San Francisco industrial designer Yves Béhar became the first designer to win the prestigious Index Award twice. Recognising that in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king, Béhar’s design solutions simultaneously tackle both the stigma and cost involved with wearing eye-glasses for schoolchildren in Mexico, proving that beautiful design can, in fact, solve some of the world’s problems. By CARIEN ELS.
The world’s largest monetary prize for design, the Index Award aims to recognise and support “design to improve life”. First winning the award in 2007 with his “One Laptop per Child” campaign, Béhar made design history by following this up with the award-winning “See Better to Learn Better” project. The basic aim of the program is to test and correct children’s vision. Since launching in Mexico in 2010, Béhar and his team at design agency Fuseproject realised that, besides the high price of acquiring eye-glasses, one of the most inhibiting factors to children wearing glasses was the social stigma attached to them. Wearing glasses was seen as a handicap, a sign of weakness. Because many Mexican schoolchildren were not receiving much-needed eye-care they were falling behind at school, a situation that was perfectly avoidable.
Fuseproject (in partnership with Verbien/Augen Optics and the Mexican government) took a “design” approach to the problem. Students are given an eye exam, and if glasses are necessary, encouraged to build their own colourful mix-and-match frames from a selection of colours, shapes and sizes of locally manufactured frames and lenses. Since the launch of this project, 500,000 Mexican children have received optometric care, and 358,000 of those have received donations of these attractive, low-cost glasses.
Béhar intends to use the €100,000 in prize money from the Index Awards to fund the expansion of the project into Indonesia. DM
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