About Michael Sand

Michael was born in Brooklyn, NY on Aug. 9, 1940. He settled in the Boston area in 1964, where he spent the remainder of his life. He was at the forefront of exhibit designers pioneering the use of technology and interactive, “hands-on” exhibit design now common today. He was as much an educator as designer, developing educational curricula exploring a wide range of subjects, serving as a guest lecturer at MIT, Harvard, and RISD, and designing products and graphics still in use.

Michael, sporting an unbuttoned blue chambray shirt and a wild afro, focuses his own Nikon F3 camera directly at the viewer, blocking his face.

Sand pioneered an unconventional “hands-on” approach to exhibit design now common in children’s museums and learning spaces, and his work incorporated the use of technology and computers to assist learning before the phrase “user-centered design” existed.

Michael’s early career

Sand began his career in the early ‘60s as a designer in the office of Charles and Ray Eames, where he designed an exhibit exploring “thinking machines” for the IBM Pavilion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. Shortly after earning his BS in industrial design from RISD in 1963, he was appointed Design Director of the Boston Children’s Museum by director Michael Spock in a bold move to transform an otherwise conventional museum into a “hands-on” enterprise encouraging self-directed exploration and experimentation. Sand’s design team produced exhibits like the Giant’s Desktop, a collection of office supplies scaled up to twelve times their original size, allowing visitors to climb on and interact with seemingly mundane objects in new ways and discover a sense of scale.

In 1966, Sand became Art Director for the Education Development Center, led by cognitive psychologist Jerome Bruner, working on award-winning materials like the “Man: A Course of Study” student curriculum. Sand helped produce this innovative but controversial elementary school curriculum exploring human behavior, with a focus on the Netsilik Inuit indigenous peoples. The curriculum was used nationwide in 1,700 schools across 47 states, to give more than 400,000 students insight into human behavior.

From Michael Sand, Inc. to Rare Media Well Done

For the next three decades, Sand headed the firm Michael Sand, Inc. (later renamed Rare Media Well Done, Inc.), spearheading design, graphics, and experiential learning projects nationwide. He believed the visitor was at the heart of the museum experience, and his were invited to learn by doing, to explore the world around them on their own terms. His design work included exhibits for Boston’s Museum of Science, Children’s Museum, Computer Museum, and historical Franklin Park Zoo. In 1986, he was hired to design the 50,000-square-foot flagship National Scouting Museum for the Boy Scouts of America.

Sand helped launch a wave of innovative children’s museums in dozens of cities across the country, including Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Richmond VA, and Washington DC, creating a new standard for children’s museums that embraced play as a meaningful pedagogical tool. “We tend to make noisy museums,” he once told the Boston Herald, “because people tend to learn when they’re entertained.”

Personal life

Michael was married for 25 years to Margaret Sand, with whom he had two daughters, Zoe and Jessica. The couple first lived in one of Michael’s many adaptive reuse projects: a mechanic’s garage in Cambridge, Mass. that they converted into a live-work space. Eventually, they’d move to a more conventional house in Brookline, Mass. When the couple divorced, however, Michael took over an old bank in Dorchester, Mass., which had itself originally been a library. He believed that buildings, a bit like people, had their own stories worth telling.

Michael never fully retired from design, though work slowed as he reached his 60s, when he earned his realtor license. He was reintroduced to a previous girlfriend, Lynne Williams, who he would spend the last decade of his life with in Cambridge, Mass.

Michael died from a rare form of liver carcinoid tumor on November 18, 2013 at age 73. His youngest daughter, Jess, manages the collection of his work.

Memories from those who knew him

Do you have additions, corrections, or clarifications to share about Michael’s life? We welcome any and all; please get in touch.