Gary Zamchick, Cornell Tech strategic designer in residence, left, and Arnaud Sahuguet, director of the Foundry@Cornell Tech, partnered with New York City to create the Moonshot Launchpad, a downloadable guide for defining ambitious solutions for urban problems.

Digital guide encourages ‘moonshot’ thinking to improve NYC

Cornell Tech has partnered with New York City on designing its new NYCx Moonshot Launchpad, a downloadable how-to guide for those interested in defining ambitious “moonshot” goals to improve lives in the city and beyond.

Arnaud Sahuguet, director of the Foundry@Cornell Tech, and Gary Zamchick, Cornell Tech strategic designer in residence, worked with the New York City Mayor’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer to create a playbook that city agencies, community organizations and industry partners can consult as they test and develop novel solutions for urban problems.

“At the Foundry, we help researchers transform their great ideas into artifacts and projects, and we realized the methodology we try to give our students around problem-solving and conceptual thinking could be directly applicable to this project,” said Sahuguet. “We tried to distill the best of our various studio classes and package some of them in the launchpad to make sure this way of thinking can be used by people and agencies in New York City.”

Two New York City moonshots are already in progress: the Trust for Governors Island Connectivity Challenge, seeking to wire Governors Island for high-speed broadband and 5G cellular service in a way that could also be used across the five boroughs; and the NYCx Climate Action Challenge, to develop electric-vehicle charging infrastructure that could help the city meet its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2020.

The goal of the launchpad is to make innovative urban solutions easier to develop, and to provide insight into the city’s process and methodology in evaluating and drafting moonshot challenges. Cornell Tech provided product design, graphic design and strategy design expertise and resources in helping to create the guide, Sahuguet said.

The Cornell Tech team started by listening to city planners discuss the challenges presented by the upcoming 2020 Census. Working from the goals and obstacles they described, Sahuguet and Zamchick developed a template that encourages design thinking, collaboration and realistic expectations.

Sahuguet and Zamchick proposed a design featuring drawings of rocket ships because it sets a playful tone. The “Moonshot Canvas” – a printable flow chart – asks users to think through questions such as “What will success look like?” and “Why must this problem be solved now?” to help frame goals in a way that is most likely to be effective, Sahuguet said.

“The mission of Cornell Tech is impactful technology that can improve the lives of people,” he said, “and this is exactly what the NYCx Moonshot Launchpad is doing.”

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Gillian Smith