Read more about what Aino Hanttu has to say
Q1. So if you could begin with telling us a bit about yourself!
“I’m a service designer and a design strategist originally from a small town in Finland called Nokia. It usually surprises people, that my hometown is the origin of the company Nokia.
Coming from a small town I wanted to run out to the world as soon as I could, so at the age of 18 I moved to Lapland to study industrial design, and to do some snowboarding alongside. It wasn’t another country, but over 800km away from home sure felt like it. After my studies, I lived and worked in Spain, US, UK and Southern Finland.”
Q2. What led you to this profession
“I’ve always been into arts, I used to draw all the time as a child and when I got older I did some comics too. I’ve been always curious about new things, which is a good trait for a designer. Originally I wanted to be either an architect or a psychologist, but I wasn’t very good with numbers. At that age, I thought industrial design was almost like a sub category of architecture, so I decided to study product design.
Early on in my studies though, I realised I wasn’t very good at designing physical products. I didn’t have very good ideas - nor the inspiration to take them forward. Around 2008, I stumbled into something called strategic design and service design, and realised it was more my thing. Understanding people and behaviours appealed to me more than ergonomics or the material design of things. I guess I could say in the end I found a profession between psychology and architecture.
How I got into digital design was more of an accident. I was doing a master’s degree in International Design Business Management at the Aalto University in Helsinki and got to know the digital service design agency Fjord through the program, and ended up working there doing interaction and user experience design for mobile apps. My previous work experience had been mainly non-digital when it comes to services and products.
After Fjord, I moved to San Francisco and led the design of a fast growing healthcare start up BetterDoctor, doing everything from branding to user testing and the design of the apps and website. After working so closely with developers I couldn’t go back to a ‘traditional’ design agency so I joined Futurice, which was a consultancy where designers, developers and business designers all worked hand in hand creating services and products with the newest technologies. Nearly three years later, I decided to jump into something new in Madrid in early June 2017. I joined a design agency called id.real.”
Q3. What it’s like being a Service Design Lead at id.real?
“I’ve only recently joined id.real. As an agency, we are building our value proposition, which lives as we grow and evolve as an organisation.
I jumped on board because I’ve always been into immersing digital and physical products and services, and id.real had a small but talented team and knowledge in physical design from which I have parted somewhat myself. I wanted to get a chance to create something wildly new, and at id.real I was given the opportunity to help build a new team and offering.”
Q4. What is the company culture and team dynamic like?
“It’s great. We’re only twelve people currently, but we’re from seven different countries and full of enthusiasm to do something different. The benefit of a small team is that everyone is involved in building the culture from early on, and every new team member brings a new element into the culture and ways of working. For instance, every week one of us prepares a breakfast for the studio which always have a different cultural flair, from Venezuelan food to Italian background music.
Enjoying good food is close to our heart, and we usually have lunch together at our studio. Also, improvised singing/Spotify DJ sessions are part of our studio life.”
Q5. What does the future look like for id.real? How does id.real adapt to new technology?
“We have great talent when it comes to interiors and products, and next we are focusing on building the digital team. Obviously, this means that the interior design, architecture and products will be connected closely to non-digital and digital services - like Internet of Things and smart spaces.
We are what we like to call a 360-degree design agency, and we already have the capabilities to create seamless services, where branding, products, interiors, websites, apps, and service design are designed and developed completely by us.
We believe in a ‘phygital’ future, which combines the physical and digital worlds for an experience that is fully immersive and benefits both end consumers and businesses. Think about retail or hospitality for example, and how data and smart environments could make things more seamless, faster and the physical spaces could adjust to their users, like offices, for example.”
Q6. How do you see the id.real evolving in the next 3 years?
“In general, the Spanish economy has taken big leaps towards a better situation during the past couple of years. It’s visible when walking on the streets: new places everywhere, great atmosphere and new projects starting in every corner. A good sign of this is the Global Service Design Conference landing to Madrid in November. It’s a big thing for the design industry, but also for the Spanish companies - they’ll be at the front line to witness the newest service design and business trends.
For id.real this means that we are at the right place at the right time. Personally, I think now is the time for our type of small and agile agencies that can design and build things from the fuzzy front end to a go-to market products and services. Many companies are starting to collaborate with small agencies, and they are also forming their own pools of top specialists, as they’ve grown tired of big faceless consultant companies. We give personal attention and we can adjust to situations and needs.
Within the next few years our agency will grow and take over projects where phygital specialism is needed - also in the building part. We are dreaming of international projects and offices, but expansion will be planned in the future as we are still consolidating the local market.”
Q7. When we last spoke to you, you were working for Futurice what made you move to id.real?
“I’ve been wanting to move to Spain now for some time. In the past I’ve lived in Valencia and Zaragoza, and I appreciate the quality of life in Spain. Futurice is a great company full of very talented people, and I really enjoyed my time there, however the right opportunity came my way at the right time and I decided to try something new. Going from a 400+ sized company to less than 20 is quite the change, but also full of opportunities.
For me, id.real is a place where everything is possible - and in so many levels. From company culture to the type of projects and clients we work with, it’s all like a book waiting to be written. I especially like to create and build things, I’ve done similar work in my previous jobs; helping to grow the team and clarify the value proposition, build culture and ways of working.
Another major reason for a change of scenery was an opportunity to try something I’ve never done before; becoming a professor. I was offered a position at the IE University in Madrid to teach design at a new Bachelor in Design program, where a new breed of designers of the future will be born. I am very excited about both new gigs.”
So you spoke at our SODA social event on 'The Rise of Service Design' discussing what makes a good Service Designer.
Q8. For those who didn’t make this could you give an overview of the evening?
“I talked about six traits of great service designers, and what their work looks like. To me great service designers make the customer experience happen effortlessly. Being a service designer does not mean you have to master all the tools, just the right ones. It also means that you don’t need to know everything, just know whom you are designing for.
In practice this means that a service designer must be a good people person, enjoy uncertainty and complex problem solving, they should be prepared to not be recognised for experiences they create. Because the best services work like magic and sometimes the end-user doesn’t even realise that someone designed that service, it’s so seamless it’s almost common sense.”
Q9. What is the most important thing we should remember about your presentation?
“Service designers design for the end-user, but they also understand that there are other stakeholders and processes around that end-user. Service designers need to understand the details within the big picture, and can zoom in and out continuously.
People who want to become service designers, should remember that the work is about tackling continuously highly complex problems, and there are rarely wrong or right answers. They might have to work on designing new supermarket services, digitalising hotel services, building an internal training program or redesigning an automotive assembly chain. It’s a lot of professions in one, and the most important thing is to be open to new things, comfortable with uncertainty and enjoy the ride.”
Q10. Where do you go for your creative inspiration?
“When I need creative inspiration, I read. Articles, books, blogs, whatever I can get my hands on. I love reading. I try to read an equal amount of fiction and work related literature. Right now, I’m reading a fictional book by Zadie Smith and a book by Sarah Cain about introverts, recommended by a friend. My problem is that even with fictional books I keep on doing notes because I get ideas for work, which makes me advance very slowly.
My other sources for inspiration are in travel and movies. I travel a lot for work, but also for leisure. Getting to know new cultures and people inspires me a lot. With movies - just like with books - I travel to different worlds where I can’t travel myself. A lot of the technology related topics I like to talk and write about are things I’ve seen on TV and movies. Like West World or Star Trek. I’m a bit nerdy with sci-fi, and it’s one of the reasons why I’m so into immersing design with technology. I want to do stuff that happens in the movies.”
Q11. What’s the biggest challenge in your career to date?
“I’ve had many types of challenges when it comes to work, but the biggest one has definitely been in controlling my own work-life balance. About a year ago I found myself very tired and working a lot of extra hours and it continued all the way until early this year. I’ve had to cut down work-related activities, take a step back and try not to care so much about my projects.
I’ve been learning to say “no” to a lot of things. This has led me to a four-day work week, which I’m happy with. I’ve realised that people like myself, who love their work, tend to just get sucked into it very easily. It’s not easy to try to cut off something you enjoy doing.”
Q12. How influenced are you by current trends?
“I keep an eye on what’s going on. Especially in technology and digital design it’s very important to know what are the newest technologies and what programs designers are using. I don’t necessarily learn them myself, but I need to know the basics and I need to understand what people around me are talking about.
To me a big part of design is purely common sense. Good design is based on observation, research and/or customer needs. I wouldn’t design a virtual reality application just because it’s trendy now. In the past I have had to say to a couple of clients that we’re not designing a mobile app for them because it’s not what they or their customers need. I would rather try to find where their or their customer’s problems are, and try to solve them in other ways. Although we are living in an era of digital transformation, technology isn’t the solution for everything. It’s an enabler.”
Q13. Tell us about some brands you admire. What makes them stand out?
“I’ve always been a massive fan of IKEA; how they’ve created their brand and services. Their advertisement is genius, and the whole service ecosystem they’ve created is amazing. They’ve changed the way people think about going to buy furniture; it used to be a pain in the ass, now people go spend time in the shop. They sit in the living rooms; they have lunch there and parents can even leave their kids at the kid’s corner for 45 minutes. They’ve hit the soft spot of young parents. That wouldn’t be possible without an extremely creative and good team of designers.”
Q14. What would be the next step for you? You know, 5 to 10 years. What would you like to see yourself doing creatively?
“Five to ten years is a long time in this industry! However, a couple of years ago I saw a TED talk by Stefan Sagmeister on the power of time off. I’ve been playing with a thought of taking some time off from designing ever since. Maybe in a few years I’ll make it happen. I’m fascinated by the idea of taking a year off from ‘the normal life’ every few years to recharge the creative batteries.”
Q15. For anyone wanting to work with id.real... What kind of advice would you give them in order to work with you?
“A former colleague gave me some advice I often share with people. He stated, “Hire people who are smarter than you, people you want to learn from. It’s not about seniority, it’s about inspiration and passion,” additionally, I appreciate honesty, a can-do attitude and t-shaped profile in a person working with me. In a company of our size, one needs to be able to change hats depending on the situation and project.”
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