Career paths – alumni stories

School projects are for making mistakes

Graphic Designer Lotta Nieminen is living her dream in New York.

Why did you choose this school?

Two generations of my family have already attended this school, and when I was a teenager I didn't want to follow in anyone's footsteps. However, I was very interested in film directing when I was in high school, so I went to a school info session at a student exhibition. There was a graphic designer at the stand, and I realised that there was a field that combined everything that I had always wanted. Even in film, I was most interested in designing the opening and closing texts.  

What is your relationship to the school today?

I haven't lived in Finland for a few years, but I always visit the school when I get the chance. It's fun to go back and see the teachers, wander through the same corridors and eat at Kipsari. I have also been an external reviewer in some graphic portfolio reviews.

What do your student contacts mean to you?

A lot, because it's important to know other people in the field. I did an exchange at Rhode Island School of Design during my third year, and the contacts I made during that time also made it possible to move to New York in search of work.

What is the most important thing that you learned at the school?

One of the most important I learned is argumentation skills, which I practised in critiques. The debating skills that I perfected in those situations has been very beneficial later on in working life as I justify my choices and opinions to clients.

Describe an interesting project from your student days.

When I returned from my exchange in the United States I was full of energy and the first big school project involved designing the look for a food culture centre. I took that job so seriously that I spent three weeks sitting in the school until late into the night, also on weekends. The final result was a slightly exaggerated collection ranging from tray liners to aprons. After the critique, I was so exhausted that I slept for a week. That project taught me that it's quite al right to focus on quality rather than quantity.

What advantage do you see in Aalto University's multidisciplinary approach in terms of studying and working life?

Nowadays, very few jobs are restricted to a single field, and expanding networks to other fields allows for a completely new way of thinking and new projects. A multidisciplinary approach meant that cooperation with other fields already occurred during our studies, which is beneficial when moving to working life.

What was your thesis work like?

It was a diary-like account of my four years of study: I wrote about the biggest battle or inspiration that I had experienced in each year. Writing the thesis was an educational experience, but as a graphic designer the best part of the project was still doing the layout. I've even used the layout of my thesis for several job applications.

How did your studies help you get to your current position?

The most beneficial part of my studies was definitely the contacts that I made and the extra magazine projects that I worked on as a layout person. They taught me practical skills and also served as good samples of work as soon as I completed my bachelor's degree.

What was your favourite place to spend time?

Kipsari at lunch breaks and after lectures, Kynä & Paperi for coffee breaks.

What kind of tips or messages would you like to give to future Aalto University students?

School projects are for making mistakes: it's worth learning from as many mistakes as possible before you start doing real work for clients.

Lotta Nieminen, Illustrator, Graphic Designer and AD

Travel as much as you can!

The transformation from graduation to working life was a interenting one for Ville Kokkonen, he was working on a future bathroom concept for a Turkish ceramic producer.

Why did you choose this school?

It was, and is, the best design school in Finland. It is also one of the oldest design universities in Europe and is very well-respected internationally. Also, both of my parents attended the same school when they were students.

Are you still in contact with the school?

Yes, I’m still lecturing there once in a while, and I used to teach a few design courses there. And sometimes I’m also involved in student work critique sessions.

Are you still in contact with your fellow students?

Yes, I’m involved with many of them regarding cross-disciplinary work with involvement in many areas, i.e. product design, manufacturing/rapid prototyping, photography, film, textiles, etc. And of course strong friendships outside the work context.

What was the most important thing you learned here?

That must have been the user-centered design approach. This means research methods to apply for strategic design and product concept development.

What was the most interesting project you did?

There were several hands-on short projects with actual clients, from airline passenger user studies to ceramic limited editions. It’s really hard to pick only one.

What subject do you wish you paid more attention to?

How to run a small-scale design practice; I mean from the marketing and business perspective.

What was your graduation project?

It was a future scenario called Utopian Prototypes. I did a study on the visualisations of particular future problematic situations. A methodological approach to futures research and strategic design.

Was the transformation from graduation to working life a smooth one?

For me, yes. Right after university, I was working on a future bathroom concept for a Turkish ceramic producer. This was incredibly fascinating. It was really about working on a diverse cultural landscape – not just the project itself (not to mention Istanbul and all the applied user research in hammams) – but how crucial the aspect of communication was to carry the project forward.

Do you have any fond memories about the city?

Well, it is my home city. I still enjoy Helsinki every day.

What was your favourite place to hang out?

I had many favourite hang-outs in the city; however, during studies it was the school – often 24 hours a day.

Any words of advice for future students at Aalto University?

Travel as much as you can.

Ville Kokkonen, Design director at Artek

Page content by: | Last updated: 02.10.2015.