Design for Life

Design can make life better. Or such is the belief of Index: Design to Improve Life, a Danish non-profit that assigns awards every two years to 5 designers in 5 categories: Body, Home, Community, Play & Learning and Work. The prestigious honor (the most lucrative design prize in the world, with 100,000 euros set aside for each project) was created in 2001 by the Ministry of Economic and Business Affairs of Denmark, under the aegis of the Danish crown. The goal is to promote design solutions that are sustainable, useful, capable of concretely solving important social and economic problems of the present. Because design has to be capable of getting beyond the traditional boundaries of ‘fashion’ and ‘furniture’ to become a true service for people, especially those most in need of the benefits it can offer.

This year for the Body category Keller Rinaudo and Justin Hamilton were the winners with Zipline, the first drone-based commercial service to bring medicine to the most critical and hard-to-reach areas of Ruanda. The project is the result of a partnership between the Ruanda government and the California-based company Zipline, operating out of Silicon Valley. The service offers 12 million inhabitants the possibility of having life-saving medicines in a time range of 15 to 35 minutes.

For the Home category the winners were the Englishmen Chris Sheldrick and Giles Rhys Jones with What3Words, an app that provides a revolutionary ‘addressing system’ capable of assigning an ‘address’ to the 4 billion people (according to UN estimates) who have no steady dwelling and therefore cannot use even the most basic services, like opening a bank account, getting electrical or water service, or registering a birth. The system identifies 3 key words that make it possible to find a location in an exact way, in just 9 square meters. The app, soon to be used by the postal services in Mongolia, Tonga, Saint Martin, Djibouti and Ivory Coast, will also be used by the United Nations, the Red Cross and other international aid organizations.

Vitalik Buterin, a Russian residing in Canada, won the Community category with Ethereum, a decentralized 3.0 platform that represents a sort of second generation of the Internet. This is a computer technology of the ‘blockchain’ type, which makes it possible to execute programs known as ‘smart contracts,’ for reliable, fast, automated and low-cost digitizing of documents for the control of a wide range of operations: from financial transactions to electoral systems, registration of domain names to crowdfunding platforms, intellectual property to insurance, real estate, etc.

In the Play & Learning category the ‘frugal design’ of India’s Manu Prakash (the definition is his) took the prize with ‘Paperfuge,’ a low-cost device (just 25 cents of a dollar for production of one unit) that helps to identify the ‘Big Three,’ namely the viruses of malaria, HIV and tuberculosis, three of the most serious causes of death in the world (it is estimated that out of the 50 million people who die every year, 10% are killed by the ‘Big Three’). Paperfuge can replace the costly centrifuges used to analyze blood samples, items that are often not available in high-risk zones. It is a sort of ‘manual centrifuge’ made of paper, twine and plastic, which operating at 125,000 rpm is able to separate the plasma from a blood sample (a standard diagnostic procedure) in just 90 seconds. Furthermore, its lightness (it weighs just 2 grams) makes Paperfuge a versatile tool in terms of transport and access, for patients located in hard-to-reach areas.

The last winning project, in the Work category, is by the American Bren Smith: it is called GreenWave and it is a visionary Ocean Farming system, a sort of marine greenhouse in which to cultivate mollusks (mussels and oysters) without impacting the environment and the climate, while creating jobs for fishermen in local communities.

Article by Laura Ragazzola