Finalists selected in first annual INDEX: | AIGA Aspen Design Challenge, “Designing Water’s Future”

Next generation of creative thinkers respond to global water crisis with creativity and verve

  • Students from 115 universities in 27 countries compete for $10,000 award
  • Selected finalists to present at UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen

NEW YORK, March 17, 2009. Tasked with developing design solutions to address the global water crisis, design students across the world rose to the challenge in force, dreaming up wildly different solutions ranging from print design to web applications, physical devices to data presentation tools, and print campaigns to environmental design. More than 450 students at 115 universities from 27 countries participated in the Challenge, drawing from their diverse and disparate backgrounds to help solve a truly global crisis.

“I was amazed by the proposals that came in. There was a wide range of thinking from communications to environmental design and product design. Most of all, I was inspired by the broad, systemic thinking and team collaboration the designers did to find good answers,” said Brian Collins, creative chairman of Collins:, a New York-based design firm.

A global call to action for design students

AIGA, the professional association for design, and INDEX:, a global nonprofit network for design, together issued this ambitious call to action in August 2008, calling on the next generation of creative thinkers to develop solutions to the global water crisis in the first annual INDEX: | AIGA Aspen Design Challenge, “Designing Water’s Future.”  The international contest challenges cross-disciplinary students to develop design solutions that encourage responsible water use, provide access to fresh water to those in need and increase awareness about the importance of water conservation.

“I’ve always believed that the design holds much, much larger potential than just merely generating beautiful stuff. I think design truly can make a difference, and this is exactly what this competition is about,” said Lise Vejse Klint, director of programming for INDEX:.

“There’s an opportunity here to educate creative youth, to work together in order to solve a complex problem, and to recognize that these issues are their issues,” added Richard Grefé, executive director of AIGA. “We can equip them, we can nurture them, and we can launch them, but they are going to have to come up with the solutions that will really be implemented at the human level.”

In late February, a panel of distinguished judges convened in New York City to select seven Finalists and ten Honorable Mentions. In July, students behind the selected proposals will have the opportunity to share their ideas with design thinkers; draw up business plans and improve their concepts during a meeting in Aspen, Colorado. In August finalists will be invited to Copenhagen, where the winning project will receive the $10,000 INDEX: | AIGA Aspen Design Challenge Prize—sponsored by the JL Foundation—to implement its solution. Selected finalists will also present their concepts at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December.

“This is clearly not a problem that’s going to be solved by technology, and it’s clearly not going to be solved just by economics or just by politicians, as smart as they might be or as committed as they might be,” Peter Gleick, president and co-founder of the Pacific Institute, noted during the jury meeting. “We need every tool in our arsenals to tackle unresolved water issues.”

Seven outstanding projects selected in February 2009

“The vibrancy with which some of the global water issues, like less than optimal use of water, got translated into issues like how you actually water your lawns was amazing,” said juror Margaret Catley-Carlson. “You can discuss it globally, you can compare models, you can find out what’s going on, but water is local, water is local, water is local.”

From more than 225 entries, seven projects were chosen as Finalists for successfully addressing the Challenge in terms of form, context, potential impact and feasibility:

Emergency water purifier for floodEmergency Water Purifier for Flood Conditions, submitted by Ozgur Ceren Bagatar and faculty advisor Peter Avondoglio of the Umeå Institute of Design, Sweden, is a personal water purifier designed with flood conditions in mind, to be airdropped en masse to flooded communities and used to turn any collected contaminated water—whether in buckets, rivers, lakes or streams—into potable water. 

Every drop countsEvery Drop Counts, submitted by Ulrik Svenningsen and faculty advisor Peter Avondoglio of the Umeå Institute of Design, Sweden, is designed to raise awareness of excessive water use in the homes of developed nations. This solution is an inexpensive sensor that can be clamped onto water pipes, using existing cost allocation technology to detect water leakage and usage.


Ceramic filter for rural householdsImproved Ceramic Filter for Rural Households, submitted by Martin Bolton at the University of Johannesburg, South Africa, takes the existing Potpaz water filter and proposes a number of design solutions to create a similar, more ergonomic filter that works more effectively in the environment that it was designed for.


OliOli, submitted by participants of the Samsung Design Membership 2008 (Summer Internship Program), is a water conservation solution for home showers that includes a monitor to communicate water consumption, a pressure-sensitive shower mat to turn water on and off and a shower seat to collect grey water for reuse. Participants of the Samsung Design Membership 2008 program are Brad Smith, University of Cincinnati; Franklin Crosby, Metropolitan State College of Denver; Nallieli Santamaraia, New York University; Raymond Bessemer, California State University, Long Beach; Sergio Coronado, Purdue University; Sean Whang, Art Center College of Design of Pasadena; Michelle Koza, mentor, UX manager and Wesley Millora, co-mentor, senior industrial designer, all from the United States. 

Rethink your greenRethink Your Green is a campaign which informs Los Angeles homeowners of the impact of traditional grass lawns on the water crisis, builds awareness by educating the public about the strained state of Los Angeles’ water supply, presents sustainable alternatives to the conventional lawn and provides resources for home owners who are choosing to replace their traditional lawns. Submitted by Manuel Garcia, Eileen Hsu, Pouya Jahanshahi, Masato Nakada, Michelle Park, Maece Seirafi-Najar and faculty advisors Paula Daniels, Jane Galbraith, Stephanie Pincetl, Joseph Prichard and Louise Sandhaus of California Institute of the Arts, United States. 

JadroSave the River Jadro, submitted by Igor Carli and faculty advisor Tomislav Lerotic of the Arts Academy University of Split, Croatia, consists of a set of glasses with messages printed on them that are geared towards developing awareness about the freshwater crisis. The project can be implemented anywhere at a very low cost.


Veggie PatchVeggie Patch, submitted by Jo Szczepanska and faculty advisor Selby Coxon of Monash University, Australia, looks innovatively at urban agriculture with an adaptable and modular product that integrates irrigation and vermicomposting to reduce the environmental impact of food in cities.


Ten projects awarded Honorable Mention for outstanding work

  • Blue Day: Aisha Bin Zayed, Hanan Hairab and Shamsa Al Suwaidi of Dubai Women’s College, United Arab Emirates
  • Blue Side: Punyaruk Baingern, Panchalee Phungsoondara, Emery Ullenberg and Maxx Valenti of Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, United States
  • GCH4, Waterless Toilet System: Virginia Gardiner and Mark McBeth of Royal College of Art, Oxford University, United Kingdom
  • Know Water: An Interactive Mapping Platform: Ted Alcorn of the Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University; Stan Alcorn of Yale College; Joseph Bergen of the Harvard School of Design, Harvard University; and Nicholas Dubroff of the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, all from the United States
  • Sonic Water Meter: Alf Bae of Hongik University IDAS, South Korea
  • sWell: Alaina Prokopchuk of the University of Manitoba, Canada
  • The Global Water Footprint of Humanity: Angela Morelli of Central St. Martins University of London, United Kingdom
  • THIS IS IT: Kylie Holms of Monash University, Australia
  • Virtual Water Revealed: Kizzy Ezirio of San Diego State University, United States
  • Your Water: Cristina Bianchi and Pekka Raety of the University of Art and Design, Helsinki, Finland

The jury and judging process

INDEX: and AIGA recruited experts in design, environmental policy, water economics and development to serve as the Challenge jury. The jury members met over a two-day period in late February 2009 to review 225 project submissions and select finalists to meet in Aspen, Colorado in July and Copenhagen this August to refine concepts, develop business plans and meet with venture capitalists and foundations. One of the teams will ultimately be awarded the INDEX: | AIGA Aspen Design Challenge Prize of $10,000 to implement its design.

The judges were Porter Anderson, creative advisor and multi-media manager of the communications and public policy strategy division of the World Food Programme, the food aid organization of the United Nations; Margaret Catley-Carlson, a world-renowned expert on water issues and recent past chair of the Global Water Partnership; Peter H. Gleick, Ph.D., president and co-founder of the Pacific Institute; and Gerard V. Magbity, logistics specialist for the Supply Division of UNICEF. AIGA Executive Director Richard Grefé, INDEX: Director of Programming Lise Vejse Klint, Circle of Blue co-founder J. Carl Ganter and Brian Collins, creative chairman of Collins:, moderated the deliberations.

“It’s quite interesting that we are trying to have all aspects of life, different people on board,” said juror Gerard V. Magbity. “It’s a problem that involves everybody. So, designers having a role to play in this, I think, is quite a great idea–I was fascinated.”

“The best projects, particularly the ones that came to the top, do three key things,” added Challenge partner Brian Collins. “One, they get people to reconsider their understanding of water and how they use it in their daily lives. Two, they help people change their behavior. Three, the ideas can be easily socialized. These projects make people’s changed behaviors visible—hopefully inspiring others to take action, too. The best solutions will be contagious solutions.”

“Often the tragedies where there is no water equal tragedies where there’s too much water and it’s being wasted, and we find that we’re at a point of no awareness in many, many cases, particularly in the part of the world that has water, no awareness, and perhaps [because of that], no care,” added juror Porter Anderson.

“What a great pleasure it was to gather under such inspiring circumstances,” said Challenge partner J. Carl Ganter. “The energy represented by the proposals and all of their creativity and passion gives hope for bringing new thinking to this and other crucial issues.”

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, chairman of Collins:, New York-based communications and design firm, and journalist J. Carl Ganter, co-founder of Circle of Blue, the international network of leading journalists, scientists and communications designers that reports the global fresh water crisis.

About “Designing Water’s Future” Partners

INDEX: is a nonprofit organization based in Copenhagen that focuses on design to improve life worldwide. INDEX: 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.”

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

COLLINS: is an innovation-led communication and design firm dedicated to inventing branded experiences and digital interactions that shape both companies and people for the better.

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 63 chapters and 240 student groups. AIGA is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) educational institution.

For further information, please contact:Jennifer Bender
Manager, communications and marketing
AIGA | the professional association for design
Tel 212 807 1990   Fax 212 807 1799

Video interviews of Mr. Grefé, Mr. Collins and Mr. Ganter are available to media.