Hundreds of design students across six continents race to solve the global water crisis

NEW YORK, December 1, 2008. Challenged to consider the global water crisis, design students in Atlanta are thinking about ways that excess hair from beauty salons could be used to soak up oil spills, while students in China are planning an online magazine for 6–12-year-olds to promote water conservation.

Both groups hope to be among the finalists for the first annual INDEX: | AIGA Aspen Design Challenge, this year dubbed “Designing Water’s Future.” Each group has created an elegantly simple solution with a powerful impact—but only selected finalists will be invited to refine their ideas with global thought leaders in 2009. And only one design team will be awarded $10,000 to bring its idea to life.

Water scarcity has emerged as a serious threat to people across the world. More than 5 million die each year due to contaminated drinking water, and the UN estimates that 5.5 billion will lack adequate access to fresh water in the next 20 years. “It is of great importance that designers and design students understand their role in addressing the challenges of this world—and the freshwater crisis is definitely one of the graver ones, given the number of people afflicted and the number of other issues that it involves,” said Kigge Hvid, CEO of INDEX:.

More than 450 students at 45 universities across 6 continents are currently hard at work on creative projects to solve this crisis, and will submit final proposals by December 15. Launched in August 2008, the Challenge tasks students with developing design solutions that encourage responsible water use, provide access to fresh water to those in need or communicate the importance of water conservation. From Australia to Ecuador, students are using their diverse and disparate backgrounds to help solve a truly global crisis.

“The idea behind the Aspen Design Challenge is that creative design can change the way people think and behave, and that young people are an essential source for precisely the design thinking we need,” said Richard Grefé, executive director of AIGA. “AIGA has kept in touch with these students throughout the semester, and all indicators show that we can expect some wonderfully surprising results in December.”

Following the announcement of finalists in February 2009, students behind the selected proposals will have the opportunity to share their ideas with environmental specialists at the Aspen Environment Forum in March 2009, and to improve their concepts with feedback from top designers, scientists, journalists, and business and NGO leaders. Selected finalists will also present their concepts at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen next November, and the winning team will receive the $10,000 INDEX: | AIGA Aspen Design Challenge Prize—sponsored by the JL Foundation—to implement its solution.

“We have recently seen American politics shaped by young people who could see beyond divisive fear tactics and move toward hope,” said Brian Collins, chairman of COLLINS:, the New York-based design firm and  partner in “Designing Water’s Future.” “Now imagine these same kinds of creative minds working on the water crisis from all corners of the globe. The great response to ‘Designing Water’s Future’ indicates to us that the next generation is ready to take action.”

About the INDEX: | AIGA Aspen Design Challenge

The Aspen Design Challenge is a joint project developed by AIGA and INDEX: with the purpose of engaging the millennial generation in solving an emerging set of global issues. The idea for “Designing Water’s Future” grew out of discussions at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, led by Brian Collins and journalist J. Carl Ganter, co-founder of Circle of Blue, the international network of leading journalists, scientists and communications designers that connects humanity to the global freshwater crisis.

INDEX: and AIGA have recruited experts in design, environmental policy, economics, and development to serve as the Challenge jury. The jury members will convene in February 2009 to review all project submissions, select finalists for participation in the Aspen Environment Forum and INDEX: Summer Camp, and ultimately, award $10,000 to the winning team. The jury is comprised of experts from the United States, Canada, Denmark and Singapore:

  • Margaret Catley-Carlson, a world-renowned expert on water issues and recent past chair of the Global Water Partnership
  • Pamela Hartigan, former managing director of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship and co-founder of Volans, a company dedicated to the business of social and environmental innovation
  • Jacqueline McGlade, director of the European Environmental Agency
  • Dr. Milton Tan, director of Design Singapore

For more information, visit or sign up for updates from "Designing Water’s Future” on Facebook.

About “Designing Water’s Future” Partners

Circle of Blue is the international network of leading journalists, scientists and communications designers that reports and presents the information necessary to respond to the global freshwater crisis. Circle of Blue is a member of the Clinton Global Initiative and is a nonprofit affiliate of the internationally recognized water, climate and policy think tank, the Pacific Institute. Circle of Blue also publishes WaterNews, the daily go-to source for global water news and data. For more information about Circle of Blue, visit and

COLLINS: is a design and innovation firm based in New York City. The firm creates communications, environments and interactions that transform how organizations connect with people. Their team of strategists, designers and technologists work with some of the leading organizations in the world.

Founded in 2002, INDEX: is a global nonprofit network organization based in Copenhagen which draws attention to design that substantially improves people’s lives. INDEX:, a subsidiary company of the Danish Design Centre, works through a global network to ensure access to the best knowledge on design and the cutting edge of contemporary thinking. The network consists of designers, businesses, organizations and design institutions that collaborate in disseminating and applying the latest knowledge in the field of “Design to Improve Life.” Every other year, INDEX: awards the world’s largest design prize, INDEX: AWARD.

About AIGA

AIGA, the professional association for design, is the premier place for design—to discover it, discuss it, understand it, appreciate it, be inspired by it.

AIGA’s mission is to advance designing as a professional craft, strategic tool and vital cultural force. AIGA stimulates thinking about design through journals, conferences, competitions and exhibitions; demonstrates the value of design to business, the public and government officials; and empowers the success of designers at each stage of their careers by providing invaluable educational and social resources.

Founded in 1914, AIGA remains the oldest and largest professional membership organization for design. AIGA now represents more than 22,000 design professionals, educators and students through national activities and local programs developed by 62 chapters and 240 student groups. AIGA is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) educational institution.

For further information, please contact:Kristen Titus/Martha McGill
Resnicow Schroeder Associates
212 671 5173/5169

Amy Chapman
Project manager
AIGA | the professional association for design
Tel 212 807 1990   Fax 212 807 1799
amy_chapman [at] aiga [dot] org