Sam Aquillano on Building the Design Museum Foundation, Design Process, and the Importance of Play


Sam Aquillano (@samaquillano) is a creative entrepreneur who is bringing new life to what we think of when we talk about museums. Sam is the Founder and Executive Director of Design Museum Foundation, which is challenging norms by bringing his museum to where people already are. Currently located in Boston, Portland, and San Francisco, Design Museum acts like a pop-up retail shop hosting events and programs that are widely accessible to the public.

With a background in Industrial Design from Rochester Institute of Technology, a former consumer electronics designer at Bose Corporation, and an MBA from Babson College, Sam is passionate about applying design as a creative problem-solving process. Sam and I discuss what design means.

He shares some of the museum’s most ingenious projects including a Boston-based public collection of interactive sidewalk benches and their current exhibit of playground spaces. Sam and I reminisce about our own childhoods, drawing parallels between research of human development and the impact of well designed spaces on children’s growth.

I’m delighted to be be on the Design Museum’s San Francisco launch council and highly recommend you visit their exhibit “Extraordinary Playscapes”. I hope you enjoy my interview with Sam Aquillano.

Show Notes

3:00 Nomadic museum that is all around you
4:35 Innovated by necessity that makes design accessible to the public
6:00 Pop-up companies
8:00 Who visits museums
10:00 How design museum is different by being distributed
10:35 “Design is a visual planning process that can be used to solve any problem”
11:20 Sam’s background
13:05 Love of entrepreneurship
14:45 Creating a nomadic museum as a successful business
16:35 Diversifying revenue streams
18:45 Street Seats exhibition
21:10 Employees in Boston, Portland, and San Francisco – hiring Development Associates
23:10 Expanding beyond Boston to be more sustainable and create more impact – “Design is everywhere”
24:35 Five year plan
25:10 What is Design? (Interview with Amy Cueva)
27:00 Design thinking – “design thinking is a mechanism for making things better”
28:00 Designing for K-12 Education
29:30 Steps of design process
32:00 Metrics used for Street Seat exhibitions
35:00 Extraordinary Playscapes and workplace innovation
36:30 Playscapes and it’s role on childhood development
37:00 Sam’s childhood play
44:30 Maggie Daley Park in Chicago
46:20 Finding more independence for kids while still being safe
51:00 Sam’s most valuable skill

Sam’s Books and Resources

Design for the Real World by Victor Papanek
How to Raise an Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims
Project for Public Spaces


If you enjoyed this interview, check out my interview with TED speaker, entrepreneur, and artist Virgil Wong on learning to draw, why he went blindfolded for a week in his childhood, how a family medical crisis gave rise to his company Medical Avatar, and more:

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