Helsingfors Series X: 7 questions to an IxDer
Let me introduce you to Mikael Leppä. Mikael, is an Industrial Designer with a strong background in IxD. He is «usually living in the fuzzy front end world of both product and service development». He works at LINK Design and Development Oy, in the outskirts of Helsinki.
I met Mikael a few weeks ago, when I had the chance of enjoying an amusing keynote about his findings about Mobile trends in Japan, where he´s been living going back and forward for around 7 years. As it is something that deserves another post, I´ll go straigh ahead to the questions (hey Agus, as you can see questions are growing, they are 7 now ;-).
Juan Leal (J.L.)
Please, give us a short description about yourself.
Mikael Leppä (M.L.)
I´m a Helsinki native from a bilingual family, so switching between languages and to certain extent cultures has always come naturally for me. Life has so far taken me via Rovaniemi and Japan back to Helsinki. My education and work is labeled Industrial Design, but that is a field constantly surprising me with how varied and interesting the work can be.
When did you start working as an IxD?
In university, back around 2000, I was made aware of something called user centered design, and the idea just felt right for me. That’s why I’ve tried to involve user experiences on some level in all the work I’ve done, even when it wasn’t in the brief. The first projects I did professionally were in 2003, while I was still doing MA studies.
We know what are the good things about this job but, what´s the worst thing about what you do?
A lot of the work I do is about finding out user needs and wants for future products or services, both physical and digital, or combined. However, there have been cases where I’ve been asked to do user research to validate already finished products, and been expected to deliver results which are positive towards the manufacturer. That just goes against my whole idea of doing user centered design. Also, a project which had me filming usage situations in an unheated warehouse in November after getting up at 5:30am wasn’t really that much fun either.
Regarding your profession, what are the main differences about what you do here in Finland and the rest of Europe?
I haven’t been employed outside Finland yet, except for a short freelance job for a Japanese company, but I have been doing research and observation work in the Nordic countries and in Japan. My wife being Japanese I get plenty of first hand information on what we Finns are like, though. Maybe one thing would be our desire (not always achieved, of course) to be effective, honest and direct in our professional matters, even to the point of coming off as blunt or rude to someone who’s not used to it.
How do you see the future of this profession?
I think the borders between designing for the physical world and the digital world will become more and more blurred, as products will increasingly need to meet user requirements on both fronts. The need for high standard user experience design, and deep end user knowledge will only increase, as awareness about it spreads. Like ergonomics spread to be an integral part of industrial design in the 70s and 80s.
Tell us about a colleague that did have an impact on you.
Rather than a professional colleague, I think the person who influenced my career the most was my Industrial Design teacher Liisa Hakapää at University of Lapland. She put blurred glasses and various simulated handicaps on us and made us do all the basic stuff we do every day. It was an eye-opener, and that’s when I truly understood we’re all different, and that truly understanding what the end user needs is the core of any design process.
What’s your most valuable reading on your profession?
On the printed front anything by Don Norman or Patrick W. Jordan is a good place to start. However, blogs and news sites (both mainstream and odd) are great sources of ideas and up-to-date information. There are many bookfulls of good material being created and published every day around the Internet, but of course you only rarely find more than a fraction of it.
Kiitos palio, Mikael!
(Btw, we´re celebrating our Nº10 Helsingfors Series 🙂