Design students win international competition


Eric Renard (left) and Brandon Lopez (right) pose for a portrait with their first place trophy from the Stanford Design Challenge. (Eric Chan / Xpress)

The moment Brandon Lopez and Eric Renard’s names were announced as grand-prize winners of the Stanford Design Challenge, Tuesday, April 5, throngs of supporters and potential investors clamored to bestow their business cards.

“Eric was overwhelmed,” Lopez laughed. “And I was on a high as soon as they called our names, so I kind of don’t remember it. I had a mini blackout.”

Last fall, the senior industrial design students began work on a collapsible shopping cart for elderly people with mobility issues, a project assigned in SF State’s Product Design II course taught by Ricardo Gomes.

A judging panel selected their “CityCart” design from a pool of international university students to be one of 12 finalists in the Stanford Design Challenge, as previously reported by the Golden Gate Xpress. Entrants placed in two categories: mobility and mind. Lopez and Renard won first place in mobility and took home a check for $10,000.

They credit their inspiration to June Fisher, an 82-year-old occupational health physician and Bay Area product design lecturer who worked closely with the duo throughout production.

“Oh, it was so exciting!” Fisher exclaimed. “I was out of character, on my edge as they were announcing the winners. When they announced Brandon and Eric, I just jumped up and said, ‘Yay!’ They really deserved it.”

Jumping is difficult for Fisher, who has limited mobility and experiences frequent muscular fatigue. She said she looks forward to having a CityCart of her own, something supportive enough to navigate a farmer’s market and pick up a few heirloom veggies without relying on someone else.

Eric Renard (left) and Brandon Lopez (right) pose for a portrait with their first place trophy from the Stanford Design Challenge. (Eric Chan / Xpress)
Eric Renard (left) and Brandon Lopez (right) pose for a portrait with their first place trophy from the Stanford Design Challenge. (Eric Chan / Xpress)

“The design came from a particular person’s need – my need,” Fisher said. “They’ve been very conscientious, committed and creative, and I predict they’ll have great futures as product designers.”

Gomes’ class has put forth finalists each year since the competition’s 2013 inception. This is the first year an SF State team has placed.

“They said at the very beginning, ‘We are going to win this,’” Gomes said. “Their work ethic, the way they approached the problem – they had a tremendous amount of vigor and energy, and my only disappointment was that they didn’t submit their project to (a second competition).”

Polly Dawkins, executive director of the Davis Phinney Foundation For Parkinson’s, was one of eight judges on the mobility panel.

“I was really intrigued that they had gotten to the prototype level with their design,” Dawkins said. “That, for me, gave them a distinct advantage. It didn’t look like it was designed to be a walker – it looks cool and rugged and useful, and I could imagine anyone using it.”

The top three designs were clear to the judges, according to Dawkins. However she noted there was some debate before the panel reached consensus on which would be first, second and third.

“The concern about ‘CityCart’ was that it wasn’t terribly innovative, and that was probably its biggest flaw,” Dawkins said. “But clearly, it came out ahead of everything else.”

Lopez and Renard plan to bring the cart to market once they sift through that stack of business cards. For now, they’ll focus on the last few weeks of school before graduation and their upcoming relocation to Santa Cruz. The designers both accepted positions with Open Innovations, a design and tech incubator they interned with this semester.

“Everyone congratulated us and they’re like, ‘Good job! Your hard work finally paid off!’” Renard said. “But this is just the beginning.”