Design to Improve Life Awards

I just read about this really cool organization that awards designers who are using design to improve the lives of people worldwide. It’s called INDEX: and was founded in Denmark in 2002. They award 500,000 euro every two years and just announced the 2011 winners last Thursday. There are five categories: Body, Home, Work, Play and Community. The winner of each category is awarded 100,000 euro. The New York Times wrote an article describing the five winning designs and designers. The designers really do come from all over the world with designs to improve life for people in very different ways, and in very different countries. 

The winners of the Home category designed a housing project in Monterrey, Mexico that builds the shell of a house (exterior walls, kitchen, bathroom) and leaves the occupants to build the rest of the house, however they’d like it to look, and when they can afford it. This video shows the designers winning their award, and they talk a little about the idea behind their housing project. Their projects are supposed to create a social investment rather than just a social expense. I feel like that’s healthy, interactive way to look at public housing.

The Community category winners, Design Seoul, designed a project to make the entire city of Seoul, South Korea more green, healthy and pleasant. Apparently the city was rebuilt after the Korean War without regard to aesthetics and has since also faced normal issues like over population and indecent housing. Design Seoul guides itsef based on five principles and has now “created the first-ever coherent design-based approach to improve life for citizens in a very large city.”

The Play category was won by Swedish designers who designed an inflatable bike helmet to encourage people to wear hemets when they bike. The designers said they surveyed people and the main reason they don’t wear helmets is because they don’t like the way they look. I’ll admit that’s the reason I refuse to wear a helmet. Also because they’re hot. The new design is an inflatable ring worn around the neck that inflates like an airbag into a helmet around the head in the case of an accident. While better than a helmet that’s always on your head, I was looking at pictures of it before inflation, and I’m still not sure about it. Maybe I just feel like this because I’m from Florida, but I think it still looks a little stifling and hot. Genius idea though.

The winners of the Body category, Fuseproject, provide eye glasses to students in Mexico so they can see better and therefore learn better. Obvious enought, it’s called the See Better to Learn Better program. The company says, “By choosing their own color combinations, shapes and sizes, the kids are co-designing their future.” The element I see in common with the winning designs is that they seem to enable people to interact with design. A tool is provided, whether it’s the shell of a house, greener city space or a pair of glasses, and then the user is able to customize it for his or her own needs and preferences. This video shows students in Juarez, Mexico receiving glasses. It’s really cool; the glasses are in two parts.

Lastly, the winner of the Work category, Design for Change, submitted a design-based school competition that gives students the “opportunity to express their own ideas for a better world and put them into action.” This program is interesting because not only is it helping the world by improving one area, but it’s able to stretch itself across many areas. The New York Times article said the competition, which “challenges kids to identify something that worries them, and to find a solution,” has gone to about 300,000 schools in 33 countries. There are already tons of stories on different projects through the program. Again, this program follows that common thread – design is being customized to fit individual needs.

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