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Essi Salonen, UX Designer at Fjord

Posted on Dec 22, 2016 by

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Essi Salonen was a visual designer for IDEO before discovering her passion for UX design.

Where do you work and what is your current title?

I currently work as a UX Designer at a service design consultancy Fjord in San Francisco. I also mentor at an online UX school Springboard.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself & your background.

I started my career in branding in the mid 2000’s in Helsinki. After few years in advertising, I realized I wanted to have a bigger and more positive impact with my design work. In order to do that, I moved to London to do my master’s thesis in Communication Design. While there, I worked with IDEO and found my calling in Service Design. After graduating I wanted to work in the UX field and moved to San Francisco to work at startups.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a designer?

I started doing graphic design early on without even realizing it; my mom worked as a graphic designer so I grew up painting and drawing. One of my favorite books was my mom’s font book that was a collection of hundreds of different fonts. Using the book I taught myself to draw fonts by hand to design school disco posters. My first kerning critic was my mom. But it wasn’t until in high school when I decided to become a graphic designer.

What was your first design job? Any interesting stories about how you broke into the field?

I have tried different design fields throughout my career. While still in college, I got a summer job at a comic book publishing company. I did layouts for a Moomins themed children’s activity playbook and learned how to color Moomins. Later on in my career when I decided to transition into UX Design, I posted on Hacker News that I would do pro-bono UX work to get mobile app examples for my portfolio.

Please describe a normal day at your current job. What’s the workflow like? What are your primary responsibilities?

Normal day depends on the type of a project or the phase of the project I am working on. During every project I might be conducting interviews with stakeholders and users, synthesizing the interviews, facilitating workshops with clients, concepting with the team, creating presentations and doing UX design.

Are there any memorable war stories, client interactions or close calls that have taught you something important about how things work?

I’ve learned a lot about both how the industry works, and how it shouldn’t work. At my first job one of my supervisors walked in the office with a baseball bat in his hand. He would stop and hover behind my back to see how the work was going while tapping the bat in his hand. Since it was my first full-time job in the industry I thought that kind of behavior was acceptable. I was very stressed at work and had difficulties sleeping. It wasn’t until in my next job when I realized I had been bullied, and that it actually wasn’t ok.

That experience showed me first hand how much leaders’ behavior affects junior colleagues and that people without emotional intelligence and empathy should not be in leadership positions.

What’s a common mistake you often see entry level designers make? What are some tips to avoid or overcome it?

Not talking about the “Why?”. When presenting work, it is equally important to not only show the work but also talk about why you did what you did, what problem you were solving and what was the outcome of that work.

Any industry sites or blogs you read on a regular basis, or anything else you read for inspiration?

I don’t have a daily reading routine, my hunger for inspiration purely depends on the challenge I’m working on.

There’s something new and amazing coming out every day. What’s something awesome you’ve seen recently that you’re dying to share, or something you’re excited about?

I am an active contemporary dancer so I am interested in the ways people move and interact with technology. Kinesthetic empathy, which means empathizing with people as they move and act, is a field of study I have been exploring lately by giving presentations and workshops about it. Depending on how the future VR and AR experiences will develop, designers probably need to become more movement-savvy.

What advice would you give to someone trying to break into the industry?

Acknowledge the field of design you are passionate about and focus on that. Create a roadmap for yourself to achieve the goals that will get you where you want to be. On a more practical level: When starting anew, go blue sky. It is much harder to be imaginative if you start from a safe solution. Don’t think your work is too precious; create different versions, show it to colleagues/users/friends and ask for feedback early and often. Iterate.

What do you think is the future of your industry?

While a lot of basic day-to-day design work (such as website, and app design) will probably be automated, we still need designers to create user friendly systems and how for example IoT experiences better serve people.

See more of Essi's work at

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