If you had to pick the most appropriate vehicular mascot of San Francisco, food trucks would be a front-runner. Locations such as the SOMA StrEat Food Park and pop-up events like Off the Grid in the city have popularized dinner-on-wheels and made the boxy trucks fixtures in traffic from Embarcadero to the Sunset, almost as unmissable as the countless army of Toyota Priuses.

But local Studio O+A had life outside of hospitality in mind for the small white step van that had once been used by the State of California for maintenance, then by a gelato entrepreneur. For some time, co-founder Verda Alexander had been imagining what an ideal mobile office would look like for commuters and nomads. But instead, a different idea emerged. What if the team became nomads themselves, taking a design studio to the streets in the name of social outreach and urban development?

The conception of Food for Thought Truck began as learning exercise. In Studio O+A’s brainstorming sessions, one idea kept floating to the top: that the ‘benefit design can bring to under-served communities is matched by the benefit under-served communities can bring to design.’ They realized that in giving back, they’d also be able to gain invaluable new perspectives from citizens and designers across the state.

The result of those meetings? A truck-studio designed to instigate site-specific projects and support public presentations, lab work and even the building of a mini-park for its reveal last fall, which took place at home in the City by the Bay.

Then, Food for Thought Truck hit I-5 – the interstate highway that runs from Mexico’s border to Canada’s – on a California-wide road trip. Since last fall, they've visited four stops, helping communities from the north of the state to the south on city projects together. In Bakersfield, Food for Thought Truck parked itself outside of the city's popular Café Smitten to engage with locals and imagine how the growing neighbourhood of Eastchester might develop. In Los Angeles, the studio designed a signage program to strengthen local awareness about the reclamation of the river that flows from the Simi Hills to Long Beach.

We’ll be able to take what we learn and bring it back to our interiors practice

‘Food for Thought Truck is going to be a two-way street for O+A,’ said Alexander. ‘We’ll be able to take what we learn and bring it back to our interiors practice.’

If you call the Golden State home, keep your eyes peeled: the Food for Thought Truck isn’t done pounding the pavement until late 2019.

The takeaway: Judging by Studio O+A’s design road trip, tapping into local communities for ideas, while also paying it forward, only requires the willingness to step out of office – and of comfort zones.