Stina Jonsson

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 programme.


Did you consider any other schools or did you only apply for UID?

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 doing?

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 media consumption.


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 students.


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 with.


Are the contacts from your time at UID important for your professional life?

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 work process.

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 disciplines).


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 school.


Where do you picture yourself in five-ten years?

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 psychology?

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 combination.


Stina Jonsson was interviewed by Ingrid Söderbergh, Ayse Gökce Bor and Elinn Bolonassos in August 2011.

Stina Jonsson