INDEX: Design to Improve Life – From Denmark to Denver (Part I)

At this time last Tuesday night I was sitting listening to a presentation by INDEX: Design to Improve Life’s Head of Education, Lotte Stenlev. Thanks to my professor, Michelle, who arranged the visit, Lotte was speaking to a mixed crowd of students, professors, and alumni right here at CU Denver’s Auraria Campus.

Photo 07-10-14 20.12.06

A graphic demonstrating how to take something massive and pare it down to something relevant and achievable through design.

I think most of you who read my blog already know about INDEX, but I’ll summarize quickly what they’re about just in case. INDEX is a Danish nonprofit organization that gives out the largest design award (500 thousand euros) worldwide. The INDEX Award is awarded biennially and only to designs that address a large-scale global problem in one of five categories. More recently the organization also developed their own education methodology, which will be the larger focus of this post.

The discussion Kigge Hvid, CEO of INDEX, had with the 2012 Copenhagen study abroad class I was in played a big part in shifting how I think about design and its optimal purpose (throwback: my 2012 post about that visit). I realized that design is not just textiles, web pages, and concert posters.

“Design is the human capacity to shape and make our environments in ways that satisfy our needs and give meaning to our lives.” – John Heskett

We are facing many global problems, or challenges (a more positive word, if you will), that are solvable through careful design. The issues fall under several sub-categories with plenty of room and need for everyone to share in the creation of solutions. If you’re curious which areas of need could use our collective attention, try checking the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals page, or INDEX Award’s 12 design challenges.

“Everyone is a designer. Design is far too important to leave to [professional] designers alone,” Lotte told us.

That’s why education is so important.

If we want to improve the world we must teach the people living in it how to better it. And because of this, we need to learn how to effectively educate. Lotte emphasized the importance of asking students, “Are you learning? What’s working? What’s not working?” After all, “It’s not what you teach, it’s what the children learn.”

Today’s educators face a major obstacle in that they are trying to prepare their students for jobs and challenges that don’t yet exist in our fast-paced world. How can we empower students if we don’t even know what it is they need to learn? INDEX’s answer to that question is, “We can teach them how to think – how to be creative, how to communicate.”

But can you teach someone to be creative? Aalborg University’s Creative Platform would suggest so. It might be necessary to reexamine how you think about creativity; in this context we’re talking about creativity as the “unlimited application of knowledge.”

Possibly the most important ability for students to develop in order to meet the demands of the future is the ability to use design thinking. With this style of thinking they ought to be able to strategically consider the effectiveness of a design’s form, impact on the community, and contextual appropriateness.

This is where INDEX’s Design to Improve Life Education program offers some very helpful methodology centered around a process that flows through four stages: preparation, perception, prototyping, and production. Utilizing this process, called The INDEX Design Compass, is one way to boil down a massive and seemingly impenetrable problem to an achievable, relevant design solution.

This was the best english version image of the design compass that I could find.

The INDEX Design Compass

Check out my next post (which will be up later this week) for a break down of how our workshop group in Denver addressed traffic problems using the Compass.

Some inspiration for your creative brains:
2013 INDEX Award Winners

And may I recommend the Raspberry Pi? 😉
This INDEX winner is a $25 PC that enables people all over the world to learn about programming. Coding is the universal language of our future, and everybody should have the opportunity to learn.