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Annaleena Hakola spent her childhood in the town of Jurva, at the heart of Finland’s South Ostrobothnia region. She lived next to the Hakola Huonekalu furniture factory, founded by her grandfather in 1963. ‘The whole family grew into entrepreneurship and my father continued to manage the company,’ says Hakola. ‘But I followed my own path, studying graphic, furniture, interior and textile design.’
After completing her upper secondary school studies in visual arts, Hakola studied at the University of Art and Design Helsinki – now part of Aalto University. While Hakola was working on her Master’s studies, the family business was under pressure. It was 2013, and the outlook for manual production of furniture in Finland was bleak. At the same time, Hakola was learning to question things in Aalto’s IDBM (International Design Business Management) minor subject programme.
‘It was at this time that the idea of continuing the family business was born,’ she says. ‘I decided to do things completely differently from the way things were traditionally done in the sector. I realised that I could reinvent the company by applying everything I had learned at Aalto University.’
Under Hakola’s management, the company completely transformed its business model and established an online shop to sell furniture directly to consumers. The company kept its existing name and continued production in Jurva. ‘My studies at Aalto have been very useful in my line of work. The excellent teachers brought international-level knowledge to the courses, which I completely absorbed. I keep returning to the notes I made during my studies,’ she says.
Hakola won the EY Family Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2020, and has now grown the small family business into a successful design company that employs almost 40 people. ‘We want to be pioneers in the field and show that good design, responsibility and profitability go hand in hand. The local dimension is in our family DNA. We are also entering the international market, but sustainability is our first priority,’ says Hakola.
World-class service design
Writing her Master’s thesis at Aalto University’s Department of Design opened Kirsikka Vaajakallio’s eyes to how much service design can benefit different organisations. ‘I studied the use of service design in the development of the personnel experience, and applied design methods to promote the well-being of Palmia’s employees,’ says Vaajakallio, Lead Service Designer and a partner at service-design agency Hellon.
In her doctoral dissertation, Vaajakallio familiarised herself with the use of design games in creative co-design. She was one of the first people in the world to complete a doctorate in service design, and the 100th doctoral candidate at the Aalto University School of Art and Design.
‘My studies opened up excellent opportunities for building a career,’ she says. ’In addition to my doctoral degree, I gained practical experience and created strong networks with public and private companies that I worked closely with while completing my doctoral dissertation.’
Vaajakallio makes use of the results of her doctorate on a daily basis in her work at Hellon. The company has approximately 40 employees in Helsinki and London. A large number of Aalto University graduates in design, engineering and business are also involved. ‘The use of gamification in areas such as organisational change is our core competence and distinguishes us from our competitors. The themes of my Master’s thesis are still highly topical today,’ she says.
Making full use of design in organisational development, Hellon is a pioneer in the field. The award-winning company has customers around the world. ‘It’s easy to work in different teams in any sector, as we were already accustomed to the multidisciplinary approach and internationalisation at the university,’ she says. ‘Seeing the big picture – as well as the hunger and enthusiasm for learning – also stem from my experiences at Aalto.’
Finding a place in film production
Film is Tuukka Vartiainen’s passion, so it was a natural choice for him to choose production studies at the Aalto Department of Film, Television and Scenography (ELO). It’s the only university-level department in Finland offering education in film and scenography.
‘The teachers are some of the best film professionals in the country, and you get to know a large group of amazing people who all share the same goal,’ says Vartiainen. ‘Doing projects partly in your spare time is an essential component of the programme, and assignments are structured so that you can practise failure in a safe way.’
The film industry is currently undergoing a transformation. Viewing is moving from cinemas to homes and mobile devices, as streaming services provide a continuous flow of new films and TV shows. There is plenty of work for experts in the field, with large international productions filmed in Finland, and Finnish productions being filmed abroad. ‘It is the job of film artists to turn passive dreams into an active passion. Art reminds us of the fact that life can be creative,’ says Vartiainen.
Text: Marjukka Puolakka
Celebrate the 150-year-old School of Arts, Design and Architecture with us!
Our academic programmes for creative professions – which began at the Sculpture School in 1871 – have changed shape over the decades. But our studies in these fields have always been geared towards pioneering societal change. This year, Aalto University’s art and design education ranked 6th in the QS World University Rankings.
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