The latest shortlist announcement from the Index awards indicates that UK design is playing a prominent part in promoting sustainability and inclusive design at a global level.
Last month, the awards, which are organised by the Index foundation in Denmark, and offer €100 000 (£68 000) each for five winning ‘designs that improve life’ – announced that UK entries account for almost 20 per cent of its total shortlisted applications, from 26 countries around the world.
‘[Design in] the UK seems to be moving forward faster than in a lot of countries. The world community has its eyes on the UK,’ says Index chief executive Kigge Hvid. ‘This year there has been a big shift. Design is being driven by solving problems like the gap between the developed and the developing world or how to achieve carbon neutrality.’
This year’s 12 UK entries are diverse. Those designers demonstrating strong ethical and sustainable credentials include the Helen Hamlyn Centre, Aricot Vert, Splashpower and Sprout Design, as well as service design group Livework.
UK design appears to be tackling challenges within society on both a micro and macro level. On the macro end of the scale are entries like the Dongtan eco-city project in China, by Arup Associates, which explores how the environmental impact of an urban environment can be completely minimised through thorough design and planning.
At the other end is the tongue sucker device by Graeme Davies, Phil Greer, Chris Huntley and Lisa Stroux. This seemingly minor piece of equipment can play a major role in saving lives by keeping the airway of an unconscious casualty open until qualified medical assistance has arrived.
Because of their focus on ‘improving life’, the awards categories – body, home, work, community and play – are based not on design disciplines like other schemes, but on the various aspects of day-to-day life that pose particular challenges.
The community category, for instance, includes projects that address challenges relating to the education, not-for-profit, environment and public sectors.
Entries from any discipline are eligible, as long as the project effectively provides a solution to a particular problem. ‘It doesn’t matter if it’s, say, fashion, as long as it looks at improving the quality of life,’ says Hvid.
This approach is intended to encourage interdisciplinary design and co-operation between fields that often see themselves as being separate. As a result, the awards include projects that straddle the divide between engineering, industrial design, service design, consultancy and product.
While Hvid says the remit of the awards is inherently to ‘do good’, Index has serious commercial goals. ‘There needs to be commercial involvement, otherwise for designers it’s just not worth pursuing,’ explains Hvid.
In addition to organising the awards, which are held every two years, the foundation is working to establish these commercial connections, which are invaluable to designers, through a global network of design institutions and commercial platforms, including the World Economic Forum and Unesco.
Collaborations with venture capitalists and city planning projects with Unesco are also on the agenda.