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SF Development Dialogues

Creating trust and transparency in San Francisco’s development cycle. 

Project description

San Francisco’s housing crisis is vividly apparent to any current resident. The city is in dire need of housing expansion to sustain growing population density. But in order to develop responsibly, existing community sentiment and architectural fabric must be valued. The current infrastructure for informing the public about development and how to be involved in conversations is inadequate. This fosters negative sentiment towards any new development and slows it down. 

My goal is to create an ecosystem that facilitates productive dialogue amongst current residents, real estate developers, and municipal committees in order to responsibly develop real estate in the city. 


Project details

Role: UX designer, UX researcher, visual designer

Duration: 9 months — completed as a thesis fulfilling the requirements for a MFA in Design at California College of Arts

San Francisco is in a dire need of urban expansion. New projects need to be introduced and executed efficiently, but existing neighborhoods need a way to become involved in the process as well.

SF Development Dialogues

A desktop and mobile platform that helps communities stay up to date on real estate activity in their neighborhood, presents projects in understandable ways, and promotes guided dialogue between residents and developers. It creates an informed community and transparency in the developmental cycle in San Francisco.

Join your neighborhood

The user begins by entering their address, which will determine how information is sorted and filtered throughout the site. Other fields ask personal information regarding their home and residency history, so users can understand each others’ perspectives in conversations about projects.

Explore the development ecosystem

Search through a database of projects and completion levels that are pulled directly from the Planning Department website.

See the project numbers

See how many people are using the site and where, contextualizing dialogue and informing users of perspectives.

Dive into projects

Scroll through projects that have been recently announced and projects that are under review. Project cards indicate the type of project, status of completion, developer contact, and Planning Department staff contact.

Tune in to the city

The conversations section hosts topics posted by fellow San Francisco residents regarding general development trends in the city, sorted by popularity.

Explore project details

View project descriptions and useful links, like zoning code of the area, that inform users about the context of the project and what is allowed. Hearing dates are displayed to inform when the project will be voted on. The Planning Department Notes inform the users what the Commission would like to talk about, guiding the dialogue and facilitating a productive discussion.

Discuss with the community

If you live within the neighborhood the project is in, you are pulled into the Neighborhood Comment section. Users are able to comment on their concerns, opinions, and questions about the project. Developers are able to respond and link to specific pieces of pertinent information, like zoning documents. Discussion flags can be dropped onto any of the offered representations of the project and linked to a specific comment. Hovering over the comment will dynamically load what media the flag is pinned to, thus grounding the conversation in real assets that can be viewed objectively by anyone.

Change your perspective

Google Earth API is called and developers can plug in 3D models into their context. Now, users may view projects in their entirety, not just from highly curated renderings. Users are able to select a current or proposed view, showing what the neighborhood will look like before and after the project is completed. Users are able to preview the project from any angle they choose—now they might see how things like views, privacy, and shadows are affected with the new project, and can point specifically to their perspective in the dialogue.

Develop reputations

To further enforce a reputation of transparency and honesty, developer groups have the ability to customize their personal pages and present themselves to the community in a curated manner. They can chose from customizable metrics about their history that are pulled from project meta-data, create announcements for the public to see, share outreach events, success stories, testimonies, and feature projects.

Augment understanding

As a user is walking down the street, they might notice a Notice of Public Hearing place within a 150ft radius of a proposed project site. If the developers elect to use SF Development Dialogues, they may include a QR code on the notice. The user must simply open the SF Development Dialogue mobile app, open camera view, and scan the Notice with its QR in view.

An augmented reality model is loaded into the scene via GPS and compass cross-referencing. The user points their camera towards the site and a model of the project is loaded in its context with discussion flags hovering over specific areas. The user may read discussion flags, or take a snapshot of their current view and write a comment themselves. They can then post the comment, which will navigate them to the project page on mobile view, showing their comment in the discussion page for others to react. Viewing a project from this perspective allows the user to understand how it feels in its real scale and real context. This is the only way by which to effectively present an accurate representation of a large object in a way that feels native to the resident.

The stakeholders

There are three primary audience groups in San Francisco’s development cycle: the public, the developers, and the Planning Commission. Throughout the course of three months, I sat with representatives from each group in order to develop representative persona profiles.

The public

The public aims to preserve their neighborhood and home as much as possible. They do not mind new development as long as it is done responsibly and involves them in the process. However, they often miss project announcements or are unable to attend Hearings. They also misunderstand project representations and are unaware of larger zoning plans.

The Planning Department

The Planning Department’s largest concern is keeping urban development efficient while appeasing the desires of the public. They are challenged by the public’s opposition often being misinformed and developer’s lying about their level of public outreach.

The developers

Developers aim to produce a high volume of projects annually and develop a strong reputation in the city. But public outreach is a time consuming process, which the public often does not attend. They are also challenged by misinformed and angry residents who fully oppose new development.

Existing stakeholder journeys

These diagrams represent three common scenarios that a community member (“Julian”) and developer (“Jennifer”) might find themselves in during the process of a project getting approved from the preliminary project approval to project authorization. Highlighted in the current system are the actions that take place, the emotions associated with them, and the pain points that arise.



Upon understanding the needs of my users, I synthesized means by which to accomplish necessary tasks by sketching an information architecture for onboarding, continued, and mobile use of the tool. I then proceeded to develop sketches of wires for accomplishing those tasks.  


After fleshing out the sketches, I developed a series of wireframes representing different task-based flows of the product. The following wireframes went through multiple rounds of user testing with members of neighborhood organizations, development firms, and the Planning Commission to asses usefulness and usability of the platform and its content.