Stories on Creativity: Jaana Beidler
If you happened to own a pair of Nike sneakers during the first decade of the 21st century, the colors and materials were the brainchild of Finnish Jaana Beidler. In her current role as professor at Aalto University, she is set to lead the way in making Finland a forerunner in color and material design.
“I’VE ALWAYS BEEN FORTUNATE and met people along the way who have helped pave the next step. My teacher Helinä Jaakkola saw my knack for drawing and told my mother I should attend a special art class. Later along the line, my art teacher Tuula Totti introduced me to the world of design, which I didn’t even know existed. In my second year at upper secondary school, she spurred me to take the entrance exam for fashion design just for some extra practice. I thought some grand mistake had happened when I was accepted. I went straight on to study fashion design, finishing upper secondary school during my first year of studies.
After graduating, it dawned on me how difficult it was to find employment without work experience, which was disappointing and upsetting. I didn’t really have a clue, yet felt sure of my abilities. At the end of the 80s, I was hired as a design assistant for Finnish sportswear manufacturer Luhta. I had the chance to work with Seija Haapsaari and Riitta Kuparinen, who I still think are the best designers I have ever collaborated with. Together we created some incredible, daring designs, which liberated my thinking. They imparted a visionary sense in me, and I have carried the same spirit of creative experimentation ever since.
Eager for a spot of adventure, a few years later a friend and I decided to travel to South America for 1.5 years. During the trip, I designed a little and wrote fashion articles for a women’s magazine.
On my return to Finland in 1992, the country had been hit hard by a recession and finding a job was a challenge. I remembered Seija and Riitta praising San Francisco and decided to go. After checking out companies based there, I gave one of them, Esprit, a call saying I’d be ready to come over for a job interview. An interview was arranged for the same week and I got the job as a senior apparel designer.
After Esprit, I became the first color and material designer for Patagonia. Patagonia’s environmental commitment gave me an opportunity to redevelop and improve all the materials and color dyes to be environmentally friendly and sustainable. I met other color and material designers at an international conference and realized that this could be an exciting design career. Patagonia taught me about openness; anything you learn, you share with others.”
"My work has taught me to share what I’ve learned."
“I HAVE TWO CHILDREN, and haven’t had trouble combining family life and my career. Patagonia offered a four-month maternity leave and its own nursery. I guess children thought their parents spent the day at daycare upstairs, which they too would attend when they were bigger. Children were welcome to meetings and business trips. On a bad day, I’d go downstairs and play with my kids, which would take the edge off all the corporate craziness.
In 2003, I began working for Nike, which involved collaborating with major sports stars and designing the outfits and footwear for the U.S. 2008 Olympic team. The ultra-light materials developed by my team for track spike running shoes resulted in nine U.S. Olympic medals. I’m proud to have been one of the few women on the Nike Footwear Design Leadership team, which steered and inspired the work of over 300 designers.
However, it wasn’t all plain sailing in the United States. At first, I didn’t speak the language that fluently or grasp the American mentality that cultivates small talk and the word ’please’. At Esprit, I didn’t make any friends for months, because I’d just be giving everyone orders. Luckily in the end a colleague approached me about the issue.
Over the years, I came to learn a great deal about the American way of life, which is marked by a relaxed vibe, positive attitude and drive to give one’s best shot. Initially, I planned to stay for a couple of years, but the years stretched to more than two decades.
I’d come to think that suitable positions just weren’t available for me in Finland, so when a headhunter called me in 2010 explaining that Nokia was interested in my expertise it came as quite a surprise. I wasn’t familiar with materials or manufacturing methods and processes for smartphones, but I had a brilliant team. We decided on phone colors and materials, and took part in development.
I didn’t really know what to make of Nokia’s corporate culture. So far, the companies I’d seen had a compelling vision and drive to be different and the best in the market place, the entire organization understanding the role of design and having enthusiasm and extreme dedication towards innovation. At Nokia in the 2010s, everything had to circulate through focus groups and be justified, reported, sold and assured to management. I soon learned new ways to make an impact. I’m also versed in figures, which is a language widely understood at Nokia.”
"At first, I didn’t make any friends because I’d just
be giving everyone orders."
As a Professor of Color and Material Design, Jaana Beidler gets to share lessons from her practical design experience for names like Nike and Nokia
“I BELIEVE I’M about to set something important in motion at Aalto University. With so little teaching in the field, Finland could be a pioneer in color and material design. I have strong networks and an insider understanding of the field.
Experts are in great demand, as color and material have an inherent ability to connect with people emotionally. Seeing color sparks an immediate reaction, whereas material creates a deep connection through touch. Nowadays, people want to make purchase decisions based on more than just functionality and price – we want to be in love with the products we own. 90 per cent of decisions are actually based on emotions, but rationalized in our minds.
As a professor, my task is to develop the field. My mission is to help young people and encourage them to dream and think big. At the School of Arts, Design and Architecture, I come across incredibly talented students, who have no reason to doubt their abilities. I wasn’t as smart when I was young, so who knows how far they will go.
My term as a professor in Color and Material Design is for five years. I still have my house in Portland, Oregon. I try not to think too far into the future, a couple of years ahead at most. I do have certain dreams and wishes. But right now it’s time to give something back to Finland.”•
1 “My children Emma and Max. They are now hip and happening teenagers, making sure I stay in tune with the times.”
2 “Curiosity and dreaming. Curiosity keeps you hungry for inspiration. If you can dream it, you can make it.”
3 “A sense of adventure. It led me to the U.S., where I had the opportunity to work with the world’s best design teams.”
4 “Color and material mastery. It’s the most important design skill in the 21st century. Successful companies like Nike already
5 “Friends and mentors. Collaboration is the new competition! Sharing knowledge is the only way to create change.”
Profile photos by Maija Astikainen