By  on August 24, 2007

Aesthetically pleasing as they may be — and many are nothing short of sleek — the Index design award nominees are far from fanciful.

This year's theme is Design to Improve Life, with prototypes aiming to address everyday issues such as driving while talking on a cell phone to weightier ones like dealing with land-mine injuries or curbing the world's oil and clean water shortages.

Today in Copenhagen, Index prizes, considered to be the top design awards worldwide, valued at $135,464, will be awarded for five categories: Body, Home, Work, Play and Community. Finalists span the seven continents and were initially drawn from 188 recommendations by the world's leading design institutions. The jurors had their work cut out for them considering the far-reaching nature of the top picks.

The Body category alone deals with an array of crucial issues. For those who have been mutilated in land-mine explosions, Canada's Sébastien Dubois has developed Mobility for Each One, a lightweight prosthetic that costs only $8 to produce compared with the thousands of dollars that is the going rate for such a device. Finland's Tell No One Design Collective has created Mukana, computerized clothing for the visually impaired equipped with voice recognition software that allows wearers to identify their location and provide public transportation timetables. A team of American designers developed Mechanical Advantage Tourniquet, or MAT, which allows victims of war or natural disasters to stop blood flow in less than 10 seconds and potentially save lives.

Another finalist for the Body category is Italian designer Chiara Sandri, whose biodegradable TrackLess footwear is designed to offset the 200,000 pairs of bathing shoes and sandals that are discarded in Italy each week. Made from a large herbaceous plant whose fruit is soft and spongy, these kicks are geared for tropical and subtropical climates where the plant grows abundantly. Production would provide a source of revenue for poor nations. Alberto Meda's and Francisco Gomez Paz's Solar Bottle, which uses solar disinfection, is another contender. The pair is trying to help out the one-sixth of the world's population without access to safe drinking water and prevent some of the 2.2 million deaths annually caused by diarrhea. China's Li Jin wants smokers to think twice before polishing off their cigarettes. The designer has created smoking paper that darkens to a shade of black as the smoker inhales.Designers competing for the Home prize also show ingenuity. For the sake of conservation, Gabriel Tan's and Wendy Chua's Airwash is a waterless washing machine that removes stains from garments in a few minutes by using negative ions, compressed air and deodorants. Belgian Alain Berteau created the Cover stool, which claims to be the first piece of package-free furniture. Brazilian Akemi Tahara came up with Shelter Origami, a foldable paper shelter for the refugees; Croatia's Ines Vlahovi and Mladen Oresi created Wing, a personal and portable windmill, and Romanian Andrei Bojor came up with SpaceSaver, an all-in-one bathroom sink and washing machine.

In the Work category, Janne Kyttanen's Freedom of Creation, which consists of virtually stored products that can be e-mailed for 3-D production, is vying for the prize, as is Virginia San Fratello's Hydro Wall, a water storage unit that stores warmth and coolness. Fellow American Jeremiah Sullivan had professional and recreational divers who work around sharks in mind when he created his Neptunic C Suit, which is designed to fend off shark bites. Danes Rosan Bosch and Rune Fjord Jense are in the running for Ordrup School, a school design intended to promote differentiated teaching and creative thinking among children. Even more lighthearted is the Play category, where an American-made electric sports car called the Tesla Roadster is among the top picks.

In the Community category, finalists include Ben Dromey's 6Lockers, 24-hour accessible storage facilities for the homeless to stow away belongings in shelters where staff can access lockers to leave food or mail. Junggi Sung's and Minkyung Kim's Uniceffriend is a pen donating system for underdeveloped countries and includes two postcards to allow the donor to write a message to the recipient.

To rev up interest in the Index awards, an exhibition is on display in Copenhagen's 17th-century Kongens Nytorv square. The 106 top-nominated designs are in oversize transparent acrylic spheres. As an indication that fine design knows no restrictions, the work is shown 24 hours a day and video footage about the various creations can be found in the square's information center. About 70 volunteer seniors, nicknamed "design grannies," are tour guides for the exhibition, which will be open until Sept. 23.

Instead of hosting a black-tie dinner for award winners, organizers are opting for something decidedly more Danish. Tonight, Index's dinner will take place in 30 private homes around Copenhagen. After all, Denmark is the place that offers visitors Dining With Danes, the chance to enjoy traditional fare in a native's well-appointed home for a nominal fee.

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