The last thing the world needs, says Lars Jannick Johansen, is another design conference. Yet here he is, a young think tanker charged by the Danish ministry of economics and business affairs with organizing an event to restore Copenhagen's status as a design capital.
Johansen's response is INDEX: Views Summit, an attempt to use design to make the world a better place in just three days. He has drawn 30 creative leaders from the widest possible spectrum of disciplines, industries, and countries: people such as Cameron Sinclair of Architecture for Humanity; Harry Choi, head of Samsung Design Europe; and Jorgen Vig Knudstorp, CEO of Lego Group.
But no design gurus. No Maus, no Starcks or Gehrys, thank you. "Design is too important to be left to designers," says Arnold Wassermann, chairman of the Idea Factory, as he divides the delegates into five streams—home, play, work, community, and body—and gives them 48 hours to use design tools and processes to create a product, service, or public policy. Field trips to local schools, homeless shelters, and hospitals have been arranged to give delegates some fresh air and perspective.
On the third day, they emerge, blinking, to present a dozen or so innovations to INDEX sponsors and partners. The community group wants to publish DesIgn ER—a handbook of 50 basic housing designs for people who are temporarily homeless. The play group has designed Play Studio, a global "children congress" and virtual meeting center where bored kids can create new games with role models their own age.
A few of the ideas will fly, while others remain on the drawing board. But most delegates leave with a greater respect for the power of design. "It was an immense experience," says Lego's Knudstorp. "I see strategy and organizational design from a different angle now."
Not bad for a conference.
A version of this article appeared in the December 2005 issue of Fast Company magazine.