If London designer Dominic Wilcox‘s illustrated blog Variations on Normal is like a comic diary of conceptual one-liners, it’s also filled with ideas that often seem too good to be true — what if we really could buy a device to remind us of people’s names in awkward social situations? And who doesn’t need a little “hill-walking easyfication” sometimes, even if wedge-shaped strap-on shoe platforms aren’t exactly a commercially viable product? So when Wilcox was invited to participate in this year’s Anti-Design Festival at London Design Week, as part of an exhibition called “Mestakes and Manifestos,” he set himself a challenge: to execute one creative project per day for 30 days, with a budget of 10 pounds per day, in effect testing his ability to bring his idea-generation skills off of a sketchpad and into real life. “Speed Creating,” as the project is called, documents his attempts to fabricate his cleverest, most fleeting whims — for better or for worse. In terms of ideation, Wilcox is already one of the most prolific people we know, but by turning himself into a design machine for a month, he’s taken on quite a task. With the show opening tomorrow, on day 18 of his performance, we asked him to stop and reflect about the experience so far.
“On Variations on Normal, I do lots of sketch ideas, just quick ideas that pop into my head. I felt like I was getting too far away from actually making things. This is an idea I’ve had for awhile, challenging myself to see if I could make things, rather than drawings, quickly. I met Daniel Charny, a curator at the Aram Gallery who’s organizing ‘Mistakes and Manifestos’ as part of the Anti-Design Festival, and he thought the idea of making something new every day for 30 days fit perfectly with his concept. But then I got to thinking, wait a minute, this is quite a bit of a challenge. My friends were saying, ‘What, you couldn’t give yourself the weekends off??’ and so when I went for another meeting I was going to suggest doing 20 days instead. But before I could, they told me everyone loved the 30-day idea. There was no turning back.
Day 12: Armswing Chair
“You get a bit panicky, thinking, ‘Can I really do this? Is it actually possible?’ And I knew there would be a lot of people watching me. But I also like the idea of facing my fears of failure. I wanted to do this project for myself, to test myself. I always worry that I’ll wake up one morning and not be able to think of anything, so I’ve always tried to work out how to kickstart my brain into being creative, whether it’s putting on music or going for a walk — just trying to flick the switch of creativity in my head. I think the deadline, the need for speed, actually forces you to make decisions and not to keep on thinking and thinking as you might do otherwise. It’s about experimentation, and the creativity stems from the process of doing as opposed to sitting and thinking things through all the way. If I have an idea, I run with it. And then when you start making things and getting your hands dirty, one idea might lead to another. It’s not like every day I’m only going to think of one idea and when I’ve got it I’m going to switch off my brain. It’s basically 30 days of creativity, and the rules aren’t so defined — it’s not like a sport. Though it is a bit of a physical test, because I haven’t been sleeping much. Last night I was up until 3AM.
Day 1: Bubbly Balls
“One of the most difficult aspects of the project is, if you come up with an idea, you then have to find the materials to execute the idea. What if you’re wandering around and you can’t find the material? That turned out to be the big worry — not the ideas but the practical side. I knew I would be spending a lot of time walking around pound shops in the hopes that I would see something I could do an interesting project with. It took me an hour to find my first idea at a craft shop: I saw these little white balls in a little bag, and there was just something about them. I thought if I could buy 10 pounds’ worth and join them together, maybe it could make some sort of interesting sculptural piece. So I took them home and tried superglue, but it melted the polystyrene. Then I tried needles. It wasn’t a total success with that method either. But that’s all part of the project, doing and trying things. In the beginning I have an idea, and if I find it interesting, and I think viewers might agree with me, then maybe it’s worth trying. If it fails, we’ve all learned something — or at least I have. People on Twitter direct-messaged me about possible solutions for the ball sculpture, which was great. As long as the initial ideas are interesting, it’s nothing to be embarrassed about if it doesn’t work out. After day one, the balls still looked interesting to me, so I saw that one as a success with a few failures along the way.
Day 2: Pop Up Train Tray Surprise
Day 3: Business Card Presenter Tie
“The difficulty with day two was that I had an exhibition in Edinburgh, so I had to spend most of that day on the train. I knew that would be a challenge straightaway. The previous day I had an idea to do a pop-up train tray, so I took photographs in the park I lived in and printed them out the night before. At first I was taking photos of the trees, and then I saw the picnic tables and thought it was fitting for a food tray. I typed ‘pop-ups’ into Google so I could figure out the construction, and saw how people were working with words, and thought ok, what would I like to say? I took everything onto the train and finished it while the guy across the aisle was wondering what on earth I was doing. I made a video, and then I just left it there, without an email address or anything — I just wanted to let it go, out into the world. For this project it’s the thought that counts.
“At the actual Edinburgh exhibition on day three, there was going to be an opening, so I figured a business-card-dispensing tie was a good thing to make. I found the tie at a pound shop and rigged it with fishing wire. Once I came back home, on day four, I was sitting in the bath and couldn’t think of an idea. I thought, ‘Oh god, this day’s going to be a bit of a challenge,’ but because my mind is always on the lookout for things to do, I saw the shadows of the bath taps, and they were such good shapes I decided to draw them. I’m sort of living on the edge a bit, but the more on the edge you are, the faster your brain starts to work. That’s what happened with the tape measure; I was struggling for an idea sitting on the sofa, had a tape measure, and started playing with it, thinking, ‘That’s clever, but why is it only used for measuring things? Maybe I could turn it into something else.’ It was the birthday party for one of my best friends that night, but I completely forgot about it — that’s how engrossed I was.
Day 7: Diary Tape
Day 13: Bath Fountain
“People think I’m a bit crazy for doing this, particularly since it’s a self-initiated idea. They don’t quite understand why I would put myself through it. They think, why would you spend a whole month of your life in pure creativity when you could be making, I don’t know, a living? But then again a lot of the people who follow my work are designers themselves, so maybe they appreciate the challenge. I’ve sort of always known that sometimes it’s best to just do things and to stop thinking so much, and this project has reminded me of that. You have an idea, and you’re not sure whether it will work, but you just buy some stuff, start making it, and see where it takes you. It’s like going for a walk and not knowing where you’ll end up. The bread light on day five was an example of me thinking, ‘If I got a light bulb and some dough and put them in the oven, what would happen?’ My friends were saying it would explode and I would die of poisoning because of the gases in the bulb. But I did it anyway, and now I think I might do some more bread experiments in the future. But there’s no way you could sit with a pen and paper and work that out, which I think is exciting.
Day 5: Bread of Light (before)
Day 5: Bread of Light (after)
“There haven’t been any total disasters, and in a way I want to push myself to the point where there is a total disaster. I’m thinking that if I haven’t done that that I’ve sort of failed. Things like the mirror day [day 10, pictured at the top of this story], I said to a friend halfway through, I think this might be a rubbish idea; it might not work and we’re taking the whole day to do it. But I adjusted it, moved things around, and I got somewhere. When I was making the bread lamps, nothing exploded, but the fire alarm did go off at 1AM because instead of putting the oven on low heat to dry out the dough, I had put the grill on instead and it burnt the whole thing. These things happen.
“Right now I’m still thinking, oh my god, I have 13 days left, and the exhibition opens tomorrow — even if no one’s watching, I’ll still be going on. But this is really a journey for myself, and so far I’ve felt reassured that even when my mind is blank, I will still come up with something. I think I’m a little bit more relaxed now. Maybe some of these ideas could even turn into something long-term; I’m hoping that this kickstarts some bigger projects as offshoots. I’ve definitely had the experience of coming up with an idea and thinking it’s worth developing further.”
Day 11: Beach Ball Chair (before)
Day 11: Beach Ball Chair (after)