Industrial designer David Wykes, a true Renaissance man

In this series, WeWork’s director of digital community selects a WeWork member to get to know better, sharing her fun findings with the rest of the community.

When I heard about David Wykes thanks to his significant other (and fellow WeWork employee) Gina Phillips, he sounded like a true Renaissance man. Based in Seattle out of WeWork South Lake Union, the Pope Wainwright and Wykes partner has had a very eclectic design career. We spoke all about his startup, his side hustles, and much more.

So you’re an industrial designer/UX designer and strategist who’s worked on an incredible array of projects—from an ultrasound machine to furniture to immersive storytelling experiences for kids. How did you get started?

My undergrad degree was in industrial design from Northumbria in England. And at the time, it was the only real course in the country that offered an internship program, so I went with that. And I think it was a really great year group—I had amazing fellow students, it was quite competitive, and the course itself had great ties with the industry in general. So we ended up graduating with a lot of real world experience, which helped me get my first job out of school after I won the Royal Society of Arts Design Award.

Every year, a lot of the design students in the country go and exhibit their work at a show called New Designers in London. I was offered a few jobs at the show and ended up taking a junior designer position at an agency in London. I did that for a couple of years and got to work on some great projects, everything from wind-up radios and yogurt bottles to exercise equipment for Reebok.

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It was here I met Oliver Grabes, now design director at Braun in Germany, and we collaborated on a great project for Braun—a shaver for the youth market targeted at 18 to 25-year-olds. We did a ton of research in Japan, hung out with families in their homes, went shopping with them, learned about the market there for electric shavers. Oliver had previously worked in the U.S. and connected me with a few folks on the West Coast. I used the money I won for the design award to pay for a trip out here, and I’ve been in Seattle ever since.

About two years ago, I set up my own thing in Seattle, partnering with a good friend I went to school with at Northumbria. We have offices in London and here in Seattle. My focus here is on product experience, and the focus in London is mainly spatial design. Our goal is to use design to transform business, energize people, and inspire productivity. Our work so far has covered everything from designing workspaces for GlaxoSmithKline and Sainsbury’s to ultrasound machines to consumer apps for Microsoft.

I think our clients really love our honest approach and the fact that we genuinely care about them and the projects we collaborate on. We also work closely with a lot of startups, and I’m actually co-founder of a startup myself called Campfire that’s bringing immersive light and sound experiences to physical books, toys, and games.

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What inspires you?

I mean, ultimately I really love creating new things. I love the initial spark of an idea, and seeing where you can really take it. I really enjoy making people smile, creating experiences and things for people that make their faces light up. Having a delighted response from people is what feeds me, what inspires me.

A little while ago, rather than writing “happy birthday” on people’s walls on Facebook, I started creating a little piece of art for them—a doodle, a painting, a poem—and the response was just amazing. People loved it! Most of the projects I work on, especially the hardware projects, can take a long time to go from sketch to being in people’s hands, whereas these little doodles and sketches take a few minutes to create and the reaction is pretty much instant.

When you’re not working, what do you like to do for fun?

My 7-year-old daughter takes up quite a lot of my spare time! I love spending time with her, because she says these honest, truthful things. Earlier this year, I was saying how strange it was that they call American football “football,” since you don’t really play it with your feet. My daughter knows I used to play rugby, and she brought up the fact that they don’t really use rugs in rugby—or bees!

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I love to travel. I love music. And I’m fortunate that my job is really my hobby. I love creating things, entering hackathons. I’m writing and illustrating a children’s book with Gina on the side too, so a lot of my spare time is taken up with sideline creative projects.

Do you have any secret lifehacks you’d like to share?

I started a journal this year. From the standpoint of a self-employed designer, I think it’s essential, because it helps you reflect properly, which is hard to do if you’re hustling most of the time. I think it’s important to be able to look back and learn in order to move forward effectively. I also take cold showers in the morning to get the creative juices flowing!

Anything else we should know about you?

I love word play and puns. I get this from my dad (who is a relentless punster) and have been fortunate enough to end up with a partner who is a true pun master. Who knows, maybe that’s why we work? (Sorry.)

Photos: Ana Raab

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