Winners of the INDEX: Design to Improve Life Awards Announced

©. INDEX: Design to Improve Life

They really do live up to their billing this year.

INDEX: Design to Improve Life is one of the world's most valuable design awards, but it's not about design as we think of it, which is why they say, No more white teacups! We have enough of that stuff; what we really need is stuff that improves life for people. The categories aren't the usual ones by by type, but are by result; they improve the world of work, play and learning, home, body or community.

Bjarke at 2013

Bjarke! at the 2013 INDEX awards/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0When TreeHugger first covered the event in 2013 it was incredibly glitzy, with Oscar night level of production values, TV coverage, big media stars moderating the event, and the biggest architecture media star of all -- Bjarke! -- coming out of the fog.

Chairs on stage

Index awards 2017/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

This year was much lower key: no grand sets, no massive TV presence, just a row of chairs on a low stage. Yet in many ways it was the most inspiring and moving INDEX evening yet. And more inspiring than the event were the actual winners.

Home Winner: What3Words


© What3words via INDEX

This was one of my favorites in my Picks and Pans coverage before the event. So many people on earth don't have addresses.

The What3Words app solves this problem by dividing the world into 57 trillion 3x3m squares and assigning three specific words to each of these sections. Wherever someone is in the world, she can use the app on her phone to identify the square and the three words – the “address” – of her location. This information can then be shared with anyone else who has the app and will be able to find her location within that 3 meter square of the world. The app uses easy-to-remember language instead of hard-to-memorize GPS numbering systems, which is much easier for people to implement.

Designer Chris Sheldrick was a musician who hurt his hand and couldn't play piano anymore, so he got into music management and was always getting lost. The bands were always getting lost. He figured there had to be a better way. And if you want to find me in the middle of the Canadian forest during the summer, I am at matchbook.proper.noting.


Video screen capture. Stanford

Stanford/Video screen capture

Derek previously covered Paperfuge on TreeHugger and described it:

In a great example of using a low-tech approach based on existing technology, in this case a classic children's toy, to overcome a barrier to improving lives and health outcomes, Stanford bioengineers have developed a low-cost and zero-electricity method of centrifuging blood samples. The 'paperfuge' developed by the team could potentially bring more precise diagnosis and treatment of diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, and African sleeping sickness to poor regions of the world where high tech equipment is not only too expensive, but also requires a reliable electricity grid to operate.

One of the inventors, Manu Prakash, was there to accept the award and was like a vaudevillian pulling stuff out of his pockets, a foldscope microscope here, a paperfuge there, a needle to take his own blood; he was a walking Mary Poppins suitcase of stuff that just kept coming. That something so useful could be made from twenty cents worth of material is just amazing.

Work: Greenwave


© Greenwave via INDEX: Design to improve life

GreenWave is a revolutionary ocean farming system designed to restore ocean ecosystems, mitigate climate change, and create jobs for fishermen – while providing healthy, local food for communities.

Bren Smith dropped out of high school to become a commercial fisherman, and saw his work disappear with the fish. So instead of continuing to look for the top-of-the-food-chain fish like salmon and tuna, he went back to basics and learned how to create an ecosystem. He also happens to be funny, charming and incredibly modest.



© Zipline via INDEX: Design for Life

Zipline is the world’s first commercial drone delivery system designed to get critical medical supplies, such as blood and vaccines, to where they’re needed fast. The multi-partner initiative, featuring Silicon Valley company ‘Zipline – Lifesaving Deliveries’ and the Rwandan government, aims to put every single one of Rwanda’s 12 million citizens within a 15-35 minute delivery range of any essential medical product.

I must admit that, of all the winners, I had reservations about this one, where doctors in the field in Rwanda order up medical supplies which are parachuted out of a drone to where they are needed. But when you watch the video and see it in action (and see how horrible the road conditions are) it begins to make sense. They will probably be bought out by Amazon tomorrow.

Community: Etherium


© INDEX: Design to Improve Life

Ethereum is a world-changing technology that represents nothing less than the second generation of the Internet. It holds the potential to transform law, governance, finance, trade and social organization, by removing the middlemen for global transactions and putting people back in control of their own data.

You will have to watch the video or read the documentation. I do not understand this at all -- some version of Blockchain that can be applied to products or, really, just about anything, so that you can follow what's in it, how it's made. I do know that I, along with everyone else, was completely blown away by its inventor, Vitalik Buterin, who looks about 14 and starts talking with such intelligence that your jaw drops.