Design Thinking Workshop with Dipika Kohli

Dipika Kohli is the co-founder of a small brand marketing studio that’s helped companies in Asia, Europe and the U.S. get to the core of their brand identity. But her expertise in design thinking isn’t the first thing most people ask her about. When potential clients discover that Design Kompany is literally a “mom and pop” studio, run by Kohli and college sweetheart Akira Morita, they’re way more interested in how the couple has managed to balance their personal and professional lives for the better part of 17 years. Kohli says it was easy once they answered one central question: “When we think of our future, what kind of life would be great?” The answer: one where they could share work, marriage and raising their toddler Kush all under one roof. Kohli and Akira use the same model when helping clients find their “unique selling proposition” or “zag” – when it comes to your brand, what kind of legacy would be great? University Career Services, in partnership with UNC’s Campus Y and the Social Innovation Incubator, invited Kohli to host a roundtable discussion on design thinking with current UNC students and alumni.

Design thinking spurs innovative problem solving by first identifying the problem, experimenting with varied solutions, and then analyzing and integrating those solutions.

Kohli demonstrated this process through the structure of her discussion and the presentation of her work she does at Design Kompany, a creative branding studio.

“Inspiration is Everywhere”

Kohli began the workshop by having the student, faculty, and staff participants identify a detail in the room that struck them as interesting. An essential component to design thinking is finding fresh ideas by getting out of your regular space. At Design Kompany, Kohli and Morita often take clients on inspirational trips they like to call “thinking safaris”. Café Driade in Chapel Hill is one of their favorite places to meet with clients and brainstorm about the big picture.

“Wicked Problems”

Kohli’s college degree is in civil engineering. She was supposed to build bridges. Instead Kohli used those problem-solving foundations in her all-angles approach to design. She learned to approach branding as a “wicked problem”. There’s no defined starting point or path to reach a solution and all kinds of external factors can change or affect the outcome. Kohli’s advice on dealing with “wicked problems” was to gather the best data you can and then dive into experimenting with varied solutions.

“Freeform Intentionality”

Kohli emphasized that to engage in design thinking, it is essential to “loosen up” and scrap any notion of sticking to one, detailed plan.

“Eighty-five percent of the design process is let’s do this, let’s try that. Only after this process do you start making conclusions and asking, ‘When do I button down and start making things?’”

Even during the event, Kohli embraced this concept by letting discussion and participant feedback guide the agenda.

“Creation Through Varied Integration”

Workshop participants got a behind-the-scenes peek at Kohli’s design thinking process. She distributed project folders among small groups to give them a better idea of how a brand image evolves. At Design Kompany, Kohli and Morita create notebooks of doodles, magazine clippings, lists of keywords and graphic designs to get to what she calls the “a-ha moment” revealing a brand’s essence. Kohli suggested using a mood board to categorize and test the cohesiveness of these different muses.

For example, Kohli created a business card for a client who wanted to make a memorable first impression. She said she was inspired to make the card out of heavier paper when thinking about the business card showdown scene from American Psycho.

Kohli’s project folders demonstrated how she identified the problems that hindered a brand from conveying their desired image, deconstructed the problem into individual components, and then experimented with varied solutions for those pieces. She then chose to scrap or fuse these solutions together into one, tangible product: a brand’s logo design. Analyzing and integrating these multifaceted approaches leads to not only a creative solution, but more importantly, to one that carries meaning.

Participants broke into small groups and then offered explanations about why Kohli chose to include certain conceptual materials and how they were represented in the final product. At the conclusion, Kohli asked participants to describe design thinking in their own words.

  1. Design thinking is creation through varied integration
  2. Design thinking is about having a goal, but not one that’s confining
  3. Design thinking is about free form intentionality
  4. Design thinking is a blank canvas filled in piece by piece. The process is invented as you go along
  5. Inspiration is everywhere; anything in the world can inspire

One participant said: “I think this is a valuable skill for anyone to have because the process is about creating innovative solutions. Hearing and then seeing the work of someone who does this every day was an incredible opportunity.”

Curiosity is encouraged!

Check out Kohli’s suggested reading below on the business of selling your brand. You can read more about Kohli’s experience at UNC on Design Kompany’s website If you want to brainstorm with Kohli and Morita in person, you can find them on first Mondays at Geer Street Garden in Durham, where they host a monthly “drink and draw” session.

In addition to her work at Design Kompany, Kohli is also involved in two other ventures – Wavular, a spinoff for her commissioned illustrations and infographic design, and Orangutan Swing, where Kohli hosts roundtables and gatherings for people in creative fields. Kohli is also a former journalist and the author of a four-book series entitled KISMUTH (Hindi for destiny) about accepting loss with grace. You can read more about it at

Integrity Selling for the 21st Century: How to Sell the Way People Want to Buy, by Ron Willingham

Zag: The Number One Strategy of High-Performance Brands, by Marty Neumeier