Dominic Wilcox on the Search for Ideas, Inspiration and Delight


Artist and designer Dominic Wilcox gave an inspiring keynote to close out this year’s conference in Amsterdam. He focused on how to generate ideas and make them a reality, beginning with a quote by Leonard Cohen: “If I knew where songs came from I’d go there more often.”

He stressed the importance of playfulness and many of his examples shared a zany, improvisational style. For him ridiculousness was a virtue. The crowd enjoyed this and I heard more laughter and spontaneous applause during his keynote than I’d heard throughout the rest of the conference combined.

His Lost and Found Office of Oddities reminded me of the infamous Gary Larson cartoon “Cow Tools” from The Far Side. Dominic assembled random objects into hypothetical products and left enough ambiguity for people to interpret them in interesting ways. For example: diving flippers mounted on roller skates.

By far his best received project was a series of 19 workshops held with children around the UK to generate interesting ideas. Dominic wanted to show children the power of creativity. He opened a storefront to exhibit their sketches along with 23 physical prototypes by local makers showing the potential for the concepts. He’s now developing the workshops into a worldwide initiative called The audience at SDGC16 liked this quite a bit and some even gave a standing ovation.

Ostensibly this presentation wasn’t focused on service design but there were some nice takeaways about how to generate ideas including embracing the ridiculous, biasing for action and avoiding analysis and procrastination. I think that’s something every designer can integrate into their practice and it was a nice way to end the conference on a high note.

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