An invisible airbag to protect a cyclist's head, a commercial airplane that uses solar energy (even at night), a web portal that helps refugees find missing relatives, a bicycle wheel that generates electricity when a person pedals and stores it when he or she brakes, and a project that makes footballs out of used cardboard boxes are five of the 61 finalists in this year's INDEX: Award. The program, which honors designs "that improve life," has handed out awards every second year since 2005 in five different categories: Body, Work, Home, Play, and Community. This year the organization will award a total of 500,000 Euros ($718,000) to the five winners in a ceremony in Copenhagen in September.

Established under the patronage of the Crown Prince of Denmark and supported by various Danish governmental agencies and nonprofit foundations, INDEX aims to "promote and apply both design and design processes" to improve the lives of people around the globe.

I met with Kigge Mai Hvid, the group's ceo, and some of her team early in June in Copenhagen and came away buzzed with all their energy. Although focused on design, the organization attracts staff from business, government, and social sciences, as well as architecture. They're busy partnering with groups in Singapore and Helsinki, organizing events, and challenging old ways of thinking about design. They're part of a new wave of people in many parts of the world who see design as an essential tool in transforming social, economic, and political structures. To read more about the 61 designs from 27 countries they picked as finalists (out of 966 nominees), go to: