In design, where creativity is critical, there exist two powerful catalysts that often go overlooked: imagination and wonder. If you just groaned, you’re not alone. For 15 years I’ve talked about imagination and wonder, and am often met with skepticism—until a team experiences what can happen. Imagination and wonder are the sparks that ignite the flames of exceptional problem solving, driving us to explore the uncharted territories of possibility. 

We’re going to dig into the profound influence that imagination and wonder have at the beginning of projects and explore how these elements can shape the trajectory of creativity and innovation.

The Seeds of Creativity: Imagination

Imagination, often associated with the whimsical dreams of childhood, is a force that continues to mold and evolve throughout our lives. It is a uniquely human ability to imagine things that don’t exist and find ways to make them. Imagination is not just a playground for our thoughts; it’s a wellspring of inspiration that designers tap into when they embark on a new project.

Imagination Unleashes Boundless Potential

Imagination knows no bounds. It breaks free from the constraints of logic and practicality, granting us the power to envision the extraordinary. In the context of design, this means transcending the ordinary and seeking solutions that are not merely functional, but also transformative.

Consider a team tasked with redesigning a city park. Without imagination, they might simply add a few more benches or plant new flowers. However, by invoking their collective imagination, they might conceive of a park that doubles as an outdoor art installation, a hub for community events, or a space that seamlessly integrates technology and nature. Imagination births the audacious ideas that lead to innovation.

Imagination Fuels Curiosity

Imagination and curiosity are intertwined. When designers allow their imagination to roam freely, they invite curiosity to the forefront.

They ask questions like, “What if?” or “Why not?” 

These questions are the guides for designers to explore uncharted territories and discover groundbreaking solutions.

Imagination Empowers Collaboration

Design projects are rarely solitary endeavors—in fact—design is a team sport. These projects thrive on collaboration and the interplay of diverse perspectives. Imagination serves as a bridge that connects team members from different backgrounds and disciplines. It offers a common ground where they can share their imaginative visions, fusing them into a cohesive and compelling solution.

Passion for Possibility: Wonder

Wonder is powerful. It infuses our experiences with awe, curiosity, and a profound sense of appreciation. In the context of design, wonder is the spark that ignites the process, inspiring designers to seek solutions that are not just functional but extraordinary.=

Wonder Encourages Observation

To wonder is to observe with fresh eyes. It encourages us to look beyond the surface and delve deeper into the essence of things. Designers who embrace wonder scrutinize their surroundings, seeking inspiration in the ordinary and the extraordinary alike.

Wonder Promotes Empathy

Empathy is a cornerstone of effective design. To create solutions that truly resonate with people, designers must step into their shoes. Wonder fosters empathy by prompting designers to wonder about the lives, needs, and desires of those they are designing with.

Wonder Drives Innovation

Some of history’s most innovative breakthroughs were born from a sense of wonder. When designers wonder about the possibilities, they challenge the status quo and strive to push the boundaries of convention. They aim not just to meet expectations but to surpass them, leaving people in awe of what’s possible.

The Dance of Imagination and Wonder

Imagination and wonder are not solitary agents; they are partners in a symbiotic dance that propels design projects forward. As designers embark on their creative journey, they harness the power of imagination to dream big and envision the extraordinary. It’s imagination that allows them to visualize innovative solutions that were previously hidden in the recesses of their minds.

Once the seeds of imagination are sown, wonder takes center stage. It encourages designers to marvel at the world around them, to question and explore, to empathize deeply with the end-users, and to draw inspiration from unexpected sources. In this dance of creativity, wonder breathes life into these imaginative visions, shaping them into tangible, awe-inspiring solutions.

Fostering Imagination and Wonder in Teams

Teams can actively cultivate imagination and wonder to foster creativity and innovation. Yes, even yours. I don’t care what sector you’re in, and how unique you think your environment is—imagination and wonder are deeply human capabilities. Here are some ways to foster them:

Cultivate a Creative Environment

Encourage an environment where imagination and wonder can flourish. Create spaces that inspire, filled with art, nature, and thought-provoking objects. At your next team meeting, kick off by asking people about things they’ve been curious about lately, or new ideas that felt inspiring.

Embrace Interdisciplinary Collaboration

Imagination thrives in diversity. Foster interdisciplinary collaboration by bringing together team members with varied backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. Encourage them to share their imaginative visions freely—and use solid design-based techniques to make that sharing safe, productive, and quite frankly, fun.

Emphasize the Power of Observation

Encourage your team to observe the world around them actively. Ask them to wonder why things are the way they are. So much of the world around us is just taken for granted—and we never allow ourselves to wonder why things work the way they do. These moments of wonder by observing create the possibility for inspiration in unexpected places.

Create Room for Wonder

Encourage wonder by emphasizing the value of asking questions and seeking to understand the deeper layers of any challenge. Promote a culture of curiosity that welcomes inquiries and invites exploration. 

Join our Overlap Community for a downloadable design guide to bring wonder into your next project.

Celebrate Diverse Sources of Inspiration

Your teams should actively seek inspiration from diverse sources. Encourage them to explore art, literature, nature, and even unrelated industries for fresh ideas and perspectives. 

Working on tough projects and getting unstuck can feel good. In these moments, imagination and wonder serve as our faithful companions, guiding us through uncharted territories of creativity and problem solving. They enable us to dream big, question boldly, and empathize deeply, ultimately leading to solutions that inspire awe and admiration.

Embrace the boundless potential of imagination and the profound impact of wonder. Nurture these qualities within yourself and your teams—they are the keys that unlock the doors to extraordinary projects, ideas, and solutions that leave a lasting mark on the world.

Want to bring imagination and wonder into your organization? Here’s three ways:

  1. Book Brock, Chief Design Officer at Overlap, to come introduce design-based problem solving and lead your group in Wonder Workshop
  2. Train your team to embrace a creative mindset that unlocks imagination with our Crash Course on Creativity.
  3. Get an Overlap Membership where every week, we delve into a fresh topic, hosting live workshops that explore effective design-based techniques.