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
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
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
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
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
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
Are there any skills that you learned at UID, skills you would
be lost without?
The skill to define visionary innovations through profound user
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
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
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