3 design projects that just changed the world

How do you change the world with design? We're at the first-ever D&AD Festival and that's the question permeating the three-day programme of talks, panel discussions and fringe events.

Earlier this week, over 200 of the creative world's leading luminaries met in London's Old Truman Brewery to decide who from the advertising and design industries should win a coveted D&AD Pencil.

The results are out – and on display at the festival, alongside all the entries to 2016's D&AD Awards. It's overwhelming, exhausting and brilliantly inspiring.

So how do you change the world with design? Here are three projects from D&AD 2016 that prove it's still possible to have an original idea – and that big ideas don't always need big budgets to bring them to life.

01. 3 words to address the world

  • Category: Creativity for Good (White Pencil) / Advertising & Marketing Communications
  • Client: what3words

Challenge: Around 75 per cent of the world suffers from inconsistent, complicated or inadequate addressing systems. This means that around four billion people are invisible, unable to report crime, get deliveries or receive aid.

Solution: what3words is a global addressing system that remaps the world in just three words. Based on a grid of 57 trillion 3m x 3m squares, each square has been pre-allocated a fixed and unique three-word address.

How does it work? Well, a geocoder turns geographic coordinates into the three-word addresses (and vice-versa), and because it's an algorithm, it takes up less than 10MB – making it small enough to install on almost all smartphones, and work across platforms and devices.

It's far more accurate than a postal address and it's much easier to remember, use and share than a set of coordinates. Watch the video: this is a 'big idea' at its best.

02. The Unforgotten

  • Category: Branded Content
  • Agency: FCB Chicago
  • Client: Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence

Challenge: Over 30,000 people are killed by gun violence in the US every year. How do you turn public apathy into action?

Solution: Created for the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence, The Unforgotten is a travelling public-service installation and campaign that memorialises eight victims of gun crime as faceless, lifeless plaster statues.

Family films and photographs were scrutinised to capture the victim's personality and character, and each figure was dressed in articles of their clothing.

The project, which aimed to bring some of the victims back to tell their stories, inspired real change amongst visitors – and captured the attention of the world press, generating more than 102 million editorial impressions.

"This one hit it on so many different layers, I'd never seen it before," said Kerstin Emhoff, co-founder and executive producer of production company Prettybird, and Jury foreman of the D&AD Branded Film Content and Entertainment Category.

"They went to parents of kids killed by gun violence. It was inspiring to see on how many different layers they connected with people."

03. Assembly of Youth

  • Category: Spatial & Experiential Design / Installation Design
  • Agency: Google
  • Client: Unicef

Challenge: To bring the voices of young people from around the globe to the attention of world leaders convening at the 2015 United Nations General Assembly.

Solution: Assembly of Youth was a unique installation that delivered personal messages from children and young people around the world directly to world leaders at the 2015 General Assembly, using mobile technology and social media.

Situated in the lobby of the UN building in New York, the installation drew information from U-Report, a ground-breaking SMS-based system from UNICEF that enables young people to speak out on the challenges they face in their homes and communities, share their opinions and express their hopes for the future.

The exhibit itself was stripped right back to shine a spotlight on the messages – which highlighted challenges including poverty, violence, disease and conflict – creating a powerful, umissable display for the world leaders.

D&AD Festival runs from 20-22 April, at The Old Truman Brewery, London. You can see all 2016 Pencil winners on the D&AD website and get a flavour of the festival on D&AD's YouTube channel.

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Julia Sagar
Editor-in-chief retail

Julia is editor-in-chief, retail at Future Ltd, where she works in e-commerce across a number of consumer lifestyle brands. A former editor of design website Creative Bloq, she’s also worked on a variety of print titles, and was part of the team that launched consumer tech website TechRadar. She's been writing about art, design and technology for over 15 years.