By Inga Kiderra
San Diego, Calif., Sept. 28, 2017 — How do we create a San Diego where we all move freely? That’s the central question posed by “Design for San Diego,” or D4SD for short, a month-long, city-wide civic design challenge launched by UC San Diego’s Design Lab. You—yes, you, whether you’re a novice or a professional — are invited to design solutions to problems of transportation and mobility in our city. From improving commutes to preparing for a future with driverless cars, D4SD seeks to harness the power of the crowd and of human-centered design.
The challenge kicked off Sept. 21 at Downtown Works with San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla.
Mayor Faulconer expressed gratitude for partnership with the university and having “some of the most creative people in the entire city tackling this.”
“We are a city of innovation,” he said. “We are at the forefront of using technology, using our creativity, our smarts—that is that secret sauce that is innovation in San Diego. I think one of the things that we’re increasingly known for… is that we work together, we collaborate, we share ideas. And that’s why this partnership is so incredibly important.”
Chancellor Khosla spoke about the importance of multi-disciplinary and multi-industry collaboration in solving today’s increasingly complex societal challenges. And he championed human-centered “design thinking.”
“Design, typically, people think of as a lightweight contribution to a product or a fashion or whatever,” Khosla said. “I can tell you, in my mind, it’s a way of extracting a problem. It’s a way of defining a solution. … Right now, in my mind, there’s nothing more important than design thinking.”
When Design Lab Director Don Norman stepped up to the mike, he talked about putting people first, and made a point of saying to the 100-plus people gathered in the space: “We want your solutions.”
Steven Dow, an assistant professor of cognitive science at UC San Diego, is directing D4SD. The challenge, he said, is taking place through a series of in-person events and a digital public platform, where participants can network with other innovators interested in improving the city.
The first in-person event after launch was a design sprint and hackathon, also at Downtown Works, starting on the evening of Sept. 22 and going into the following day. About 60 participants showed up to generate ideas, form teams and rapidly prototype a concept.
At the end of the hack, Dow said, the prototypes ranged from proposed algorithms for autonomous vehicles that would allow them to move as a caravan to a new parking structure made of poster board.
People who didn’t make the hackathon can still join the challenge online. There is about a month to innovate until the Oct. 24 deadline. A showcase is planned for Oct. 25-26 at the Design Forward 2017 Summit in Liberty Station.
The best solutions will earn prizes and private one-on-one meetings with startup investors.
Throughout the process, participants will have opportunities to work with and learn from UC San Diego Design Lab educators and the City of San Diego data science team, using the city’s Open Data portal.
Dow, who received a 2015 National Science Foundation CAREER award to study collective innovation, hopes the D4SD challenge will productively bridge the best aspects of collaboration and competition by “helping to bring people together to explore a problem space but also motivating them to enter their best innovations in the contest.”
A class that Dow taught at UC San Diego in the Spring quarter of 2017 helped identify challenge topics, with students surveying San Diegans, attending meetups with city and community leaders, and conducting targeted interviews. Dow is also teaching a Civic Design class this Fall. These students will take part in the challenge alongside the public.
“D4SD presents a unique educational opportunity,” Dow said, “both for university students and for the city’s residents—to gain hands-on experience with real-world issues and participate in San Diego’s innovation community.”
Michele Morris, associate director of the Design Lab (which is based at the UC San Diego Qualcomm Institute), said “D4SD is part of [the lab’s] larger commitment to integrating our work into the community for social and economic impact.”