Zining in Finland II

CONTINUING. To make. Zines, mostly, in June. July looks different. July has a different feeling to it. The flowers are changing. The fragrances, too. I feel like I’m a teenager again: staying up really late, talking to people about everything, joking, cutting up paper and sending little notes out into the world, writing letters, sharing the time with friends, and generally being curious about ‘what’s going to happen today.’ Slow moment. Slowing. Noticing. Making things is a way to do that, of course. You put something together with your time, focus, and your craft. You make a thing that, after some time, begins to take shape.

New S P A C E zines by DK, inspired by conversations and places we are discovering in Finland // Photo by DK 2018

This zine (pictured) was one of the first ones I made here, when I got to the residency and started obsessing about ‘producing stuff.’ It was a limited edition of just 3. Two of them went out into the world to new people I’ve met. One is left. It’s the favorite of the ones that people peruse, when they examine the three dozen or so little books that I’ve made since I’ve been here. I’m in a conversation with someone who is going to maybe help me put together a little exhibition, at the end of July, so we can share them in a giant popup style installation with the general public. It would be very DK. Come as you are, have a read if you want, put something back, take a look, enjoy the books, talk to each other, ask me anything. More and more, I’m realizing the books and art pieces are just conversation-starting prompts. They invite some query, sure, introspection, even. But like everything I make and do, it’s the conversation I care about most. The giving and receiving, the interconnection, the sharing of S P A C E, and of course, time. Art, at its best, is a conversation. Something I find myself saying over and over again, including yesterday evening upon parting with my new possible collaborator in the making of installation art here in, um, Kärsämäki. Finland, like. Who knew.

Friends and new acquaintances. Guests in ‘Slow Moment.’ Members of S P A C E. All of you are always welcome, to meet me in the aether, the forums, the real life spaces, the public squares of our lives and disconnect from the internet world, where there are only facades and cropped pictures of the things that are really real. But go to a lake or down by a river, look at a rainbow or find the moon and the sun together in a bright white sky, and there is no way to capture or record that feeling. The smell, the people, the ambient nature of it—you cannot put that into a square photograph and expect it to be received the way you’re receiving it. The scene, I mean. And that means… here it is, the crux of it, the thing I wanted to say, that means, when you just document for the sake of it without paying attention to where you are and who you’re with and the things that are being said with words and gesture and the blank space that convey far more than either, then you’re not really there. You’re not sending something cool and interesting into the world if you’re just shooting a quick pic and blogging it or microblogging it somewhere. You’re just… looking for attention or validation. Let’s admit this. Social media is about validation-seeking. Isn’t it? And you know what? That means–you’re not fully there when you’re presenting something to someone. What you send is vague and tattered, what’s received is even more so. That said, I’m concluding that this is probably the major reason I don’t have a mobile phone or trade texts with anyone or even use most social media these days. Why? It’s not a great conversation. And if conversation and dialogue is what I care about most–and it is, making great space for remarkable connexion and interconnection—then I better find the channels and media that work best to do just that.

Real life, for example.

Real life is best.

DK hosts ateliers in S P A C E in real life. Next up: Atelier S P A C E: Kärsämäki on 21 July. 

Work | Space

Our new work should be oriented towards collaboration, sustainability, creativity and problem solving.

YOU GET THINKING about things, and you start to notice, Wait a minute. This is all about spacemaking.

Allowing people plenty of room to come into a framed, bounded box. One that’s handled with care. Is safe. Where you can let yourself relax, and get to know others. And talk. Like, really talk. Engagement starts from this. We open doors to teambuilding, shared visions, open space dialogues and true collaborations. Win-win-win-win… You see how it works.

But I should tell you about me. So you know me, a little. Before we go into the philosophy of work and space and ‘N+1.’

I co-founded Design Kompany LLC in 2004 in Seattle.

To be really honest, much of the early days were spent noodling about, uselessly. Work was hard because we were young, and new. We got burned a few times, and we handled other projects less-than-ideally. Met many dead ends, things falling through, the usual. This is par for the course for the experienced, of course, but we had to learn through doing. That’s a philosophy we haven’t lost… design isn’t theorizing. Design is doing. Talking, mostly. Really, that’s what people were always surprised about. How much time we spent on the first part of the design process: the creative brief questionnaire. Work that out with us, and we will deliver something extraordinary. Guaranteed, because, it’s a given that if you make that space and share the trust, both sides will put forward their double efforts.

But before, we just played like everyone else. Business was about money, deals. We didn’t know. We learned, though. That it’s about being good at learning about people, what they are telling you, what they are not telling you but want to tell you and will if you allow the space to let them. Flow. Play. Space. Work.

Prior to our move to Asia in 2013, people knew us as brand designers. We did concepts, made logotypes and brand identities, and wrote brand usage manuals for architects, software developers, and many other  process-oriented people. They liked our method. We liked their smarts. We grew, and we learned, and we changed. Then we went on the road, for a year. That was longer than anyone had imagined. And we found Phnom Penh in 2013, whilst on that journey. It had a certain quality, to me. It felt like anything could happen. That by simply being here, by simply observing and studying the Khmer aesthetics closely by living near them, we could really learn. Grow. And it fit. We’ve been here ever since. Changing, learning.

PHNOM PENH. Meeting people. Discovering styles, engaging across new cultural lines, appreciating the approaches of new and very different others. Their initiatives. Their hospitality. I feel lucky. This is fun. It’s exciting.

SOME OF THE WANDERINGS THESE LAST 20 years (literally and metaphorically), have certainly helped me come this far into this thing called entrepreneurship, however trifling and bare-bones our agile approaches are, in the world of business. These insights from doing rather than just theorizing about how to create value for people who desire your services have helped me. A lot. Real-life experiences, brute-forth trial-and-prototyping-and-testing  have sustained me through self doubt, criticism, financial and other hardship, and nourished my sense of purpose. I suppose that’s another reason for which I want to share this with you… I believe in practicing thinking for its own sake, and for the sake of clarity. Now that I’m where I am, there’s this. Our consulting work is now very much about meeting you where you are. From there, we’ll do the spacemaking, to set the stage, so you can do the big work. The thing of ‘N+1.’ Take it to the next stage, yes?


‘I work… to earn money… which I use… to consume stuff… which makes me happy,’ Lynda Gratton in The Shift, on “the traditional deal at work”

THE ABOVE OBSERVATION is a particularly harsh way, perhaps, to look at generations of people’s values and decisions around work, but I think is pretty accurate. My dad had another take: ‘work is supposed to be difficult—to suffer through it is the work.’ Paraphrased, of course, since this was Japan, and a lot was implied rather than stated explicitly or  repeatedly.

I remember growing up associating work with suffering this way, and for me, the work I was to suffer through was my studies. Fast forward to the 90s, and I was a college student in the US. Then, work and job was about how much we’d make in the first year.

Being in engineering, friends around me were throwing around the numbers like 50, 60, 70K per annum, counting them long before graduation and planning the neighborhood where they’d buy their first house. On the other hand, we were the gen X: many of us were openly skeptical, quoting from Reality Bites and the Wall, and daydreaming about vagabonding in Europe or Asia. I was stuck in the middle.

Majoring in Parks and Recreation, I had no fantasy about making six figures any time soon, and my Japanese lineage and studiousness didn’t make me fit in the granolas-and-Birkenstocks club either. Lucky for me, I enjoyed doing what I was getting into at the time, running student clubs and organizing events, and knew what I wanted to be, however vaguely, when I grew up. It was just figuring out how to get there, wherever ‘there’ might be. Trusting the process. I was fortunate to have brilliant mentors early who showed me there’s no such thing as a predetermined flight course.

I was to flap my wings.

Aimlessly, frantically… until I learned to fly.

So… yeah… 25 years into flapping, I have a better idea of where I’m going, work-wise, but I try not to fool myself in thinking that I’ve figured it all out.

Work is to find meaning in life, and truly meaningful work will consume all life that there is.

This isn’t to say that work is more important than other areas of life.

It is that work contains life, in its ultimate form.

Not that any of us will ever achieve this fully, but to me, that ultimate integration of work with life is what I’m after.


Our societies have too long (but this is shorter than we assume!) defined work as a separate activity that’s dedicated to earn our living. And thus, to many of us earning has become the meaning of our lives. I was lucky to reject this early because I didn’t have the privilege nor smarts to obtain membership to the elite class that can define themselves through their annual income and job titles. Everywhere I look around, these days, though, I see many more that have either opted out in their own accord or never had such privilege. The new generation is opting, rather, for meaning. But we carry much baggage from our legacy and its biases: towards money, towards prestige, towards long hours, towards competition, towards disregard to ourselves and others. To integrate work back into our lives we need to be awake to these biases in ourselves and work to overcome them.

Our new work should be oriented towards collaboration, sustainability, creativity and problem solving.

Coworking spaces, “innovation” labs, peer-to-peer economy, “crowd-” everything—these are but some ways this shift is manifesting. But that isn’t enough; the skills I grew up with is awefully inadequate to this new orientation, and I fear that our kids are afforded no better education today. This is where I intend to focus my next decades on.


IF OUR NEW WORK is to collaboratively create solutions to problems—to join the words I used above together—then we need a place where people can gather, to do that work. Space, to me, isn’t just about the physical container, the term encompasses what we create together first, when more than one person come together: holding space.

How we come together, work together and grow into a community; how the communities grow, relate to each other and shift as a whole system: this is a question of space—creating, holding, and nurturing of it—to me. To explore this concept I gathered a few people together in a small gallery space in Phnom Penh, where new spaces for entrepreneurs, artists, and social change makers are on the rise. Some were physical space holders, some were event organizers, some ran organizations, some came because they were curious.

Here’s a few things I learned from our 11-person conversation then:

    • Details are important, and how you can ‘design’ or ‘control’ can be too abrupt, sometimes, and get things veering off to the opposite direction. ‘We tried to make it not too loud,’ said the co-owner of the gallery that hosted us.
    • Experience was a theme of the occasion, as most of us gathered were designers of events, temporal spaces rather than the physical. Why do we need to gather? Sometimes, it’s to educate one another about something important. Sometimes, it’s about the loneliness, the void we feel. We talked about suicide rates in Korea, and how otherwise disengaged kids would come together to create flashmob—a temporal, physical \space\. Controlling space is a tricky business, and it’s akin to steering a boat in open water. Small adjustments can mean a lot down the road, and the less control you can use in getting to the destination, the faster you get there. But how do we know the destination, in open water? Sometimes you start with one intention and you get to another, and it could be a beautiful thing. And what about productivity?
    • How we define productivity decides what we do to optimize it. Someone said: ‘The education system is a productive space for one metric. But we have become good at the wrong thing, perhaps.’
    • We talked about Nerd Night [Phnom Penh] and how it is a place where newbies and incumbents can interact. And how it was meant to solve the problem of silos in the incumbents. And how the space affects the quality of the experience. Trying to accommodate different crowds and breaking the ice requires conscious, intentional small steps rather than a sweeping, big stroke.

…Small steps, in other words.

As I head into the Coworking Unconference, itself a space that has been created intentionally, I keep this one thought in mind, turning it over this way and that way.

What’s the small step that I can take, a little adjustment I can make? That’s the thing. That’s it. That’s the work of making space, and spacemaking to do the work, that we here at DK call, ‘N+1.’


ONE STEP AT A TIME. We are learning and changing and growing all the time. Will you be interested to hear more about how things continue to develop? Ideas, resources, articles and more are all available to you when you become a patron of DK. Here is a link…

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Design is in motion for new ‘N’ events in Bangkok, London, and Copenhagen

YOU MIGHT BE WONDERING what all this ‘N’ stuff is about. That’s cool, I mean, I think that part of the idea of creating something is to let it discover itself, as it grows and matures. Kind of like a plant. Or a toddler.

We are just 1/16th of the way into the big project, ’16N’. First one was in Phnom Penh, back in April. After ‘N’ Phnom Penh I have a bit more to say about the how and why of ‘N,’ but also, it’s largely going to become what it does because of who chooses to self-select and become part of it, too.

As in the case with Phnom Penh, there are going to be 16 people who choose to join in something that doesn’t have a clear point-by-point “what it is” because part of the whole journey is the exploration. That’s not to say there is zero formality. You will, if you get a ticket and register and everything, get an agenda, and instructions about the expectations, too. It’s like a cross between a workshop and an improv theater and something else: maybe just school. Without grades. All of us are teaching and learning, because we all have so many extraordinary things to say. It’s amazing. ‘N’ is for uncertainty, it’s for ‘Anything,’ it’s for… whatever it feels like it is to you. When this all got started, I had this crazy notion about the ‘N vector’ but then it got really mathy and geometry and Euclid and non-Euclid started coming into the picture, and when I started to go on about it with SM in recent days and things got quiet for a split second he said, quite astonished and astonishing me with the clarity of it, ‘Where do you get these ideas?’

Oh, well, that’s a long story. But for now, I can share the themes?

Themes and space for interpretation

Here’s what’s up:

  • COPENHAGEN. For ‘N’ Copenhagen, it’s NEARNESS. As in: What’s close? How does it affect me? Proximity. Self-awareness. Relationships of all dimensions. Thinking about Denmark and reminiscing on a trip there eight years back, I recall the comment: “We have to speak English. It’s a small country, with so many others on so many sides.” As in with NORMALITY as a loose theme we picked for Phnom Penh, the idea is to leave things open enough for some play and interpretation but also give a frame for the upcoming event. ‘N’ Copenhagen will be a space for 16 people I will invite personally between now and then to spend some moments thinking together about this very abstract idea. Because it is in a new country with a different language from mine, I’m asking for help from a few people in CPH, too. Want to help? Contact DK >
  • BANGKOK. ‘N’ Bangkok is on the way, too. Theme is ‘NOW’. What’s happening in this moment? Can’t think of a better place to have a conversation installation about the very essence of what ‘N’ is about, which is, namely, celebrating the MOMENT. Framing the urgency of NOW. I know, I know, it’s all so very esoteric and philosophic. But really, it’s play. Design Kompany has always been about play, and it won’t stop just because we grew up a bit.
  • LONDON. ‘N’ London is getting sorted, as well. Theme: ‘NOTEWORTHINESS.’ What’s remarkable? Why? In a big city like London, you have a lot of people going about their business, looking at their feeds, processing data, making data, all of that. But what of it is really worth taking note of? How do we know?

The idea isn’t to make a long-term party or networking “thing”, but rather, see who comes forward in this self-selecting way to participate in something that’s by design a little quirky. Playfulness is more relaxing. Play and sharing, seeing what might happen, emergence, that sort of thing. Improv is part of this story. Serendipity, chance. Want to help? Contact DK >