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INDEX Awards 2017
“To design” is a loose term, and many people define it in different ways. I have always thought of it as pursuing a specific goal through consideration and creation of specific elements, whether that’s the wings of an aeroplane or computer code for a stock management system. The overarching aim of design should be to maximise the positive aspects of the creation for users whilst minimising the negative factors. Essentially, designing in order to improve products, lives, whatever… This attitude is perfectly summed up by the tagline of INDEX, a non-profit organisation based in Denmark, which states “We inspire, educate and engage people to design sustainable solutions to global challenges”. Each year, they honour six projects with awards in categories of people’s choice, community, home, work, body and play and learning.

Since they have just presented their awards for 2017, I thought it would be interesting and inspiring to explore the winning projects. They were selected from 1,401 entries from 85 different countries. If you want to read more about any of the winners, click their name in the title of each category to visit their website.
People's Choice: Labster
Labster is an online virtual reality platform that provides high quality STEM education to those who don’t have access to or can’t afford time in a physical laboratory. It has been in development since 2012 by Mads Tvillinggaard Bonde and Michael Bodekaer and is now used for teaching at the University of Copenhagen and Stanford University. The founders hope to inspire more people to study STEM subjects through their immersive system, and plan to add to the current library of 64 interactive, university standard lessons. The project is embracing virtual reality and online, decentralised learning in an exciting and progressive way.
Community: Ethereum
Founded by programmer Vitalik Buterin in 2014 and billed as the “second generation of the internet”, Ethereum is a system that provides the tools for anyone to create and execute decentralised applications. The platform makes use of a concept called the blockchain which is often known through its relation to the cryptocurrency Bitcoin. I have written an article in the surrounding this exciting new phase of the internet which you can read here, however I will try to concisely summarise the ideas behind Ethereum here. The software uses “smart contracts”, which are online, unique, decentralised codes that can be used to exchange almost anything, for example money, land or artwork. Due to the decentralised nature of the blockchain, hacking is almost impossible, transaction fees and times are eradicated or reduced, and owners have more control over their digital possessions. Ethereum and the blockchain have the potential to significantly change a huge number of industries, from law and governance to transport to finance. It will be very interesting to see how the Ethereum Foundation continues to develop their platform alongside advances in decentralised networks.
Home: What3Words
From the complexity of Ethereum we move to the refined simplicity of What3Words, a global addressing system created by Chris Sheldrick, Jack Waley-Cohen and Mohan Ganesalingham in 2013. The network was created by splitting the world into a grid of 3x3m squares, with each square being assigned three words to define its address. Three words are much more memorable than long GPS codes and universal, unlike nation specific street addresses. The aim of the system is to allow everyone to have an address so they can gain access to social benefits such as healthcare, postage and financial aid. It is already being used in a range of countries including Mongolia, the Ivory Coast and Tonga. The system also facilitates more accurate planning and distribution of aid following natural disasters or mass migration, which is being utilised by the Red Cross. Who knows, in the future your address might read “matter. lavendar. format.”.
Work: Greenwave
Greenwave is making waves (I’m sorry) in the ocean farming industry. It is a hurricane proof farming technique designed to nourish, instead of deplete, the world’s oceans, therefore minimising its climatic impact. Initially setup by commercial fisherman Bren Smith and sustainable food systems expert Emily Stengel, it is now an open source platform that can be utilised by anyone. The technique makes use of the whole water column to grow Mussels, oysters, shellfish and seaweed, which have all been selected due to their positive sustainability characteristics. The produce can then be used for food, biofuels, fertilizer, animal feed and cosmetics. Bren and Emily hope that the system will benefit from its open source nature, with the farms being adapted for different climates and specific challenges, and eventually upscaled into reefs.
Body: Zipline
Zipline is a fantastic example of how cutting edge technology can benefit some of the most poverty stricken communities in the world. It makes use of drones to deliver essential medical supplies to remote areas of Rwanda within minutes. In the past, these deliveries would have taken hours by car or motorcycle. The process is simple, a doctor or other medical professional texts the Zipline HQ with an order, which is then packed into a box and placed in the drone. The drone then flies to the dropoff point and parachutes the package down to its destination. Each drone can deliver 500 packages every 24 hours. The project is a collaboration between the Rwandan Government, Harvard graduates Keller Rinaudo and Will Hetzler, and Stanford alumnus Keenan Wyrobek. The final goal is to put the total population of Rwanda within 15-35 minutes of any essential medical supply, and to continue to develop the concept and implement it in other countries. This deceptively simple project is making a huge difference to the healthcare in Rwanda, and leading the way in medical logistics.
Play And Learning: Paperfuge
Centrifuges, which separate fluids of different densities, are fundamental in diagnosing a number of highly infectious diseases such as Malaria, HIV and Tuberculosis. Unfortunately, most are complex, electrically powered pieces of machinery which limits their application in many hospitals in developing nations. Manu Prakash and Saad Bhamla have tackled this issue through creation of the Paperfuge, a hand powered centrifuge based on a whirligig, the oldest toy in humanity. Holding the world record for the fastest human powered spinning object, the Paperfuge costs just 20 cents to produce and is simple to operate. It weighs approximately two grams, making it ideal for delivery in say… a drone. The potential of this product is staggering in rapid diagnosis and therefore cure of some of the most widespread infectious diseases in the developing world.

Every now and then I read or see something that makes me marvel at the ingenuity of humanity. Reading about these projects was one of those moments. Most of the winners in this list are remarkably simple, yet they have the potential to improve the lives of billions of people, summing up the essence of design. Whatsmore, the creators of these world changing inventions are often “ordinary” people such as fisherman, events managers and programmers. To me this is incredibly inspiring, and I hope that by reading this article you also feel inspired to design a better world. Let’s do this!