A Director’s Introduction to the 2020 Stanford Longevity Design Challenge
Welcome to the 2020 Stanford Center on Longevity Design Challenge! I’ve had the privilege of directing the Challenge since we first launched the effort in September of 2013. As we enter our seventh year, I’d like to take a few minutes to explain the thinking behind this year’s challenge topic and provide a little (hopefully) helpful advice on how to approach creating an entry.
The process of selecting a challenge topic is not one we take lightly. It generally can be boiled down to three main concerns:
- The topic must be broad enough to encompass potential entries from a range of disciplines and allow for a large number of varying entries. To over-constrain is to limit creativity.
- At the same time, the topic needs to be concise enough to be easily understandable and so that tangible solutions can be envisioned.
- Finally, we try to use the challenge to highlight what we believe are important issues or trends related to longevity. Note that I do not say “related to old age.” Longevity is about what happens over a lifetime and what we all choose to do with the nearly 100 year lives that are becoming increasingly possible. For example, last year’s challenge was about integrational relationships and how to encourage and enrich them. By the very nature of this topic, we asked students to think about multiple generations.
This brings me to our topic this year, “Reducing the Inequity Gap: Designing for Affordability.” I doubt the issue of rising inequality needs much introduction to most of you. It is one of the great issues of our time, as wealth becomes increasingly concentrated in the hands of the few. We see a related dynamic in the longevity innovation space – promising products and services are introduced, but they often only reach the higher economic levels of society, leaving the rest of the population behind. This year we’d like to get you thinking about how to bring the cost of solutions down to a level where everyone can benefit.
If this idea sounds impossible, I urge you to think about the emergence of cellular phones. These devices were initially considered the height of personal technology and available only to the technically and financially elite. But continued innovation and cost focus has changed this situation drastically. Take a look at the graphic below. A recent study published by Cisco Systems estimates that by 2020 (when we will be holding the Finals for this Design Challenge), more people globally will have cell phones than electricity or running water.
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