INDEX:Award: a design award scheme that makes ‘useful’ design a tangible reality

Monday, September 7, 2009 15:39

Marcia Caines

The winning designs of the INDEX:Award 2009 confirm design’s crucial role in solving complex global problems and restore the concept of design as a powerful tool for humanity.


The winners of the Danish non-profit ‘design to improve life’ award, the Index:Award 2009, were announced on Friday 29 August at the biannual black-tie Index Award ceremony held in Copenhagen’s unique new DR Concert Hall, designed by the renowned French architect Jean Nouvel.

The five Index:Award winners all bear testament to the capacity of design as a powerful tool for positive change and dispel the stigma attached to contemporary design as a symbol of excess, consumerism and futility

Founded in 2002, INDEX is a networking organization with a mission to foster the practice of design to improve the future of mankind among multidisciplinary designers in all four corners of the globe, and unleash design’s potential from institutional and academic strongholds in industry, in order to harness the development and implementation of designs – products, services and systems – that fulfill needs and provide solutions to major global challenges. Design professor and INDEX jury member John Heskett embodies this vision in his definition of design

“Design is the human capacity to shape and make our environments in ways that satisfies our needs and gives meaning to our lives”

The INDEX:Award provides designers of all ages and nationalities with the unique opportunity of competing for the world’s biggest design award, bestowing five prizes of 100,000 Euros, which evaluates entries for their capacity to improve life in five categories: Home, Play, Community, Body, Work. Over 700 designers and design teams were nominated for the award this year, doubling the number of entries eligible for the award in 2007.

The third INDEX:Award took place during the premiere edition of the Copenhagen Design Week, which was strongly focused on sustainable design as the Danish capital gears up for the UN’s climate change conference (COP 15) in December this year. Index events in the design week programme included the INDEX:Exhibition, an open-air exhibition showcasing the 69 finalist designs in Kongens Nytorv Square; a seminar entitled Designing For Good – What do you get out of it? which explored the benefits for companies in taking part in addressing social and global challenges with four exceptional speakers and inspiring innovators: Chris Bangle, Cameron Sinclair, Patrick Frick and Fabio Cavalli, and moderated by the International Herald Tribune design critic Alice Rawsthorn; and the INDEX: | AIGA Aspen Design Challenge, “Designing Water’s Future” exhibited at the Bella Centre.

The five Index:Award winners selected by the INDEX jury, listed here below, all bear testament to the capacity of design as a powerful tool for positive change and dispel the stigma attached to contemporary design as a symbol of excess, consumerism and futility.


The Fetal Heart Rate Monitor (FHRM) designed by industrial designer Philip Goodwin of Cape Town, South Africa won the award for the Body Category. This simple and robust monitor is designed specifically to cope with wear and tear and to function in areas without a power supply. The device measures the infant’s heart rate during birth therefore detecting foetus distress and possible birth complications; it is powered into operation with a hand crank, which generates 10mins of electricity per minute of cranking. The INDEX:Award recipient, John Hutchinson, CTO of Freeplay Energy of Cape Town announced that the 100,000 Euro prize money will be invested in industrial production of the and worldwide distribution devices, with the aim of reaching as many remote and rural locations as possible.


The Chulha, a indoor cooking stove, designed by Philips Design in Eindhoven, The Netherlands won the award for the Home Category. Philips’ Chulha is designed to reduce the dangerous health conditions and numerous deaths caused by indoor cooking with ‘bio-mass’ fuels that takes place in many rural areas of the developing world. The Chulha derives from a 2005 initiative where Philips Design decided to assess its ability to solve social problems. The Chulha stove is constructed from local materials, is easy to clean and respects the traditional design aesthetics of home-users in prospective countries. The stove is being made available to social enterprises free of charge so they can produce and distribute the model, thus generating local business. INDEX:Award recipient Stefano Marzano, CEO and Creative Director at Philips Design in Eindhoven explained that the award money would be spent on developing the concept for other countries, such as Africa, Latin America and other regions of India.


The winner of the Work category was, designed by Founded in 2004, was the world’s first person-to-person micro-lending website. The website works by connecting small entrepreneurs, without access to capital, to individual lenders (not banks) who wish to fund the business of their choice by means of a loan. Interest is not paid to lenders, but investments can be monitored online and the site has a 98% payback rate. The website was selected by INDEX for its success in scaling loans to create aggregate funding. Premal Shal, president of, said that half of the award money would invested in new technologies to improve the usability and scope of, and the balance would be spent on micro-finance loans by INDEX through


PIG 05049 by Christien Meindertsma from Rotterdam, The Netherlands, was winner of the Play category, the first time that a communication design project received an award from INDEX.
Christien’s project was developed over a period of 3 years of research tracking down all the products made from a single pig. Her discoveries are published in a book, entitled PIG 05049, which serves as a visual statement – almost a catalogue – of 185 items which contain elements of her slaughtered PIG 05049, including surprise products like bullets, cigarettes and chewing gum. The aim of her project is to increase people’s awareness and knowledge about product derivatives enabling consumers to make more conscious decisions about how and what they buy. Meindertsma intends to use the award money to publish her book online and give it a widespread distribution, as well as to continue her research work for future projects.


The Californian design group from Palo Alto, Better Place won the award for the Community category with their Electric Vehicle Infrastructure. They took electrical vehicles one step further with an ambitious project that used a holistic approach to encompass the many elements necessary to create a complete system for electrical mobility, from multiple plug-in charge spots to an open network for drivers; from battery switching stations to efficient energy-demand management. Better Place intends to pursue the implementation of this infrastructure in the USA and other countries with the award money.

The award ceremony can be seen online on the Index website

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