A new conversation salon: ‘A World Apart’

Update: There was a really neat short bit of wisdom I found on Reddit, thought I’d add it to this post, see just below.

Update: Thanks for registering for this morning’s (in Cambodia it’s morning) event, ‘A World Apart.’ I’ve scheduled another event for early July. See info here. https://www.eventbrite.com/e/a-world-apart-tickets-911207555327


‘The life you want to live is the one you’re living right now’

DK is an occasional reader of items on Reddit. Perusing r/simpleliving, I found this.



So good. So well-put.  This was a response to a series of comments about ‘why do some people want to be famous?

Conversations in Reddit are one way to get to see how people are interacting and engaging with strangers and discoverin gnew inputs, as we go. Of course it’s a silo, which is the drawback, and limited to those who can read and write English and have a way of getting access with technology and hardward, and so on, but I think, given that I live in Cambodia and see pretty much everyone having a phone now including the wage laborers in my alley who I see every morning on my routines. I think this used to be a thing: accessibility and the ‘digital divide.’ Not so much now. One other thing I liked on this thread was when someone said: ‘Attention is the new cocaine.’

But not all of us are into it. Some prefer real life, like 3D, I mean. I have been accosted by some who challenge the idea that online is not ‘real life’. Which I mean, I don’t feel like debating it. Three-D, then.


Why I host ‘conversation salons’

I’m well here and making virtual ‘parties’. For us to meet, talk and connect in the way that used to happen before internet took over the attention spans of everyone you see on the street. I see orange juice sellers, construction workers, a woman frying chicken, and the staff at my local Third Place hanging out doing their work on my way over here and they are too preoccupied to be on their phones but in other places, like when you park for a while at the student cafes, it’s three phones and a laptop and talking to each other—all at once. What happened to regular conversations, though? I felt that way and started making more of them: virtually. Because of circumstances; I’m not anywhere near a native English-speaking population, which is fine, but I do find myself sometimes wondering what it would be like to commingle with them someday. Listening to my mix tape and writing this. Ambient community is nice. I like The Jimmy Cake. I remembr seeing them in Dublin, ages ago. HT A

But yeah. Music is a kind of conversation, isn’t it.

This coming month, in the virtual salon spaces for S P A C E, I’ll host something just for those who care about international perspectives. Getting outside our usual routines and hearing about how life is somewhere else for some others, sometimes across the world, can shake things up sometimes.

It has been a personal project, Atelier S P A C E, since 2017, and in that time I’ve personally ventured to try to get people talking in popup salons in Bangkok, KL, Penang, Melakka, HCMC, Hanoi, Phnom Penh, Helsinki, Oulu, Karsamaki, Riga, Warsaw, and now… virtually in Zoom voice call sessions that gather those whose paths I’ve crossed, and now, whom I can interconnect in S P A C E at miniature events online that you can be a part of. See link at the end for registration info[$].


Design Kompany hosts ‘Expat’, Durham NC 2012


The picture above is from my conversation salon, ‘Expat’, back in Durahm right before I hopped over to Viet Nam the next year for a trip that has lasted… ever since. I guess I really wanted to hear how some of us who were in North Carolina were feeling about the insular nature of that state of the United States, and the opt-in style of hosting Open Space forums made it work out that those of us who joined were curious and asking questions like that, individually, and many other things, which emerged, in a natural, organic web of conversational strands that opened us up to new thinking, new possibilities, I feel. I really loved this one.

It got me really thinking hard about how I could take myself out of the United States for a while… again. (I had already lived in Ireland, but not really done much else, at that stage, besides a year of study abroad in Japan but that’s different from being an expatriate.)

What can I say now that I’m here in Phnom Penh, writing this?, except: this existing here wouldn’t have happened were it not for the informal sharings that percolated out of this kind of conversation space, these kinds of celebratory moments when we show up, for the learning. I make this kind of atmosphere: inviting, inclusive, small in scale, semi-public (that is, it’s not a clique. Ever.)

We are co-learning. Together, in S P A C E, a particular style of space that DK’s Atelier S P A C E invites room for. But how does that relate to design?

Let’s play

The point of this, for a design blog, which I promised to focus this site to be more about now, is that the most important part of a design engagement, I feel, is a fantastic dialogue. This has to start with a strong rapport. If you don’t have that, you don’t get much data to go with to build a strong identity or other graphic design or ‘content’ with.

You need to really, truly understand. This art, I feel, is lost these days as people bedazzle their new clients with splashy graphics and videos. I almost went that route, about 15 years ago, but I realized: why? The design is not about frills. It’s about getting the story solid. Designers need to listen, for that.

You need to get better at it, if you’re not good at it, if you want to properly engage with people and make sure that you’re able to hear them. That’s why I focused on conversation salons and popups sometimes, I think. I wanted to get better at conversing. In part for growing myself. But also, so that the work I could do for DK’s clientele could be built from a strong foundation where they could say, ‘I hear you. You hear me. We get each other. Now let’s go play.’ And we do. Reviews of my own approach personally are at my website, dipikakohli.com.


Design Kompany hosts ‘Rooftop Philosophy,’ a series of sessions in Phnom Penh 2016-7

Design is about asking good questions. Even when I was in engineering school, it was about solving for the exact thing, the ‘What is the problem you want to solve?’ question comes before throwing up random ideas. You have to know what the objective is. If it’s to figure out the load on beams for a skyscraper, tell me how tall you want it to be, and we’ll backcalculate for floor height, adjust, and get to the answer. Solving problems is multi-layered but it takes focus. I am super glad I went to engineering school, but I forget sometimes how much the strategic angle to making things happen is the underpainting of DK. I forget that many people think ‘creatives’ have zero idea about how to think rationally. Maybe some people like to be blurry and abstract and forget to make a plan. But I’m not one of them. I like plans. I like to solve problems. Tangible and concrete is my style. Yeah, I realize how much engineering set me up for being able to do this, methodically, step-by-step. Calculate. Solve. I design because I have skills in this.

We frame the ‘what is the problem we are going to try to solve?’ problem, first, then, we work together to collaboratively solve it. With branding, people often gotta get right to basics, and answer, ‘Who am I?’


‘Where in the world are you?’

Worlds come apart when we don’t hear each other, see each other, or learn to seek to understand that which we don’t know. In my own small way, I try to gather us, in these forums, so we can try that, get a taste of it, if we’re new to this kind of experience. Similarly I had held salons in real life in Seattle (Flourish, Gather, Korner, and so many more), as well as Raleigh-Durham (Aether, Hi Tea, Data, MAKE, Scale, The State of Publishing), and other places, too. But listing them out doesn’t really tell you what it feels like to participate. The going out on a limb to see what might be ‘out there’ could, just maybe, reshape your worldview. A backpacker in Bangkok told me something that did that, once. A long-time traveler in a hammock in Kampot, too. There were these people I met in Helsinki at a bar called Semifinal on a magical night of music, they all made me see things anew.


Photo: Dipika Kohli / Atelier S P A C E HCMC, 2021


Pre-covid, I was really talkative, and always meeting new people. Then I was more socially distant, while in Viet Nam (see above pic), where you kinda had to stick to yourself, mostly. In this instance, me and one other person talked about our experiences of Saigon from a foreign perspective. She had spent far more time there. I was kinda circumstantially waylaid (for 20 months, but that’s a different story). I made zines, though, in VN, with a handful of people to co-create them in various formats and sometimes bilingually. What a time of conversation spacemaking: foreign land, foreign language. And yet, it still somehow worked. Many thanks to those who donated to the crowdfunding campaign #spacethezine in 2020 for #newcuizines and #bookoffeelings. The first batch of funds raised was about USD600, and then, USD800. I shared these funds with teammates in Saigon who helped me to go through that unique experience. After fundraising, there were several whom I commissioned to make original poems and photos for S P A C E. Some agreed to let me pay them, but others were too shy to take money for their help with, oh, say, checking over any Vietnamese I tried to put into the zines, or listening to me share some observations to check in with them, Is this right? Am I seeing it correctly? Most of the time there was a flash of understanding and a secretive, Yes but we cannot say that out loud. Or, no, not all people think that way. Why do you think that? Calling me out on Western ‘certainty.’ In time, I segued to wu wei. All in all, we did the seasons of S P A C E zines, and the one that I recall most from the first year was the issue Paper Flowers (Dalat), and after that, so many zines got made, weekly.

Talkative, yes, before covid. Now, less so. But I think the fact remains that my talent is in getting us talking. Either 1:1, 1:0, or N:N.

With this, I can continue to gather us, curate these conversation spaces and design their themes. Then I can invite you. We can then enjoy in what I feel can be a simple but powerful tool: making space, making time. To show up, together, to hear, speak, and learn how to get better at engaging in listening. Actively, not insistively: that’s not listening. That’s people talking at each other. I feel the days when this was ‘normal’ are kinda over. We need people who are more careful, more sensitive to others, and more kind. That’s my opinion.

‘A World Apart’ is the next event.

This is the link to the registration page [$]: