Stina Jonson first studied Industrial Design
Introduction and then the MA programme in Interaction
design at UID. She graduated in 2008. Originally she comes from
Skellefteå, about 140 km from Umeå. Stina was one of very few
people who had to travel south to get to UID. Now she is working
for one of the biggest design firms in the world, IDEO.
What is your academic background?
I have a Masters in behavioural science from Umeå
University (included psychology as a major and social
psychology, philosophy and statistics as minors). I spent one of
the four years as an exchange student in Würzburg at the Julius-Maximilians-Universität studying
psychology, philosophy and German. I lived in a dorm the final year
after retuning from Germany and one of my dorm mates, Imon, studied
at the design school and that is basically how I got introduced to
the school and the programs.
While I was contemplating pursuing a PhD in psychology, I
though I would apply to the one-year course Industrial Design
Introduction (it would give me more time to think about my
future). I got in and loved it. During the intro year I created a
portfolio with which I applied to the MA Interaction Design
Did you consider any other schools or did you only apply
I only applied to UID. I remember that before I studied
psychology I read about UID, but you had to have like a portfolio,
and I did not even know what that was, so it was kind of out of the
question. And then at IDI you got a couple of really simple tasks,
I don't know what it is like now, but then it was like "draw a milk
carton" and "make a collage", really simple things, and then there
might have been an interview as well. I could not have gone
straight to the Interaction programme because I did not have
anything to apply with, so…
Since you left Umeå, what have you been
I have been at the same place for three years. I got a
job, actually while I was doing my degree work, I got interviewed
and got a job at IDEO in Chicago, a design and innovation
consultancy. We work with everything, from really small things like
apps, to, like right now I am working on a medical project, like an
OR equipment. I applied for an internship, because the thing was I
hadn't had any work experience, because I came straight from my
psychology studies. A lot of the other students were like graphic
designers or HCI, they had a more similar experience before, and
some of them had also worked already and I hadn't so I applied for
an internship but then they (IDEO) said well you are finished so
they offered me a job.
I was lucky enough to graduate pre economic crisis.
Everybody I studied with got a job, and then the economy tanked so
the next batch had it a lot harder.
Since starting working, I have had the chance to work on a
wide rage of projects including telecommunications, public
transportation solutions, medical equipment, financial services and
Is what you do now what you dreamed of doing?
Kind of yeah, it is weird, I mean now I know that what I
do, where I am, is one of the bigger firms, it is pretty well-known
within interaction design at least, but I had never heard of it
before I started here. And also when I started the interaction
programme, I mean I did not know anything, I hadn't opened
Illustrator or Photoshop, let alone like Flash or anything else -
it was a lot of things to learn!
What was the most difficult thing to adapt to when you
came to UID?
I think I had the human centered thinking from my
psychology studies already. It was more the technical
skills like programming and all the software I needed to learn, and
I did not have any visual training prior to starting at UID. But it
is pretty easy to get help here, from teachers as well as fellow
Do you think it would be beneficial to work together with
students from other fields during the UID education?
That is a difficult question. People at UID have a similar
way of working so working with APD or Transportation is great. Up
at the university they have another way of working which can be
more theoretical. I think it would be hard to merge the worlds, but
I guess there are some programmes that could be interesting to work
Are the contacts from your time at UID important for your
I think so. It is funny because at IDEO there are a lot of
people from UID, especially from the Interaction programme. There
are some in Boston, a couple in the west coast, one in London, some
in Shanghai I think. It is kind of a joke that we are taking over
IDEO; soon we'll have one in every office.
Which aspects of your education at UID have been most
useful for what you are currently doing?
All of it. The process of work is very similar at IDEO. It
was very easy for me to just start working since I was used to that
I love the fact that we had the chance to go through
multiple projects from beginning to end. It really prepared me for
what I was in for. No part of the process was completely foreign to
me once I started working. I'm always expected to pitch in with
most things even if someone else has the responsibility for that
part of the process. When I'm responsible for something, others
pitch in to help me. As I alluded to before, I found it extremely
useful to have the experience of working with others (IxD and other
What do you miss most from UID?
At UID it is a very special kind of living: You work here,
you eat here, you party here. I liked it - it was good times. It
was easy to talk to people and you could approach the teachers
directly. We were a good group too, and we shared - you hear about
other schools where they are much more protective of their work,
they don't want to show you what they are working on. At UID it is
more open, and people share and help each other. You learn a lot
from other students, even though you may not realise it during the
education. It is good that the teachers are so easy-going but at
the same time you kind of crave more structure, but then when you
go away you kind of realize how good it was. In other schools it
seems so much more formal, the lecturers are not questioned, while
here at UID you question things, and people are more willing to
change things, and we could steer things the way we wanted. I don't
think that is always possible in other schools.
Two projects stand out to me; the ethnographic project at
the end of the first year and the project where we collaborated
with the APD students. Those projects weren't a 'walk in the park',
quite the opposite many times. But I would say that I learned the
most from them.
Good advice for new students
Do your own thing, do not work too much, and make the best
out of everything.
When we interview people from UID they are really good at
talking about their projects and processes. Students who have a
shiny thing at the end but cannot explain why and how they ended up
with it, rarely get far in the interview process.
Have 'fika' and get to know people, get feedback from your
peers, practice talking about your design decisions and your
design. Force yourself to externalize your thoughts. Verbal skills
are extremely important both for working in teams but also applying
for jobs in the interview process.
Use the time at UID to learn and figure out your focus.
Then develop your skill in that focus.
In the beginning I felt I should learn this and I should
learn that, and towards the end I realised that I really like
video. I felt like if I make a video to tell a story then it turns
out the way I want it, whereas when I draw I have an image and I
draw and then it's not what I intended. If I had realised this
earlier I would have focused more on that, and become really good
at that. It is about finding your own couple of tools, feeling that
you can work with the other tools also, but find the ones you want
to focus on. This also detemins what you will do later. If you
become really good at programming, that is what you will be doing
later. It is a way of profiling yourself. Now I use video mostly to
tell a story at the end, like a scenario.
Is it different to work when you have the budget and the
time to really do a good job?
When we are working with a project we really don't care
that much about the budget - we always have money to buy the things
we need. It is more the time factor and that is obviously also a
budget issue, since they paid for ten weeks or three months or
whatever. You always want to do as much as you can but then you
only have maybe ten weeks and you have to be realistic too. But it
feels like you get a lot more done at work than you did here at
Where do you picture yourself in five-ten
I don't know, maybe in Europe somewhere. We have offices
in Europe so that is a possibility. I have worked in the Unites
States for three years now, and my parents want me to be, if not in
Sweden, at least somewhere they can drive to. I love my work so I
see myself doing something similar. You always learn new things,
subjects; it is a challenge every time.
Do you have use of your background in
I think so. Maybe not explicitly but it is really helpful
because you know how people think and behave. In some projects it
helps more than in others, of course. It is a good
Stina Jonsson was interviewed by Ingrid Söderbergh, Ayse
Gökce Bor and Elinn Bolonassos in August 2011.