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San Francisco Arts Commission (SFAC)

SFAC is the public arts agency for the City of San Francisco, installing and managing art on its behalf.

Scope: A concept project completed with one partner during a two-week sprint

Work: UX research and service design



The client asked for a website redesign with a public comment feature in order to increase the organization's standing in the eyes of the public. Preliminary research suggested that the redesign would not fully address the problem.



Comparative analysis of big city arts agencies 

Community member surveys and a series of individual interviews

Contextual inquiry at a SFAC art installation 



Two-year plan to build awareness and public engagement.

Year 1: Website redesign, social media campaign, docent training, begin development of Art Seeker App.

Year2: Create a public-private partnership, hackathon to develop Art Seeker App, neighborhood and citywide art competitions. 


My research partner and I shared equal responsibility for each major decision throughout this two-week project. 

Areas where I took a leadership role include the survey and interview protocol generation, administration, and data analysis; comparative analysis; affinity mapping and analysis; website and social media evaluation, strategic solution ideation, and client presentation preparation.

Building an initial understanding

A series of reports explaining SFAC's 2013 strategic planning process can be found on the SFAC website. The primary take-aways were that SFAC staff felt the organization had been perceived as a rubber stamp for San Francisco City Council and that the arrival of new senior leadership at SFAC was an opportune time to change public opinion. The initial request from SFAC to help increase transparency and participation in the art selection process made us wonder about the degree to which the 2013 vision was achieved.


SFAC's 2013 response to the question, "Why do we exist?"

Support the arts and artists in San Francisco

Provide access to art and cultural resources

Continue the tradition of government support of the arts

Promote progressive arts dialogue locally, nationally and globally

SFAC's 2013 response to the question, "What impact the organization should strive to achieve?"

Integrate the arts into public life, public policy and the economy

Enhance San Francisco’s stature as a cultural destination

Enrich the civic realm

Comparative analysis: Home pages

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The learnability of SFAC's home page was strong, it had a clear call to action and message. This approach was matched by Philadelphia and Seattle. Boston and Chicago offered little in the way of visual direction for the user. 

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Comparative analysis: Events

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Each organization approached the events page differently. The usability was at least adequate for all of the sites we compared. SFAC stood out as the only site not directed at the general public. The events accessible on this page overwhelmingly served the needs of artists. This pattern continued across the remainder of SFAC's website and gave us our first clues about the source of its public image challenges.

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Other ways of engaging with public art


Additional research about ways to experience public art led us to Curbed. Although it had an image from SFAC's collection on its San Francisco page, it did not include pieces from the SFAC collection in the guide. Curbed looked promising at first, but was not going to provide a quick fix for SFAC's engagement challenges. However this encounter sparked the first conversations about the Art Seeker app.

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Defining the problem

Over 100 people participated in the survey (participants could opt out of all questions so response rates varied).


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Over 85% of respondents would like more pubic art in San Francisco.

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Nearly half of all respondents learn about public events using social media.


One of the survey questions asked if people would share additional thoughts with us. We interviewed seven survey respondents for approximately 30 minutes each. These conversations pointed to a central tension in the project: people would like to be asked for their opinion and want SFAC to serve in the expert role.

Unsolicited feedback doesn’t feel like it is taken seriously. It goes into a black hole, and then what? It would be nice to be asked my opinion
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Over 75% of respondents consider San Francisco an artistic and creative hub.

Public input is good, but [SFAC] is staffed with art experts and it should proceed in the best way it can. The should use their knowledge of art and San Francisco. Selection by public committee isn’t always great.

Using the data collected from the surveys and during interviews we created an affinity map based on repeated words and phrases. We learned that respondents wanted art to be bold, critically engaging, original, thought provoking, and about the best qualities of human nature. The affinity map also revealed that respondents want art to build understanding, talk about today's big issues, spur emotions, and prompt awe. It was at this point that we understood how SFAC's mission to create an arts ecosystem and promote equity needed to be accessed as a conversation about culture and identity in order to solve the engagement and trust issues they had identified. 


Respondents wanted art to be bold, critically engaging, original, thought provoking, and about the best qualities of human nature.


The surveys and interviews also revealed the three distinct types of people SFAC serves, each with their own needs and behaviors. Passives are unlikely to engage without a specific prompt. Malcontents are paying attention but often looking for what has gone wrong. Creatives are champions of the arts.

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Docent discovery

While conducting contextual inquiry at a SFAC art installation we discovered the SFAC docent program. It consisted of two people, a folding table, and some informational flyers. With additional resources and training docents hold great promise as facilitators of the conversation people in San Francisco would like SFAC to lead. 

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After encountering the docents the scope of the required solution became clear - it had to be holistic. A website redesign effort wouldn't be enough. We developed and tested the Art Seeker app and outlined an awareness and engagement campaign that would touch all areas of the city.

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Let's talk! maaloumi@gmail.com