ONCE UPON A TIME, a very smart person wrote a thing about my art. I guess that was the thing that threw me off. ‘Art.’ It was weird, because I thought I was an engineer-architect-journalist-designer. But I was making things that someone with a real eye, experience, and like I said, brains, didn’t say wasn’t art. LW. (Thanks, if you see this.) What happened was this. AM suggested it. ‘There’s this person. She’s looking at people’s art. She’s gonna write it all up, a review. You should do it.’
‘Says it’s for “artists”. Or whatever.’
‘You’re an artist. How many times… Just. Go.’
Unconvinced and commitment-averse, I sat on that idea. No, it’s not for me. I’m a designer. I’m working. I’m not… Painting canvases. I’m…
But I did go.
Unannounced, with all the best ‘art,’ or whatever, that I had made, ‘best’, in my opinion, up until that point. Stuff from Kyoto, New York, Seattle. Stuff from way before. Stuff I just hit ‘print’ on. Word stuff, drawing stuff, comic stuff, sharpie stuff. A lot of stuff. I couldn’t know then which stuff to keep, and which to get rid of, because I didn’t know the ‘what this is’ thing, not clearly, not yet. Maybe she could look at it.
Blind luck: there was a cancellation. Or a no-show. What a missed opportunity for that guy. ‘Dipika… Kohli?’ ‘Hi.’ Let’s see what you got. Were we mutually asking? I think so. I still remember the moment that felt, within that scene, which was also pivotal, to be the one that switched us on to one another. A certain piece. A certain exchange of looks. A certain ‘getting’ of one another, right there. When a piece makes a person feel a thing, a thing that the person already has an inkling about in nonverbal ways somewhere within, floating around, but just hasn’t… Tuned into… Then the piece is relating to them. That relating is the art.
But that awareness would not come until 2017. Maybe a twinge came when I met MT? A glimmer… A hint. Yes, certainly there was an echo there. I think I even said ‘interstitial space.’ I think my plastic name tag was poking at a skewed angle. Talking geometry. Talking about space. But it was well received, and added to. That was why it was so exciting.
THAT’S KIND OF how it (it?) started. It? Everything, really. Work became project-making. Maybe it was art? I read about things that kids in art schools in foreign countries told me to google. I looked up words I didn’t know and found, through deeper and deeper investigations in that shallower and shallower place that is the Net, little gems.
But the review thing. Some people want to get their work in museums, have shows, travel and be seen. I don’t care about being seen, really. I care about about the art itself. And yeah. The relating, to me, is art. A thing doesn’t mean anything if no one is there to receive it. Et cetera. So yup. Everything from that moment changed everything I do now. It wouldn’t have even happened had it not been for curator BMC. Also important. The people who shake things up, right? You see them when you look back, on the long path. In the West it’s all about ‘me me me’ and glorification of a person and equating ‘success’ with material wealth. Not always, but often, I feel, in the East when it’s really good, that’s because it’s a collaboration, the beautiful things… There’s less of the ‘look at me! Look what I did!’ vibe. Now I have to talk about George Webber. No, no. I’ll save that for the S P A C E crowd. Anyway. Changing from West to East (2014-present, I’m Asia-based) has meant appreciating the people who helped me make the things we’ve made, since arriving in Cambodia, to reset all the buttons.
WORDS. I watched. The review. Being written. ‘Hey, that’s kinda cool.’ Next few years, I read it over and over, until the penny dropped (that’s an Irishism for ‘it sank in’). This: she had called it, like tarot cards. This thing. That I like to do. Show the process. Include new voices. Close-ups. Relationships, aesthetics… that are there when people connect, convene in new ways… She looked through my zines, papers, (I always have papers), my oversized black portfolio I got because you needed that, right? To be legit? (No. You needed a concept to be legit. That would take time. Practice. Faltering. Bracing. Returning to the next place, sticking the foot out, going again, letting go of the people who said, ‘What are you doing? Get a job!’, and trusting the process.) What design taught me was to not get too complacent with the first or 17th idea. Push to the edge. Then, go past. Out there is the interstitial. Out there is S P A C E. A very specific kind of space. (Writing about it. A checklist. Sharing in small circles.)
WORK. I think she saw me trying, in my immature-yet way, to poke a hole in that materialistic veneer that is so supersaturated… So not-critiqued, so upheld as ‘that’s just how it is’ mumbo-jumbo status-quo. I was doing things to provoke some response, maybe. Drawing kooky Sharpie comics. Blogging a lot. Too much, really. I didn’t want to stop, it was like a habit, but then the blog got deleted kind of accidentally and it’s a long story, but it was so amazing because the feeling wasn’t one of sadness or loss, but of… Relief. Now we can finally start something new. Ten years of a blog is a long time. Ten years of trying to keep saying the same stuff in interesting ways is boring. I don’t even know what we were doing there. Yup. I am saying that. I am. Saying it all. Honestly. Nope. I’m not a super-duper-well-put together kind of a person. My friend IK said, ‘Twitter is for the smart people. Instagram is for the beautiful people.’ That was… Insightful. Spot on. What if you don’t hang out in those ways? You just want to, like, chill? I learned when switching from East Coast to West Coast in those United States of (North) America, one thing: you don’t have to wear a suit. Or nice shoes. Forget New York Black and ‘a Manhattan minute.’ You can go around in a hoodie and some old jeans. You could be dressed like that, slumped in the corner of Joe Bar Cafe, and you could be a millionaire, or a scruffy writer, same thing over there. Seattle. Which is where DK started up as an official thing. That would be 2004. Does history matter? Why am I telling you this? Och. Another Irishism.
SHAPE OF SPACE. BECAUSE IF THERE IS ONE THING I learned from the last couple of years that I took away and kept in my most intimate drawers for revisiting, it’s the idea of ‘provenance.’ How have you held a thing, where has it been, who used it, where did it get shared. This is a hard thing to measure. Impossible, really. That same hoodie scenario… I still have this hoodie. I wear it all over the place because the buses are cold and the trains are colder. Oh. I’m on the road. (This is part of the reason I am blogging so many paragraphs.) There are no obligations other than to host The Mirror, certain ateliers here and there, and to dream up the next thing. Whatever it is going to be, it has to have meaning. And I find meaning in a couple of things, things that JŽ knows, but few others, because I shared those ideas when they were just starting to become visible… A sea of abstract ideas… And then, some emergence. I’m here, though, to listen, to field queries, and to show up for whatever comes to be. I am learning how, a little bit, once more. The road teaches you things. That’s what I’ve discovered, anyway. It’s important to share, sometimes, too, the little lessons. Blogging is kind of ambient way of sharing. I was getting bored of it because I didn’t know… How to… Share better. I guess, though, I got a lot of practice. You write, and you write, and you write some more, and you get a wireless keyboard and then you type some books into your little devices and press ‘publish, make this a PDF, go!’, and say, ‘Do you want to read this?’ And wait and see if relating happens. Sometimes, when you’re lucky, it does.
NEXT. ATELIER S P A C E || MELAKA. Zinemaking. With new and different others, in real life. It’s happening, and I’m jazzed. Popping up at the weekend. This one is gonna be low-key. By invitation-only, no buzz, no noise. Very fitting, this style, for Melaka. I’ve been here more than a week, gorgeous architecture, world heritage site. Yet I’ve just been walking around, getting my bearings, trying to connect with the place before photographing it. So I’ve only taken one picture. That’s this one. I hope you like it. —DK
I JUST HAD ONE OF THOSE moments, where you go, ‘Waitaminute. This is way, way out of scope.’ It’s like the time I was in Kyoto, this would be study abroad, and I was trying to study Japanese. Made a whole two semesters of college pretty much just about looking at old architecture in Kyoto and studying the language. The characters really got me excited, back then. I didn’t know how very different (simplified) they are from Chinese characters, of course, back then it was all (to me, that’s the important bit to qualify) to me, they were teensy picture-word things, that told you a bunch more info in the same kind of space than these kinds, words in English, they take up so much room. I like how Japanese is different. There’s so much space in the not-spoken… That’s where all the real conversation happens. At least, that’s what I think I understand. No definitive statements allowed, and that’s a good thing. I’ve gotten so tired of having to defend my way of doing things: leaving tons of room, space, for uncertainty and the chance encounter. To just… Happen into this path. And see. Today, I gave something to someone that really, I honestly, about four months ago, would never have given away. She was a girl in college on a trip with her bunches and bunches of friends. (M., if you are reading, this post is for you…) She had a nice quality about her, I can’t quite name it, you know, if I was still in the non-Asia version of myself, I would start to outline this, and put bullet points together, for a Post, so that it would make a Statement, something that you would Read and Be Interested or Informed by. But that is all nonsense. We all know now that there are no such things as Truly Objective Comments. All of us have the biases, the lenses, that of our whole past upbringing (and the things we cling to as truths). Until we can let the awareness sink in that maybe, just maybe, one way isn’t the only right way, then yeah. We can start a cool other thing. One of my favorite people to read about is NEILS Bohr (autocapitalized, just now. That’s interesting. I wonder why?). Who said, ‘How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress.’ And: ‘No, no, no. You’re not thinking. You’re just being logical.’ And: ‘The opposite of a profound truth may be another profound truth.’ All of this I learned on this weird, random and improvised trip to Copenhagen in late 2015. I have no idea why I wanted so much to be far and cold, but it was autumn. They say ‘autumn’ there not ‘fall,’ like in the United States. The extra syllable made me happy, in a way. Like in the East, it was as if to tell me, ‘You don’t have to make it all sound perfect over here. Just go ahead and be. Just, yeah. Be.’ And that was it. The opening. (Of course I know that if I’d grown up in Asia or N. Europe I’d have a completely different attitude about these places, but the juxtapositions are nice.)
I’m gonna talk about ‘The Moment,’ but not out loud, not here in public. I’ll share quietly, in the behind-the-scenes conversations, where one step at a time, we’re developing. The Mirror. It’s happening. One group is all returning. One is all newcomers. I’m grateful and amazed, and humbled, and the way it’s going is pointing to a different door from the ones I’d been examining. That’s what ‘The Moment’ just showed me. I can’t tell you, not out loud, not publicly here, because… I’m writing more and more about things that count behindthescenes, with trusted circles, only.
THIS IS HAPPENING. It really, really is. Four years of cojournaling. Two calls for interest in Januarys past. One short eBook anthology. And now, a small handful of people in timezones scattered who are saying ‘yes’ to the experiment and conversation that is this thing we made, together. Welcoming very warmly both new and returning guests to this year’s The Mirror. More is on the way, check your inbox. It’s exciting, isn’t it? This is my dashboard. Like it? More
THE WRITING IS GOING ALL RIGHT. Here, behind the scenes, we are turning yearslong collected writings and bits into things that are actually in some way processed, thought through, organized, and well-presented. I think this is called publishing. And that’s why we are working on it with Kismuth Books. Lots of room and space, to reflect, to look at the arc of where the stories that left the warmest impressions were, and how they got there. Not that there is a thing to ‘figure out,’ per se. It’s quite nice to just let the things be what they are slowly, in an ukiyo-e way, bubbling up and surfacing to be. Does it make sense?
DISCOVER THE MIRROR. IN 2014, I got this weird idea to write with other people. Some of them friends, some of them acquaintances, and many of them people I didn’t know. Internet friends? I guess. It became interesting very recently, as we have been iterating quite a lot since then. Now, THE MIRROR is a robust tool and we are sharing it out again starting 8 January, with a handful of people who are the right fit. I continue to do this because I love cojournaling; it gives us the opportunity to build a global tribe of people who are also asking questions, and curious about life. A few brave cojournalers who signed up for our very first experiment (January 2014) had NO idea what to expect. It was definitely an exercise in trust. And design, of course. We’ve tweaked it, tested it, added things, deleted things, and tried the whole thing out. It’s less clunky now, 4 years into it.
We use email. But it’s not just mail. It’s someone’s trust in you, and me, and us. It’s sharing. It’s this thing I kept going on about last year, “the village.” It’s about connecting, in a way that’s meaningful and deep and not someone paying for a therapist’s time or someone reading a book once and forgetting about it after that. It’s not a workshop off in the mountains, though those are fantastic, or a class that is going to help you set up everything to write a bestseller. It’s not any of those things. It’s just, simply, space. And it’s working. I can’t believe how the people who’ve just newly met are sharing their very personal thoughts, even in these early days. People are telling me they’re so happy to have time to just “free write,” without much of an agenda, and that they appreciate someone is listening (that would be the groups, and also me), holding them accountable to keep a practice to themselves: Write. Write weekly.
You don’t have to be a writer, you don’t have to be an artist. You can just be YOU. That’s the thing. We often don’t have space or time to spend just discovering who we are, within. I promise I’ve seen this over and over again at Design Kompany. In a modern world where we are so achievement-driven, we forget to make space and time to look within. Frankly, it’s discouraged. It’s “artsy-fartsy,” and it’s “woo-woo.” But by gosh, it’s so darn important. You can’t ever know why you’re doing what you’re doing if you don’t know who you are. So this has been fantastic, and that’s why we’re kicking off this year officially NEXT WEEK. On 8/1/18, we are going to start THE MIRROR 2018. It is for those who are interested in making space to reflect, take stock. With others also responding to the same prompts, in forums, each week. What I learned from DK that I apply to THE MIRROR is one thing: the conversation is the most important part of any creative process.
‘What’s in it for me?’ Fair question. This is about creating intentional space for you to write, in a dedicated way, with other people doing the same thing in other parts of your city or the world. I will be here to hold you accountable, giving you a quarterly update with feedback. This is not for a grade or any kind of validation, but I will guide you to committing time to flex your creative writing (outside of work, your local writing club, or academia). Sharing in a nonjudgmental way with others is a huge part of this, and learning to be a little vulnerable along the way makes space for a different kind of writing which may be new for you, too.
Why this is different. This isn’t school, or work, and yet, even recess has a set time for little kids. Space to play. To discover. To look, ask, and try. Think of it like you might imagine kindergarten—anything is possible—except now you have experience to draw from too. Without a chance to make what’s in our hearts known (first to ourselves, and then to others), it doesn’t get heard. Sometimes our stories are painful—grief, loss, or hurt—but sometimes, behind those things, there is an enormous well of something we didn’t know was there. The subconscience speaks through journaling, telling us each about our deepers elves as we get better at practicing how to let it speak.
I’m a believer in flat, open circles, and am creating this space so as to invite lots of real stories from the heart to come onto the (digital) page, if that’s what happens, or at least illuminate for their authors exactly what it is that’s inside. There are far too many times when you can look into the mirror and wonder, “What if things had turned out differently? What if I had applied myself a little more?” It’s not easy in our modern, achievement-oriented culture to give ourselves this kind of permission. Space. To play, to look inward, to do the hard work that can unleash a world of new insight if we let it.
How it works
WHO. No more than 4 people per circle. International, mixed. Groups are assigned based on what people share in their applications: ie, ‘what do I want to get out of this.’ Sequenced prompts are designed based on those common interests, for each circle.
WHAT. A co-journaling weekly prompt arrives each Monday. On Sunday, we’ll craft the next week’s prompt, based on whatever responses come in on that day, or before. It’s this simple. It emerges, and it grows meaningful based on the things that tie together the overarching common themes. Very fun, very intriguing, and a kind of juxtaposition-meets-relational aesthetics weird and cool vibe pops up.
WHEN. Starts 8 January, 2018. Are you wondering how much time this will take? Don’t feel pressured to commit to yet another thing to do: this is meant to be a complement and fertilizer for whatever writing you have already planned to do.
FLOW. It’s okay not to have a clear idea up front about what it is you’ll write about, the creative process always begins with a fuzzy open slate. Then, through the work, through the practice, something becomes interesting to you. This something is the gem that all the work up until that moment of discovering it will have been for. Once you have this piece, the golden nugget, we will work together to write a piece that is all about that which the nugget has inspired in you. Write what you know, they say, but we can’t know what we know until we dig a little to discover this little thing that is so very important in the big work of writing our real stories, in our true, authentic voice. Everyone knows the difference between pieces that are written from the heart, and those that are just written. Editors like to say, ‘The writer works so the reader doesn’t have to.’ Over time, we may begin to see connections happen across the virtual space between guests. This happens. In really cool ways, people began to ask one another questions to go a little deeper on the ideas that are coming up. Making a space for it to bubble up and *happen*, that’s the framing for THE MIRROR. The whole thing: that’s it.
HOW TO JOIN. It starts with an application. Apply through this page: http://designkompany.com/apply. Selected candidates will be invited to register, and an orientation note will be shared from there. Warmly welcoming a few new voices today, and sending virtual hi-fives to returning guests, too.
OUR NEXT ONLINE programme, The Mirror, begins on 8 January. Details are here.
What’s next for you?
If taking time to consider that very question thoughtfully sounds interesting to you (yes, we know it’s hard, of course it is, but is it interesting?…) then I invite you to apply for The Mirror. It is my favorite of our online workshops. I guess I like it because I’ve see transformations. So far, more than 50 people have taken part in our online programmes since we first opened spaces three years ago, all these would be online, for the kind of salon-style dialogue that: progresses; is carefully moderated; and is kept to a very self-selecting, small set of people. Real breakthroughs happen. I see it every year. You don’t have to be a pro at writing. Mistakes, drafts are welcome. It’s a journal, not a report. 😉 Since early 2014, DK has hosted The Mirror, this interactive and small-scale experiment in journaling with others online. The framing question for its design was:
What if we could discover something together with those we didn’t know, but who were also exploring the same themes?
Great conversations emerged, resulting in a short eBook anthology, The Mirror. In recent days new conversations have inspired a fresh sequence of prompts, those that will, we hope, encourage people to break free of rigid thinking that ultimately confines us. For this I have CC to thank, in large part. (Glad I got to tell you.)If you are returning, there is more to share, on email, about the new things and a special group for alums.
The Mirror 2018 will circle in the new guests we are meeting in real life at our Atelier S P A C E programmes with our existing online community.
AN 8-WEEK or 12-WEEK online programme that prompts you to ask questions designed to elicit self-awareness. Reflection. Connection. Discovery. It’s a 1:DK conversation that is exploratory and emerges, week over week. You’ll be able to choose-your-own-adventure as we go, selecting from the grab-bag of more than 100 prompts that DK have built over the 2014-2016 period when we had hosted something else, called the ‘cojournal.’ Discover and share, co-discover with us. By invitation only.
I want to be out there, wherever ‘there’ might be. —RH
AN ACQUAINTANCE from Seattle was just passing through Phnom Penh, where I’ve been based for the last three years. It was surprising and fun to catch up. RH and I hadn’t known one another well, but had common friends in the publishing industry and a mutual respect for each other’s aesthetic sensibilities, design sense, and openness to trying new things. I remember that because you remember those kinds of things, not the piddly details but the overall impression: intelligence, behind the words. A tweet exchange and us saying, sure let’s get a coffee.
We met by the Russian Market at a place that does some nice ones, something that is surprising to so many coming to Cambodia from Europe and N. America, I think, because, what, they’re expecting things to be Third World-y, and sure, they are, but… there are also gems, here, beautiful architectures, for one, and the people actually smile at you, which has more life-giving qualities than anyone might ever imagine if they weren’t used to such things. Like us. Ex-Seattle and ex-US and ex-Japan and ex-UK… (and you see where this is going, yes?)
Anyway it was good to reconnect with someone who used to know you in a different light, altogether, on the other side of the world. He asked if DK was still doing branding and I kind of had to stifle a laugh. Doing ‘branding’ in 2017 seems ridiculous to me (my logo? That box? That’s just a free thing from a free software, something that was just lying around).
CHANGE IS THE ONLY. This is certainly new. This ultra casual approach to the way one represents himself through design, as opposed to when DK was insisting earnestly and fervently that design is super-duper important, in our 2004-2009 phase in Seattle. Some people are probably still there, insisting. But the times have moved on. I see people cutting and pasting logos all the time, where I live. It’s not even important what it looks like, anymore. It’s what it stands for. Authenticity. The very young ones know this, the ones that are younger than the tied-to-my-phone thirtysomethings because they can actually stop and look at you and talk to you and listen, they are good at this focusing thing, in a way that… I also really enjoy. I do. I was… jaded, I think. I had checked out, when I got into this box. I didn’t think anyone in the world was left to care about asking the philosophical, metaphysical, existential, transcendental kinds of questions and go into the play and do the jam with me. It seemed a bit too full-on, I think. I just withdrew. Got that from my dad, I fully admit it. We just don’t deal with things. We hide.
Underground and footloose in Asia, there wasn’t a whole lot to do then but write and so that’s what I’ve been doing, except also, I always get into the discussions that make people go, ‘Wait a minute. No one’s ever asked me that before. This is really helping me, this is helping me reflect.’ Someone in Palo Alto asked me to come over and do an experiential workshop on reflection, and I did. It was fascinating. Never had I thought that this sort of vein of conversation was anything less than ‘normal.’ But it isn’t. At all. The immediate question-asking is uncomfortable, of course it is, and it is totally not normal. To make people ask big questions about their ‘why’ and their purpose? Not simple. A woman in Sweden asked me in a sauna, ‘Why do you want to get people to open up?’ I told her that’s where the magic is. Waking Life calls it the ‘holy moment.’ Infinitude of other, infinitude in self.
In a less abstract way, I tried to share. The way I liked the feeling of learning with the others, through more and better dialogues, then how I learned by doing different things (lighting, music, space, furniture, food, drinks, prompts, magazines, folded things, light things, totems, comment cards, cut and paste, heart-shaped post-its, serious-colored post-its, workbooks, zines you could fill in the blanks on, et cetera) some of which worked poorly and others that made the magic happen, and that was how it went. Not teach-y, just learn-y. Together, we asked questions of one another, wrote together. That’s how I developed a new set of questions, sequenced them, made them into 20-minute modules and put them into a workbook. I showed this book to a few people. Some of them later went through the questions. Got feedback, tried it, revised it, redid it, rewrote, and reconnected. At least a little. Now here I am, making this page. I guess this means something. Sharing. How uncool right? But. Yes.
I hadn’t even realized that this was always the case, because I had underestimated the whole giant thing that goes into making a design in the first place: conversation. Good conversation. I don’t just mean rapport. I mean building towards something: progression, richness and complexity, play and freshness and surprise. (Ask me about my checklist, with the 7-point outline.)
All that stuff.
If it’s not artful, if it’s not a space that’s held well, then the art of it isn’t going to happen and if there’s no art, there’s no beauty in the design that will fall forth. Seriously. No art, no beauty. No conversation, no beautiful concept. This is how it is. And why would I ever get involved in something if there wasn’t a chance to pursue beauty? All this. Thinking. Since Seattle. Didn’t know, until someone shows up from there, an anachronism in my new life, pulling questions from the sky in vocabularies I haven’t heard for some time, abstract queries, learning and asking. I appreciate this kind of stepping out towards the unknown, in that open space that makes us all vulnerable. It’s been a while since I’ve experienced this, as I’ve been hiding behind my blog here.
In this box.
A disembodied white cube, as DM had put it. Ah, yes.
In the box is safe. My mother would like that. Don’t take any unnecessary risks. That guy, that one guy, who said that thing I put in the eZine, about laying low… This:
Out of the box? That is tougher. But… I’d missed it. I found out, there and then. Maybe it’s time to come out a bit, yes? Then I went to London. Made ’16N’ happen, somehow, there. NOTEWORTHINESS, we talked about that. Met some fascinating people from my internet encounterings. They didn’t know me from this white box, but wow, it sure did get cool. We had the jam, the jam that I love. In real life. Playing, together. This is what we used to do at DK with ou clients, wasn’t it? The branding thing was just an excuse.
Yeah, so yeah. It’s true. I used to think logos and identities were really, really important, and I think they were, kind of, insomuch as they helped us all make an excuse to talk to each other about what it was that really mattered to us. Branding? Of course big questions come up. Who are you, really, what do you want to say to the world, and how will your work offer that expression? Now, let’s pack that up into some kind of a nice design. Yes. There. Right? But wow. We sure did get philosophical there, didn’t we, and that was sure fun.
‘I want to be out there,’ R had said. I think he was wondering to himself as much as me, this question about where to go next to make an impact. ‘Wherever “there” might be.’ That was the start of the ‘big game,’ as the chess gamers say, where it started really getting interesting. Out of the box. Out of the zone, the familiar bounds. I nodded. I was quiet. I have learned in my three plus years in Asia, both on the road and here in Cambodia, to listen more than to speak. Things get said in the silences, more than you will ever realize, unless you’re awake to it, learning to let go of the thing you want to communicate next. I think. I believe. I feel. But it’s not about me, is it? I’m just here, reflecting. ‘Tell me more.’ ‘Okay. Well, I think… there have to be more people thinking this, right? That there’s more out there? Wherever there might be?’ ‘I think so. More people are exploring ways to do this, I think, given the obvious limitations that staying in silos will naturally create. Even in glittering Seattle.’
‘Kay, I don’t want to diss Seattle.
I love it.
Sometimes I let myself think back on the mountains.
BOX DESIGN. There is a feeling, as R had pointed out, that going way, way outside the boxes just isn’t comfortable for most in that part of the world, where we both used to live. I started reflecting and it made me think about the journeys for me, since leaving Seattle (hard) and taking to the road (less hard, but more struggle-y). The thing is, there was a massive tradeoff, I thought, but it was a perceived tradeoff. I thought I was giving something up by quitting the office, the apartment in Capitol Hill, the network that was budding, the beginning of something that felt like a being-known kind of a feeling, and so many other intangibles that one might tie up with the word ‘community.’ But what I gained was far, far more important than these things. Because only once I took the time to do the big work of really looking within could I see very clearly what was important for me wasn’t a house and stuff and status and gigs, but possibility. New people. New learning. That was why I needed the road, and the journey. Me, personally. Found this out through asking myself questions. Questions I now have ready to share with you, if you are curious, through the thing at the end of this page. THE MIRROR. More in a second. Certainly a move away from one’s roots or adopted home is not what everyone wants, or needs. But knowing what it is that moves you, that is huge work. I personally had that transition, you know, going from a murky gut-feel that Seattle wasn’t ‘it’ anymore to this place, a whole ‘nother life, a different kind of community, a strong sense of what it is I make here, why, and how I’m of value to the people I am connecting with now. Reflection. That work. Tested some things. With the California program, a while ago, in 2014, and online since.
In the early days when I talked about THE MIRROR I guess I felt people were looking for what I was looking for. The new input, the original thinking at the margins and beyond. I guess I felt like everyone had wanderlust and the poet-philosopher heart, but no. No, no. And that’s cool. That’s totally fine. I don’t even get along with those people who profess to be academically philosopher types. They kinda… well. No name-calling. I’m just going to keep going. Writing to you. Being really honest. The divergent thinking that we knew already was so important to the design process had to be something I actually lived, with my life. Like, actually go out of my box. Because of Seattle’s… bubble, yeah. I’ll be honest. And more than that. I just felt like there wasn’t enough of a jam session to enjoy the conversations that might pop into place, not enough of a mix in the way one might approach her life. Too much same-y. Where were the others? I wanted more.
We were there and engaged and talking and learning, together, and sometimes it was really good. The great conversation sessions, though, I remember were tied up with some sort of program, which meant that there was a very self-selecting group, and by nature, these groups were sort of insular. I mean, I don’t want to criticize. But they were one-dimensional, you know? People sort of looked the same, even, in a certain kind of group. Newcomers talked about the Freeze, just google Seattle freeze, and how it’s there and there is this thing where, someone from the East Coast said, ‘People in Seattle only play with one friend at a time. They don’t like to mix you up.’ I didn’t believe this person, not really, because I wasn’t like that, and people joined me at things where I could design and host the sorts of parties, meetups, networking things like Designers Korner and Flourish and other live events that brought very different kinds of people together, if only briefly and just once.
Why? The answer to why is simple. For my own personal curiosity. For learning. For sharing, together. I wasn’t quite ready in the early days to just pack up and leave Seattle, I still loved it very much. The fresh air, the water. The mountains, of course. Dan Savage wrote about them in a column, I remember reading, where he just kept repeating it. ‘The mountains are beautiful.’ And they are. But there is more out there, than just those mountains. Not many years ago, I saw them, in Nagarkot, from a whole other point of view, at moonrise. *poignant pause*. But the going only got started when I saw that what mattered to me was to keep on learning. Because I didn’t want to stagnate or get complacent. From lack of input. Lack of original thought. Lack of serendipitous encounters with new and different, a tendency towards ‘safety,’ whatever that means. Misoneism. Fear.
AND THIS. To the sensitive aesthete, there’s something else that’s going to happen. The things that are made are just not that innovative. They’re actually kind of boring. BORING is… well, it’s less-than, isn’t it? Less than our best? Going out of the box starts with pushing past that coefficient of static friction, starting, in other words, and though kinetic frictions will remain (doubts, fears, practicalities and the constant worrying about how to make things work), the important thing is that you are in motion. Momentum. Why we get along with architects, software developers, jazz musicians, theater performers, and the kinds of designers who love process as much as we do is the same. We care. About the journey. From here to ‘there,’ wherever ‘there’ might be. This is the work we call N+1.
A brief history of N+1 shifting
SEATTLE. DESIGN KOMPANY STARTED IN SEATTLE in 2004. At first, we weren’t sure what we were going to make, or for who, but we knew it was a pretty important time to ‘just try this.’ Unlike many in our industry, we found out later through the process and learning and making things up as we went, we were much more interested in the creative process—and discovering the concepts for particular designs came through inviting our clients to be part of that, with us. It was way less about ‘making something pretty.’ The one time we got a call from a prospect that asked us to ‘just make it sexy,’ I said it wasn’t a fit and thanks and it was a wake-up. I knew my time was going to end, soon. That we were different.
Upon reflection, I see now we were interested not in the outcome, which we knew had to be quality and would, eventually, but that this wasn’t the objective of taking on a new engagement. What was important was something else altogether. The journey. The most fun projects, and those that yielded the most unexpected, fresh designs were those in which our clients played with us in ‘the box,’ letting us closer and closer, so that we could, together, discover the ‘a-ha’ which all beautiful creative processes love to meander their way towards. Divergent ideas are all welcome, until that moment. When you have that moment, you have the ‘it’ that you need to build everything to come upon. The ‘it’ that isn’t just a thing, or a concept even, but the product of lots of exploring, together and openly, ready to accept whatever might fall to hand or ear or eye, and let it move you in a different direction. That is the whole thing: design exists to sketch a framework for this, just this, this journey.
Landing softly in Phnom Penh
PHNOM PENH. Our insistence on process over outcomes hasn’t changed. We are still making our way around to new adventures, making bits up as we go, playing with spaces and inviting others to join in them and explore the edges of their comfort zones with us. A long season of work in brand identity design for mostly the kinds of business owners who were, like us, interested in discovery through the time and work of really looking inward, got us to the portfolio that we had on this website for a long time. I don’t have that here now because it just isn’t what we do. You see a picture of something and you think, ‘I want that.’ But that’s… just not possible to show here, anymore. What we do for each of our clients is completely, one-thousand percent different. It’s not even like a bespoke tailor, or a museum, or a cafe, because in those instances you know you’re getting a suit, arts that you might like, or a gourmet pour. No. Here, it’s different. What we do at DK with others also collaborating with us, as clients or acquaintances or co-creators or even just friends, is what I like to call ‘N+1’ work. Making spaces for others to engage in the process. The process being that journey. The one from here to the next thing, wherever it is, whatever it might be.
GUEST POST FROM SANDRO GISLER. ‘I TREASURE the shouts, blurbs, dinner table fragments just as much. And likewise, the glimpses into the souls and lives of those I’m connected with through social media. Whom I would not see at a campfire or a dinner table any time soon.’
TODAY, A GUEST POST from Sandro Gisler. DK got to know Sandro through a collaborative writing project of Kismuth Books, which culminated in the publication of a small anthology. More than a year on, as we reopen THE MIRROR, we asked Sandro if he felt like sharing his thoughts on being part of that journey, and where he is now. And, this.
“THIS,” he says, “is precisely what campfires are for. The sharing of stories. There’s a spiritual connection between flame and narrative.” —V. M. Straka
CAMPFIRES. It has been a while. But the other day, I had once again the privilege to be a storyteller: My kids’ school hosted a Reading Night, and I volunteered to read a story. Equipped with a flash light, I sat in the dark in an old-school class room, a flock of five-year olds sitting cross-legged in a small circle, hanging on my lips as I told local folk tales.
Reading the Straka quote about the campfire made me reflect about Sharing Stories, and I soon realized: ‘Sharing Stories’ may be the most profound human experience. I have long held that language is at the core of what it means to be human.
Language can range from a simple tool for exchanging information all the way to provide comfort, to share value, to remember history and to form bonds. But in between, there is a wide spectrum of nods, of Hey-did-you-hear-about’s, of quick blurbs and fragmented reports. Standing at the water cooler, waiting at the bus stop, over dinner with loved ones.
Let me introduce at this point the Share button. Have you clicked one today? Several times? Was it a Share button that brought you here, to this post? Or did someone mention it at the camp fire last night?
What is the Share button’s value? Does it cut us off from others by driving us into Social Media isolation? Does it create that same social bond that the flames of a campfires or the shine of a flash light create?
Well, as much as I am a romantic sucker for camp fires and late night storytelling, I am also a pragmatist, and value a simple hug over a grand red carpet welcome. A quick coffee over an elaborate tea ceremony. That’s where the Share button comes in. The Share button is the global water cooler, the café at the corner of the universe, the pub of Earth’s town square.
THERE ARE FEW THINGS in the world I like better than sitting at a campfire. But let’s face it; had I only shared stories and formed bonds while sitting at a campfire, it would’ve been a lonely life.
I treasure the shouts, blurbs, dinner table fragments just as much. And likewise, the glimpses into the souls and lives of those I’m connected with through social media. Whom I would not see at a campfire or a dinner table any time soon. I want to know how they feel. About the bus ride that morning, about the election, about the refugees, about the lack of snow, about what will come next.
There is a value in every human interaction, no matter how mundane or how electronic. What matters is the connection. —Sandro Gisler (@sandrogisler)