about the art programs at the Boys & Girls Clubs, and most kids don’t feel confident telling them about it.

By designing and prototyping a simple toolkit along with short homework assignments, we encourage kids to continue making art at home, ultimately sparking conversations between them and their parents.

Engaging the parents in their kids’ art education

Editable tickets

“If I gave my parents an actual ticket, they’d definitely come to the event because they would think it’s worth money.”

– Boys & Girls Club Student

Whenever there’s a public exhibition, Kay Weber prints out flyers and asks the kids to give them to their parents. However, most flyers never make it to the parents and even when they do, parents don’t pay much attention to them.

By designing a flyer that looks more like a ticket, kids will be more likely to tell their parents about art events, making their parents more inclined to attend. Moreover, we exported the ticket as an editable PDF so Kay Weber can easily reuse the design for any event.

Inviting the parents to their kids’ art exhibitions

Measuring impact

By co-designing these five physical touchpoints with City Studio and the Boys & Girls Club in the Tenderloin District, they are now able to better communicate the value of an art education with kids and their parents. The ticket idea has already been implemented for example, and led to a significant increase in attendance.

Unfortunately, we did not have time to implement the other four solutions, but we did provide JD Beltran and Kay Weber with the necessary resources to continue where we left off. Moreover, we made sure to document our design thinking process, setting them up for success when future challenges arise.

Increased attendance of art exhibitions

Articulating our learnings

My biggest learning personally, was the difference between being a team leader and a team manager. To me, the first is mainly about inspiring, motivating, and energizing others through words and actions, while the latter is mainly about assigning tasks and deadlines while ensuring everyone feels valued, respected, and autonomous.

As a team, we learned that all of us have a wide range of backgrounds, as well as different work ethics. Some of us are very far on the “doer” end of the spectrum for example, while others are a lot more on the “dreamer” end of the spectrum. Realizing that we all have unique lenses and approaches, enabled us to effectively collaborate.

Contributing our unique strengths enabled us to effectively collaborate with each other