What Leads to a Long and Healthy Life? The Sightlines Project as a Resource.
By Ken Smith, Senior Research Scholar and Director, Mobility Division
“Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”
– Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
Most designers these days are familiar with the Design Thinking Process, which is usually defined as:
Its strength is in engaging users early, understanding the problem from their prospective, and getting fast feedback on ideas. It’s a great approach to design and I would encourage all of the teams entering the Challenge to understand and incorporate the process into their work.
For this challenge, however, some additional background knowledge is needed. If the goal is to help people incorporate better habits, the logical next question is “what constitutes a better habit?” A group of us at the Center on Longevity confronted this issue roughly two years ago when we began work on The Sightlines Project. The overall goal of the project was to create a set of indices tracking the progress of the U.S. population’s progress on variables that lead to a long and healthy life. Selection of these variables was guided by three principles:
1. Evidence: There needed to be a scientific research base that correlated the variable to length and quality of life outcomes. We also validated these choices by gathering input from a wide range of experts in the field.
2. Action: The variable needed to be actionable. For example, the city in which you were born correlates to the length of your life, but there’s really not much you can do about that. For Sightlines, we picked variables that individuals could affect during the course of their own life.
3. Data: There had to be nationally-representative databases available that allowed us to track historical trends.
Using these filters, we identified 25 different variables grouped into three categories: Healthy Living, Financial Security, and Social Engagement. We then examined the data collected on each variable over the past 15 years, breaking the results out by age, gender, ethnicity, income, education, and marital status. What emerged is a picture of where the population is doing well and where it needs to make some changes. All of this data is available for your use on the Sightlines “Findings” webpage.
For the purposes of this year’s Design Challenge, Sightlines provides a set of goals for designers. If, for example, you are interested in promoting better social engagement, it will be worthwhile to review the nine variables associated with that category. As you empathize with users, keep these variables in mind and consider whether there are ways to help people improve in these areas. For Design Challenge teams from outside the United States, the tracking data from Sightlines may not apply to your geography, but the criteria for healthy lives are still valid. In providing this information, we hope to save you the step of having to prove that the habit you are targeting actually correlates with long and healthy life.
I’m often asked for what advice I’d give to designers looking to enter the challenge. This year it would be “Leverage Sightlines to identify a habit you want to encourage. Use Design Thinking to engage users, understand barriers, and design to overcome them.”
Ken Smith joined SCL in July of 2009 as a Senior Research Scholar and Director of Academic and Research Support. He currently is Director of the Center’s Mobility Division. He works closely with SCL’s faculty colleagues to determine where Stanford expertise can best be used to drive change. He brings a broad background of over 20 years of management and engineering experience to his role, including positions in the computing, aerospace, and solar energy industries. He developed a special expertise in working closely with university faculty to develop projects while at Intel, where he was deeply involved in the creation and management of their network of university research labs. He serves on the Advisory Council for AgeTech West. He holds a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Illinois with an M.S. from the University of Washington.