Hannes Seeberg

Hannes Seeberg graduated from UID in 2007 and is working at Provoke Tallinn since his graduation.


What is your academic background?

In the summer of 2001 I graduated from my high school in Estonia, Tallinn. Between 2001 and 2005 I studied for a BA in Industrial Design at the University of Lapland, Rovaniemi, Finland (300 km north of Umeå, and 8 km south of the Arctic Circle!). 2005 to 2007 I studied at the Advanced Product Design MA programme at Umeå Institute of Design.

I decided to become a designer already at the age of 13. And right from the beginning I had a pretty straightforward vision - to study industrial design abroad. I chose two schools: University of Lapland and Lahti Institute of Design, both among the best Finnish industrial design schools at the time. I chose the first one because I had a good family friend living in Rovaniemi, and the second one because my mentor of that time was a graduate of Lahti. I excluded the University of Arts and Design in Helsinki, because I found the living costs to be too high in Helsinki. In the spring of 2001 I applied only to the University of Lapland, attended the exams and received the letter of acceptance on the same day I graduated from my high school. In case I could not find any financial support for my studies in Finland, I applied to the BA programme Product Design at the Estonian Academy of Arts in Tallinn, but did not get accepted. Luckily, I found a sponsor at the last minute and shortly after that I headed to Finland. Everything from that was just pure hard work...

The first time I heard about Umeå was in 2002, when UID graduate Jonne Harju gave a visualization techniques course. I started to think seriously about UID in 2004, when my Nokia Design colleague Anton Fahlgren, also a UID alumni, talked about Umea and compared it with the Royal College of Art - the school where I wanted so much to have my MA studies at that time. However Anton told me about the high level of student work, study environment, high appreciation by the industry, no tuition fees and the school´s northern location. It sounded like exactly what I needed. So I decided to apply to UID instead and I worked hard to make a great portfolio. I got accepted to UID on the first try.

Since you left Umeå, what have you been doing?

I returned to Estonia the summer 2007 and at the end of that year I co-founded Provoke Tallinn, one of the offices of Finnish strategic innovation and industrial design company Provoke Design.

Why Estonia? Well, already on 2006 I strongly felt the need to return my home country. Not only because I missed my friends and family, but also I was very attracted by the opportunity to be part of bigger changes happening in Estonia - to help Estonia in becoming more competitive in a global context. I also wanted to live in a location that is meaningful for me, but without loosing the opportunity to work with challenging design projects and excellent people. So I started to look for partners with similar mind-sets. In the spring in 2007 I contacted Provoke, because they had a strong image of a successful and different design company. I was also very impressed by how they had managed to successfully convert MBTI personality theory into segmenting consumers and translate that insight into design - I had tried that years before, but no one understood me or the value of that tool. Discussions with Provoke lead to test projects and on late December 2007 Provoke Tallinn was born. From day one, we set out to position ourselves as something different - and international. We focused our services to the earlier phases of development and innovation.

The start of Provoke Tallinn was not easy. Since I had been 6 years abroad, I had to start from zero - learning to understand the market, creating the local network and finding collaboration partners. What made it challenging was the lack of local reference cases and a need to select clients that matched our profile. The economical crisis, which started a bit earlier in Estonia, mixed the card pack even more. But I kept my pencil sharp while doing projects with Provoke Helsinki and Provoke Turku team.

The light at the end of the tunnel slowly appeared in the autumn of 2009, when local entrepreneurs wanted me to map and define new user-centric business opportunities. And more similar requests started to follow. Change: I used the same design tools and methods in a totally different context. "Design as Innovation Driver" as UID´s rector Anna Valtonen calls the new role of design in her doctoral thesis. Those experiences helped Provoke Tallinn to focus its services even further - visionary innovations through Design Thinking and Open Innovation. From that time many interesting projects started to come - from creating big national level strategies (I was a core team member at the Estonian Growth Vision 2018) to defining experiences and services for companies with global ambition. A remarkable project is also visioning and positioning for Velvet Creative Alliance, which is one of the biggest visual communication companies in Estonia.

What is your best memory from your time in Umeå?

There are many good memories, but the greatest feeling that matters to me the most is best friends working hard together 24/7. Consumption of every possible caffeinated product, a lot of willpower and focus to do the best we could in those two years. We did that, because we knew that the industry and talent-hunters were following us.

This matters to me, because I was not alone anymore. I found myself surrounded by global talents with similar or higher ambition towards creating the future we wanted. We all had similar goals, but different backgrounds and skills. We all learned from each other. Shortly said: I was at the right place, doing the right things with the right people. This made my studies at UID very special.

Which aspects of your education at UID have been most useful for what you are currently doing?

Thinking tools, experience in a multi-cultural team, higher understanding of myself and what I am capable of.

The world is crowded by designers who can sketch the perfect circles, model amazing curves and render shiny pixels. But there really aren´t that many designers who fully understand the Design Thinking tools and are capable in using them outside of traditional product-centric context. This is crucial, since the world is changing fast and we are facing many huge problems already today. Thanks to UID´s Advanced Product Design MA-program, lead by Pete Avondoglio in my time, I have had a head start to different thinking tools; how to use them in understanding problems and defining opportunities. Thinking tools and methods are my core competences these days.

When I worked with global talents (at my time there were students from 17 countries + more nationalities), I understood the world better; differences between values, cultures and systems. I also learned how the rest of the world sees Estonia and Estonians. The world is not that black and white... it has many grey tones in between.

Those two years at UID gave me a better picture of myself - what I am good at and which my limits are. I think it´s the most valuable experience and knowledge, since it helps me to ask more from myself and others around me. You´ll know what I mean when you have graduated from UID and see that not everyone is able to do the same as you and are giving up too easily.

Do you have any good advice for new UID students?

Work smarter and focus only on building up the future you want to have. I think that to make the best of out of your UID years, you should consider the following:

1) Know yourself and people around you. What´s your personality type, what are you really good at and what would be your position in a design team? This helps you to understand that you don´t have to be good at everything. Be open to different experiences and communicate with other students, as they will give you understanding of who you are and what you are able to do. If you are aware of your weaknesses, then find students who are better than you - work with them, as it will speed up your development both as a person, designer and thinker.

2) Believe in what you do and always do your best! Follow the time schedule and never make bad quality! This is important, as you never know if the schoolmate next to you might be the same guy in the future who´s opinion is asked whether to hire you or not.

3) Understand the Big Picture. When was the last time you read about the key global forces that will shape our future? Think about possible future scenarios, "What if....?". Read books! Base your projects and ideas on that insight - it will prepare you better to work as a problem solver.

Is what you do now, what you dreamed of doing?

No, because during the design studies my understanding of a designer´s role was strongly limited only to product centric thinking.

Are there any skills that you learned at UID, skills you would be lost without?

The skill to define visionary innovations through profound user insight.

What is it like living in Umeå?

I honestly don´t know as most of the time I worked at the school :)

What was your favourite project while you studied at UID?

The first 10-week project in the Autumn of 2005, which resulted in the SkyLift concept, a patent worth boarding system for small and medium sized airports. The result gave me a lot of confidence in tackling very complex problems.

How did you do in trying to find work after UID? Was your MA from UID an advantage?

I was in contact with UID alumni and companies who have UID alumni working for them. So it is an advantage only if the company understands the value of the UID education and can contact the UID network to ask a reference about the person.

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

Yes! The more time goes on the more I miss working with people who have the same discipline, attitude and educational background. It is much easier to work with UID people because together we spend less effort in "syncing each other", leaving more time and energy to do the actual task.

Did UID prepare you for your professional life?

UID gave me the fundamental understanding of important design tools and thinking methods. The thinking part matters the most as it helps me to continue learning new knowledge.

What do you miss most at UID, and what do you recommend the students really cherish and hold on to while they are here?

Travel to south at least 2 times in a year and be in contact with your dearest friends and family members. This will help you handle the dark arctic winter and the high level of stress.

How do you think the tuition fees for non-EU students will affect UID?

With that decision Swedish education system entered into a highly competitive market and we can already see the direct results: less applicants from globally important markets like USA, China, Brazil, India, Mexico and Russia. This will result in less cultural variety and the school will become local. Students who pay the tuition fees will demand a lot more for their money and in order to respond to that UID has to change the same features that made it globally strong and unique.

Hannes was interviewed in March 2011