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Meet the Inventor Who Helps Bring Kids’ Wildest Ideas to Life

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Nov 15 2018

I still remember the first time I saw Dominic Wilcox’s work, the collection of really weird and clever creations on his blog, Variations on Normal. I was a few years into university, so my body was still 95% hope and ambition. At the same time, I was slowly realizing that I wasn’t, in fact, the center of the universe. It was a confusing time.

Then one day, a tutor showed us Dominic’s piggyback seat. After class I jumped onto his blog and found his sick bag beard. Amongst my fits of laughter, I knew that everything would be okay. Here was someone using the full extent of their imagination and in doing so giving the rest of us permission to do the same.

Since then, Dominic has used his unique perspective to create a whole bunch of wonderful things—from a gallery made for dogs to Little Inventors, a global program designed to encourage creative thinking in children. It’s reached more than 15,000 kids in China alone.

And this is what I love most about Dominic’s work: It’s accessible to anyone. Thinkers like Dominic remind us how important it is to use our imaginations, to be weird, to take ourselves less seriously—and that everyone is capable of having ingenious ideas. You can imagine how excited I was to actually get to talk to the guy.

In one sentence, who are you?

I’m Dominic, born in Sunderland, living in London.

What do you do? How did you learn it?

I think up ideas I find interesting, then make them real—or just draw them and show them to people. I did lots of education in design BA, Pgrad, MA then when I ran out I just kept doing the same thing but by myself.

What have you poured your heart and soul into lately?

I made something called Little Inventors, which encourages children to gain a lifelong passion for creative and inventive thinking. It's also is a project that inspires adults to think more creatively. We ask children to think up and draw their invention ideas, bonkers or practical, then ask local makers and manufacturers to make them into a real thing for exhibition.

I won a commission in Sunderland to do a project that used creativity that engaged the local community. I proposed this idea and the results went viral. I started receiving emails from around the world asking me to do the same project in their country, so I decided to start it as an ongoing project called Little Inventors. The V&A Museum in London took 5 objects from the first project into their permanent collection—and next year, the best invention idea for life in space will be shown on the International Space Station.

What does a typical work session look like?

In general, I have no set day. My day looks like my desk, a bit messy and random. We do design the idea generating sessions for Little Inventors, though, and for those, we aim to create an atmosphere where creative thoughts come easier. Usually we will create a fun atmosphere and show surprising and inventive examples of creativity to start the thinking process.

We then present some knowledge and understanding on the particular subject the challenge is focussing on. We have different methods of focussing the children's minds on the task at hand and getting the children to discuss their thoughts and ideas as a group. Then we ask the children to draw their own ideas and answer questions onto a sheet we have designed to create a sketched design of their idea. We now have over 7000 children's ideas on the website from around the world. It is interesting to see how creative children in different countries are. The makers tell us that they feel more inspired and are pushed into areas that stretch their skills.

How do you get over a creative block?

I try to get my head out of the track it is stuck on. Change the music, change the mood, do something else. Then I push myself to keep writing or doodling thoughts on the subject. It can be hard mental work sometimes. Eventually I break through to the other side where the nice ideas have been hiding.

What was the last item on your to do list?

I don't have an order of doing things. I should make more lists, as they can help you get a bit of satisfaction at the end of the day rather than thinking, What did I actually do today? I'm jealous of bricklayers: At the end of each day, they can look back and see what they have achieved.

 

What are your 3 favorite possessions?

A pen, paper, and a Branston pickle.

How do you see the world in 2078?

China and India will be a lot more influential on world culture, technology, and politics. We still won't have hoverboards. People will still want to be happier, make more friends, be more attractive. Some will do that in a computer-generated virtual world. The more technology becomes part of our lives, the more we will desire real world experiences.

What's your number one bucket list item?

Contribute something positive to the pile.

Who are you creative crushin' on lately?

I'm thinking musicians are the one's I admire most. Write your song, play the instrument and sing it. I'm jealous of them. Currently, it’s Neil Young

  • Dan Sayer

    Senior Communications Designer, IDEO London
    Beyond stalking his creative crushes, Dan loves stories; hearing, seeing, telling and sharing them in any and every form. When Dan's not wrapped up in stories, he's exploring (and slightly stressing about) how we can tackle huge social problems, like climate change.
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