INDEX classIt was a Wednesday evening in St. Cajetan’s, and a crowd of students and staff gathered with a common passion for design and world improvement. That was the scene when CU Denver hosted two educators from INDEX: Design to Improve Life, a Danish nonprofit design organization intent on inspiring, educating and engaging communities around the world.

Funded by the President’s Grant for Humanities and the College of Arts & Media (CAM) Visual Arts Department, Lotte Haag Borg and Lotte Stenlev—two educators from INDEX—gave a lecture and led a master class on their methods and ideas. More than 100 students and professors from across the university tackled challenges head-on, while also learning just how much potential innovative design can have on the community.

Michelle Carpenter, Lotte Stenlev, and Lotte Haag Borg
Michelle Carpenter, Lotte Stenlev, and Lotte Haag Borg

“I really want my students to start looking outside of the box,” said Michelle Carpenter, professor of Digital Design and coordinator of the event. “I want them to think of design as less about brochures or posters, but as fixing the challenges around them. Always challenge your preconceived notions, as students and as world-changers.”

‘Inspire new ways of thinking’

On the first night of the event, to a packed audience, Stenlev presented an hour of what she called “Good News” INDEX success stories. Stenlev showcased examples of the many different creations brought to the world by designers at INDEX, including designs to improve roads and decrease traffic deaths and ways to decrease child mortality in developing countries.

“We want to inspire new ways of thinking,” Stenlev said. “We don’t want to design any more teacups. It would be such a shame to take all of the potential around us and dedicate it toward reinventing something that we already have an excess of. Therefore, it’s up to you to focus the energy into something that can make an actual difference.”

One evening later, the lecture was followed by a master class, which was themed “Traffic,” facilitated by both Stenlev and Borg. With the lecture fresh in their minds, 100 participants gathered at 15 work stations where they formed teams and tried out the methods they had just learned to craft solutions for local mobility challenges. They tackled challenges like decreasing rush-hour traffic, increasing highway efficiency and lessening cell phone usage on the road. “When you’re looking at a project around a table, you’re looking at the same thing from multiple perspectives,” Borg said. “It’s fascinating to see the crazy schemes and possibilities that some of the teams can come up with.”

‘This method is exactly what we need’

INDEX group

For three hours, St. Cajetan’s was bustling with discussion, questions and laughter, as ideas of all shapes and forms turned into prototypes. One group proposed the idea of multi-colored traffic lanes, in order to increase order on highways and reduce accidents and time spent in traffic jams.

Laurence Kaptain, dean of CAM, said of the event, “This method is exactly what we need to better connect our faculty and students who are working in the arts!”

“People are always so excited and surprised with how much you can do in such a short time,” Borg said. “If such interesting solutions can be created in a few hours, what can be done in a few weeks or months?” Students left the workshop inspired and engaged, heading out into the world with new ideas and the courage to tackle life’s challenges.

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