I want to share an early brand identity design project from our archives, this one’s from 2010.
A brand identity design project that began like this. A query came in by email. From Seattle. We had already moved to the East Coast, but barely, and this blog was optimized at the time for search for Seattle branding. This was swell before everyone in the universe had a blog or microblog, and way, wayyyy before instagram. I think MySpace was going on, back then. So if you were in Seattle or nearabouts, and seeking designers who specialized in branding, then, yeah. We popped up.
Taking the call in Durham NC, we got to talking about it. The identity, the feeling, the vibe. The concept. I park for a while on Concept, when I’m leading a project, and this one was me on the creative lead, for sure. Because of stylistics: the image, the emotion, all of that, pointed to the aesthetic of a past version of DK. One that liked to play with… paint.
I did this. I played around with paint. Brushstrokes, lettering. It was good.
Design and identity design
So what happened was that I got to the studio, of ours, in Durham, and we set thing sup a little differently. Instead of using the computers so much, we started cutting papers, collaging, I even tried a quilling technique, to see what might emerge. Play. Again, play. I see that now in all our past works.
In the end, I lettered the name of the cafe with a thick brush, going out of my usual style of using a pen, or line art, or vectors. The feeling that the cafe was going for, and this was well before it was starting, I think it was under construction when we were calling at that time, well yeah.
Anyway, it was not the usual style of DK’s (our usual style is often described as ‘clean, modern.’) It was something else. A different mood. Still, the idea of a design brief is to outline that so well that you can make it work out, even if that means researching and learning more and studying and trying things. We love trying things. So this was a chance.
I heard that the Row House Cafe has since closed, but it was an interesting challenge, for sure.
It reminds me a little bit of the time we did the brand identity for a new restaurant in Ireland, will have to fish out those files now, too, from the archives…
One of the first gigs we had at Design Kompany was for the rebrand of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce, back in 2006. CHCC, according to this neighborhood website, has since closed.
Akira Morita took the lead for DK on this design, working with me on it, and through that process, discovering as we went, with our clients, what the goal would be for the image-making. In other words, its concept.
Concepting well means a lot of talking. About why.
And that’s not always easy, especially when a group is just forming.
Being based in Seattle, the ‘how we go about this’ was heavily influenced, naturally, by agile methods. You try, you test, you see, you rework. We started sketching a lot, presenting in pencil, not overworking or over designing, and continuing to develop ideas until something was feeling right—and not just for one or two people, we all know what I’m talking about here, but the collective group. The whole.
Timing is everything, sometimes. We were there, in Seattle, after Ireland, at that exact time when the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce was just getting started. Just. Like. Us. DK had a new office, a storefront one, and right up the street from us, a few blocks over, in the same neighborhood, was the CHCC.
Our office on E. Olive Way was base for DK for about a year, which was very visible on its streetfront, and, as such, quite easy for people to discover us.
Then we moved to our apartment, and later, up the hill, past 15th, a few blocks down from WET and Fuel. Many en evening would I spend at the Washington Ensemble Theater. Perhaps another indication that one day, I’d be writing mini plays and springing them on people in unexpected cafe, restaurants, eaters, and other people’s literary events. Anyway, after Olive Way and the other place and some other stuff that took place in between, DK shifted to a house by a park with a tennis court and playground.
We called it Kornerhaus.
There, we kept our PLAY going.
The spaces where we most got a kick out of gathering with our clients also worked well for making parties.
Sugar, Pop, Dazzle, Flourish, and Gather, to name a few. (Some people who are reading this blog may recall it…)
Yes, we’re still DK.
Yes we’re still at it.
Making things, not always design the way we used to design, because that was then, and this is now. It’s experiences that we are specifying bounds and briefs for now, experiences for people to gather and share. Meaningfully, not trivially. At least, that’s what it was from 2013-2019. Next is next.
Content matters, to us. Much more than ‘logos’ or ‘looks.’ It’s getting people together, still, mixing it up if we can. Importantly, as always, in ways that invite the new and curious, which precipitates that magic thing of self-discovery, too, along the way.
Designs, and even life decisions, from these openings, somehow make themselves.
Six years in Capitol Hill… intriguing to see how much the place changed, in our journey there, with it.
Looking around on the web, it’s cool to see that the CHCC had used our design right up until the end of their days, more than a decade after we created it.
I like that.
Progression and playfulness with the ideas… looking back, I see it’s a common thread, with our design works. We want to always leave room for interpretation, so the in-house designers can play with an idea, too, make it a little bit their own, and breathe new life into it, when the time calls for that.
Shifting, poetically but also purposefully.
Like any relationship, things change.
But how you allow for growth–that’s the key to sticking-with-it-ness.
All of that…
The beginning was a fun thing. I remember it.
This design came into being. A concept…
A brand identity scheme, with colors, and this logo…
The year after Akira and I finalized it, handing off the CD with final files (yes, I said ‘CD’), I went by to see how things were going. Smalltalk and the like. They were happy with it. Like many other designs that came after, people were responding. Clients smiled. People enjoyed the connexion. And the image–the connexion-making start point–made it begin to begin. Relationships, after all, have to start from something.
We soon started getting known a little bit around Seattle, I think. Mostly for our ‘clean, modern’ design style (winning new gigs, mostly for architects, after that).
Here are the business cards (photo by Victor Ng):
Was… one ending, for a chapter, for us.
On this blog, back in the late 2000s and for some time after, I used to go through and write down all of everything that we did for everyone. A whole bunch of text, yeah, you thought this was long. And pictures.
A bunch of, say, process pictures, or the mood boards we made, even in-progress pictures. I blogged it all.
Reason is, I think, because I value transparency. Showing the process. And encouraging conversation, throughout. Even with people on the sidelines, or just watching, or walking by our office to peek through the window, to say, ‘What’s that?’
Maybe the chance encounter will invite a fascinating insight.
You just never know.
I continue to invite and connect people, to our programs, projects, and real life salons, to this very day, wherever I am. Reflecting. Hm.
Now, I wanted to push the envelope.
So that’s why, in February 2020, DK is opening again for graphic design and communication design commissions.
Remote. In person ( I can tell you where we’ll be)…
Meantime, since then, we’ve been changing and growing quite a lot. But, while iterating, DK’s core team of Akira and me, along with a handful of coming-and-going teammates and a small circle of collaborators, continue to make headway by discovering, together. Usually by making up projects, and testing them out. In the field. In real life. It’s so great.
Doing this is our work.
Both of ours, separately, as well as here at DK, together.
Spacemaking for discovery.
In different fields, with different people, and amongst different palettes, backgrounds, storytelling styles, and with new people, too. It’s always evolving, around here.
To keep in touch to find out more, join our mailing list. The mailing list for 2020 is called, ‘New chapters.’
The Seattle community paper, Northwest Asian Weekly, is still using our rebrand all this time later. I’m updating our portfolio here to reflect the highlights of our past work in design, and communications, and so, wanted to post about it here.
How we rebranded a 25-year old paper
Everyone. editors, copyeditors, publisher, designers, other staff, occasionally those passing by, and DK worked together to come up with a fresh update, a new template set, typeface selections… the works.
Concepting took a good effort, but it was important, for us, to get the story first. So we sat. And talked. For several sessions, just setting things up so the real talking could begin. In this way, we could do what all designers love to do when they are writing their own creative brief: be present, listen, and make sure you hear everyone. Goal, for DK, then, was to gather inputs from the full team at NWAW.
But it started with the whole big metaphysical question, 25 years after you got started, ‘Who are you now?’
A box over the i, which you can see accented in the design for the masthead, was inspired by the answer we found, together, through dialogues at a round table. Which was, ‘A window to the world.’
Will need to find the better resolution files from our redesign process, but I’m terribly disorganized with old old files, as most people are, and it’s fine, but why I bring this up is because I do recall the file I placed onto the CD of files I had delivered when this project ended, which was, ‘Brand Story: A living document.’ A word file, meant to be something that future editors and designers could visit, and reshape, as time moved on and needs changed. These things happen. It’s inevitable. But a good design leaves space for that… leaves room to grow, and change. To me.
Writing & Publishing
Since I personally love community journalism, I was hawpy to be part of this project, and lead the effort to shift over to a modern, clean design from the original style.
In 2013, When DK got set up in Cambodia, I began to write for the paper, too. I sent in this column, ‘The Village Report,’ to the NWAW. It was easy to think of the idea, given what DK had gathered about what the aim, vision, story, and idea was for the redesign. ‘Window to the world.’ Made sense. It fit. It worked.
Naming, brand identity design, and showing up to make space—quality space—for the process of people who want to discover somethign new, together, is what we did for NUK Cafe. This was 2014. DK had just opened up our doors in Phnom Penh for business, and this was our first gig.
Since then, five years’ experience of living and learning here in Phnom Penh has given us a chance to flex our creative and intellectual muscles. We’ve gotten into very different kinds of projects, since moving away from typical brand identity deign. Still, I think it’s important to share the jo gurney, and how we got to where we are from where we stated. This post is part of a series of updates to our portfolio.
Discovery, networking, change, and reinvention has led us through a wide set of experiences.
Journeys that, for better or worse, taught us some important lessons. I’ll just leave it at that. It’s a long story.
A new DK portfolio
Really enjoyed the NUK project.
Sharing as I go, now, since DK’s going to open again for design commissions from February 2020. That’s a lot of stuff to anticipate, for DK, but the short story is this. We’ve done things, we’ve been places. We’ve learned. We have more to do.
The work is the work, not the pretty pixels you see at the end of hte design process. If learning by doing and seeing how we get from a blank page and zero idea of what to do towards the finished things, which almost always are a 100% co-created set of designs (yes, we hand you pencils sometimes, and get to work together!), then yeah. Get in touch. This is the place to do that.
We’re really only interested in working with business owners who have 5+ years’ experience. For those interested in solopreneurship or personal branding, perhaps try our 8-week workshop, The Mirror, instead of our heavy-hitting journey of brand identity design for DK (which is also waaaayyy more expensive.) It’s not for everyone. (Still, there are 1 out of every 100 people who ‘get’ us, our approach, and see that there’s value in doing it right the first time, even if that means going through the hard question-asking series of things that we will ask of our clients. Apply to be a part of DK’s brand identity design programs from February. Apply here.)
The original post about the story of how we came to make this design for a cafe in Phnom Penh back in 2014, is below.
Phnom Penh. DK had just arrived to Cambodia.
‘Never imagined we’d stay five years:’ DK.
Emergence, innovation, change: Inventing as we go
Design. Making meaning out of vague and abstract collections of thought. Streamling and clarifying…
Things have evolved for them quite a bit at NUK, I think they’ve moved on from our original design, but the ‘N’ is still there on the cups that DK’s Dipika Kohli drew.
Which is this:
I really like this story. Of how you start with ‘…’ and get to this design. It’s not a straight line. The creative process moves around and changes a lot, in the middle. It’s how it goes. It’s how we learn, and how we grow, too. Since DK had been doing branding work for more than a decade, it wasn’t hard. (These days we’re not doing branding work, by the way. More consulting. More experiential programs. Like these.)
Of DK’s founders hitting the road in 2013, going in search of ‘I don’t know what it even is yet’, and discovering the first team in Phnom Penh to give DK an open hand to design the way we know how to design. By asking questions. Listening. Learning. Gathering. Percolating. Generally: trusting the process. Why not? It’s worked for us for so many clients in the past.
This week, we finished the issue S P A C E | Kuala Lumpur, ‘Project Epicurus.’
Releasing it today.
It’s a pretty cool collaboration between London-based artist-author-poet Ilyas Kassam, and DK’s BOSS + Dipika Kohli.
Cover art is a painting by Kassam.
Learn more about how we found our way to co-creating an unexpected piece, which began with a chat window, an hour of complete quiet, monsoon rains, and the start of this issue’s jointly made poem, ‘Ionic Jazz.’ Get it in this issue.
In the 2000s DK got to go to a lot of gigs, since we were based at that time in Capitol Hill, amongst all the buzz and arts and nightlife of this bustling neighborhood in Seattle.
One of my favorite venues was the Baltic Room. In the 2010s thanks to TH, an architect, DK got to rebrand that nightclub.
‘Design is making meaning’
Cool to see that they are still using our design….
T., after all, had referred us. She had been one of our first clients. A combination of: a shared aesthetic appreciation of the beauty of chance encounters, plus a common love of jazz (which is after all improvisation in space on the spot), was what led to us meeting T in the first place. ‘I’ve been looking for you,’ T had said. ‘To do the design for my new company. When I break out to do my own company, you’re my designers: I just know.’
‘And that’s how a thing starts, sometimes.’
The Baltic Room rebrand was cool. Was fun to be a part of the process of seeing things update, and guiding the identity redesign by the usual process of ours. We just ask a lot of questions, at the start. It’s like 90% of the whole design project is happening at he start. You have to have that thrashing period so everyone can get the point where they can be honest and say what they really want to say instead of trying to please someone else at the table.
Somewhere along the way there’s a harmony that you can find… I guess design is like music in that regard, too… it just comes into shape on the spot when the mood is right and the people are in the spirit of being ‘on,’ intellectually and creatively, to do the jam, together.
I want to give people a chance to think clearly and long-term, so they don’t have to redo everything later.
Thought of it for two reasons this week.
One: I’m working on a few more issues of S P A C E to round out our Autumn 2019 collection, which includes stuff from the Baltic States visit , and
Two: I always liked electronica but I kind of can’t get over this:
Found something really cool today at the website ThirdCultureDesign.blogspot.com, by self-identified ‘Third Culture Kid,’ or TCK, Gerrit J. Hoppe. I think it was about 2011, if I’m reading and understanding correctly, which is interesting. Why is this old, underpopulated site, coming up on page one of a search about ‘cross cultural design?’ Hmmmmmm.
Oh! But this is the thing. Identity, right? Identity and culture. Between-ness. And design. And uncertainty. And knowing that you have to trust the process. And being okay with more than one answer existing at the same time, even if those answers cancel each other out. This is no-brainer stuff for people who are international… people who cross cultures all the time, and that doesn’t mean just nation-boundaries (who needs those?), but other ones. The way we grow up. What a certain word means to us. Whether or not we believe that orange and chocolate are a classic combination or not and if we don’t we can argue about it for hours and hours if we are the type to do that, TCK-type types, I mean.
That’s a side thing.
An inside joke, thing.
Hrm. Should I be writing inside jokes into serious blog posts about culture, identity, politics, resp0nsibility, ethics, and design?
[Long story deleted]
Focus, focus, focus
I am writing, again, behind the scenes. In protected-page posts. About design. Culture. The open road, uncertainty, trusting the process. And much, much more. It is a journey of change and discovery, it is an important time of learning and reflection. Especially given all that is developing and unfolding in a world that doesn’t know how to cross cultures intelligently.
I think some are uniquely positioned to write, share and publish about the how of this. About noticing. About listening. About engaging. And I want to find those people. And interview them. And write more, and make a podcast, “S” is for Sincerity, is the working title. I really need to do this work but I don’t know how this is going to actually happen, given that it takes hours and hours of time, and like the article I was talking about (link, coming up) before going into this long-winded side story says, you have to immerse to get into a space, place, and moment to really say something worthwhile. Am I there, yet, by now, to be the interviewer? I don’t know. I want to try to keep learning, but it’s also important to hit ‘go’ sometimes, before we’re even ready, because, you know, Greenland is melting.
What design can learn from crossing cultures
“The term cross-cultural design has become popular lately. Nobody designs in a vacuum, and we rarely design for people in the same life situation as ours. These days, it’s almost effortless to talk to and work with people all over the world. This is a fantastic development, and I think it’s really helped broaden people’s horizons. As a designer, though, it means we now have an extra set of responsibilities. The term “cross-cultural” implies that designers remain in their home culture and survey others from afar, designing from a distance. This isn’t enough.
I think it’s important to engage in intercultural design instead, in terms of how we think about problems and then act upon them. “Intercultural” implies more immersion and personal engagement.” —Smitha Prasadh
As Prasadh hints, the key element to intercultural design is immersion, but as immersion into a new culture takes up large quantities of time, it has been nearly impossible to accomplish in the past…. Read the full piece here.
Today, when the world is growing ever smaller through the spectacular development of the Internet and the increasingly rapid flow of economic interchange, we find ourselves in a pressing situation whereby, like it or not, our very survival depends on our ability to exchange cultural methodologies on an equivalent basis. To turn toward a stance of national exclusivity, regionalism, or fundamentalism, in which nations become isolated politically, economically, culturally, or religiously could bring about unimaginable dangers on a worldwide scale. If only in that sense, we novelists and other creative individuals must simultaneously broadcast our cultural messages outward and be flexible receptors of what comes to us from abroad. Even as we unwaveringly preserve our own identity, we must exchange that which can be exchanged and understand that which can be mutually understood. Our role is perfectly clear.
—Haruki Murakami,2006, in an introduction to the collected stories Rashomon and others, by Ryunosuke Akutagawa
S P A C E | Singapore, ‘The Prospect of Beauty’ launches today in S P A C E, our crowdfunded, no-ads, member-supported weekly digital zine. Since we’re almost finished with our first 12-issue set, ‘A Philosophy of the Moment,’ it’s a good time to take a pause and try to grasp what the issues have been about. So far: new photography, new poetry, co-created works with people far and near, and the essay style that sometimes bleeds into metaphysical explorations that we like to do with people we know, and know well, in very small circles. It’s a story that really I could elaborate on, but only if the right moment came up, in the right place and time, and if I felt like it. That’s the mood, generally, with these small issues, too. They’re snapshots: captures, in a way, of the way it felt to be there, then, and with the people who happened to pass through our porous boxes of S P A C E. It’s fun, light, and sometimes revelatory. Because when we make space together, we learn more… about ourselves. Funny how that works. But yeah. I like it. I’ll take it. Next series, S P A C E | Spring, 2019, ‘The Book of New Things,’ is now scheduled and the list of what you can expect to see is at this crowdfunding page.
‘What is S P A C E, DK?’
I remember when this was getting going, and people were like, ‘But what IS it?’ And I was like, ‘Who the hell knows at the start of a thing what it’s about? You just have to get a ticket, book that thing, get on the bus, and get going.’
With the help of a stellar and carefully invited editorial and creative team, who co-created with me and through patient meanders into the ‘what it could be’ dimension as well as playful brainstorms in sketches, drafts, and various iterations of a thing that was beginning to become something, a great instance of conception took place. That’s just the creative process, isn’t it? Mucking around until you hit on the ‘a-ha.’ Then, you’re getting started.
Architect friends and I love to talk about this, the charette. Jazzy friends and I share a love for the jam session. Chess players call this ‘the big game.’ Travel companions I spend more time with than others also love the ‘getting lost in order to find center.’ The artist in me loves this exploration and discovery phase. The designer in me is ready to stop that once the concept gets settled, hit the ground, and build a box.
That box is S P A C E.
Inside the box
What’s inside is not something that I need to write down and tell people who don’t know me well. It’s just… not that kind of thing. It’s a party, it’s an invited space, it’s warm, and its goal is to welcome and include those who commit to making time and space to show up. This happens. In real life, in small magic moments, in shared online circles of conversations that move, and occasionally, on the spot, when it feels like becoming a thing. S P A C E is a jam session, in a big way, to design the aesthetic moment.
Not for everyone, of course.
But then, so what?
It is what it is. And that’s it.
‘The Prospect of Beauty’
It’s a very limited edition one, this time. Just for members of S P A C E, and our handful of collaborators in S P A C E, too. This edition was co-created by BOSS and DipikaKohli. This issue is made with great care, and it’s dedicated to my father, Ravinder Kohli. It’s a long story, but we put it down in a poem, ‘Bluely,’ which I think says it all.
INSIDE. ‘Bluely’ puts that long-awaited moment of reconnexion into words better than my other written pieces, I feel. It’s a different way of saying the things that I have said to many people across timezones and who hold vastly different worldviews. In sum: doing what you have to do to be true to who you are. Long story. But… maybe there will be resonance. Maybe you will know what I mean, if you’ve ever had to do something very hard, so very hard that it made you turn away from the people you loved, especially the very person who most taught you to do what your heart called you to do, and who, knowingly or un-, had gone on to inspire you to become an artist. Who showed by example that you can’t sit still, because there’s way more out there to look at, explore, experience, and discover. It’s about that capacity to still stay open, despite gaining in years, to choose to still be curious, to continue to self-develop in order to keep learning new things. And to learn to love learning… And that the going and seeing is a big part of living. And that if you don’t… well.
A NEW ART. Despite the differences, in philosophy and style, and despite five years of stubborn silence, this happened… in Singapore, ‘The Prospect of Beauty.’ Special thanks, too, to the people whose paths we crossed quite by accident, whose counsel and friendly advice then informed the direction this very special issue of S P A C E then took. I would list them here but that might be a little awkward. Then again, people like being acknowledged, right? Maybe I’ll put them in the zine. People don’t know, sometimes, how much their words can really mean. And like Max Planck said, ‘When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.’