If you haven’t hung out under an overpass with Design Museum Foundation lately, you’re missing out. Design Museum Foundation is a nomadic museum that believes that design has the power to make cities and people better. So where better to put their mission to work than one of the most forgotten places in Boston?

The loud, steady blast of cars whooshing past and driving pylons set the pace of Design Museum Foundation’s three-day Urban Innovation Festival last weekend under the I-93 overpass. Amongst the shrill wail of sirens and massive cement columns, the challenge was clear: to improve the livability of the surrounding neighborhoods. Ten teams, consisting of 100 of the top local designers and some non-designers, had three days to compete to unleash the power of design.

As the facilitator of ceremonies of this urban hack-a-thon, I had the honor of kicking off the event. It was evident from the very beginning that these teams did not see the underpass as a cacophony of metal and dirt, but a place that could bring neighborhoods together and help move a city forward. Each team attacked the design process in their own way. Some took field trips to the adjacent neighborhoods of the South End and South Boston to interview the residents and commuters to better understand the challenges and opportunities of the area. Others immediately began brainstorming ideas and narrowing them down with the help of local community advisors.

What began on day one of the festival as lofty sketches of prototypes that could activate the underpass were forged into real solutions by day three through constant iteration, presentation and discussion with an expert judges panel, late night coffee shop hopping, and a little corn hole.

Boston is a hotbed of innovation. We have been embracing exploration since before the founding mothers and fathers decided to experiment with a new form of government. Part of Cambridge has been called “the most innovative square mile on the planet.” A part of Boston was even named the Innovation District. Yet, if you have spent any time in Boston you are aware that the Brahmin have a tendency to focus on meaningful work, keep their heads down, and leave the glamor to others.[1] The Urban Innovation Festival gave local designers a chance to add a little swagger to their step, and put the power of design on display.

Teams from Fidelity Labs, Essential, and Shepley Bulfinch went home with hardware, receiving Overall Winner, Runner-Up, and Most Innovative awards, respectively. The public, who also helped teams iterate and focus their prototypes throughout the festival, voted Wentworth Institute of Technology the People’s Choice Award winner. Check out the winning designs here.

The Urban Innovation Festival was more than a celebration with purpose, it also served as an important reminder. Everyone can be a designer, whether you wear black-rimmed glasses or not. If you thoughtfully try to make something better, you are a designer. So do not be shy with your powers, apply them to even the most forgotten places, and join Design Museum Foundation’s movement to improve Boston.

[At the top: My colleague and friend, Graphic Facilitator, Art Director, and Artist Evan Wondolowski stands in front of his scribing on Scalable’s incredible Huddlewall.]


[1]Temple, James. 2014. Boston Is an Innovation Hotbed and Doesn’t Care Whether You Know It. Retrieved from http://www.recode.net/2014/12/8/11633604/boston-is-an-innovation-hotbed-and-doesnt-care-whether-you-know-it.