Creative Conversations: Teemu Suviala
Teemu Suviala has worked as Executive Creative Director at brand and design consultancy Collins in New York since 2016, and before that as Creative Director at Wolff Olins. At Collins he was a member of the Collins leadership team, guiding a multidisciplinary group of designers, strategists, technologists, and producers making companies work better for people. In July he will leave New York City for the Bay Area with his family.
In July you'll be moving to California, where you've been appointed a Creative Director at Facebook. What does this mean?
My first job is to find people to work with me, and build a team. There will be other creative directors, and it’s going to be a very collaborative relationship between the different teams building a more open and connected world. I’m looking forward to all the new learning; I consider all work and all life being about constant learning.
Did you always dream of living in New York?
I came here in 2001, right after graduation from Lahti Institute of Design, with a portfolio in my hand, looking for work. The city felt so familiar, cozy and right because of everything I had already pulled from its culture. New York has always been a huge source of inspiration for me whether it was about art, music, or street culture. But it is sometimes good to go away to get more perspective.
In 2014 you joined Wolff Olins and moved permanently to New York. How has NYC inspired your work and your career?
What I have gathered here is some deeper knowledge about human behavior, strategy, and the business side of things. But when it comes to craft, design, visual aspects, and execution, I think I'm now more inspired by things from anywhere, from Helsinki to Japan, and things from any era. New York is a great place where you can put all these influences together, stir them up, and that becomes a truly New York thing.
What do you consider your biggest accomplishments in New York?
Building cultures and platforms so people can create the best work of their lives; building collaborative communities where people feel safe, and they are not afraid to experiment. This is very Scandinavian I think. It is an open and optimistic approach to new opportunities. Also understanding personally that this is something I can do—building something sustainable and resilient. Everything comes down to basics: how people interact, respect each other, trust each other.
How about the biggest challenges?
It has taken some time to understand that American culture is so different from Scandinavian. I never realized before how social democratic values are so embedded in us Scandinavians. Here “leader and follower” culture is still strong sometimes. I’m all for a “leaders and leaders” culture, where you empower your peers to become leaders as well. In that kind of culture everyone can thrive, make decisions, and push the work forward.
Any other important lessons you have learned here?
The American aesthetic and craft is very different from European. The European aesthetic and craft is highly appreciated here, from architecture to textile brands. American creative culture has its own heritage, which is super interesting too, and which I didn't know much about before. It has been very inspiring to meet and learn more about American brand designers, like Pentagram Design, design critics like Steven Heller or MoMa’s senior curator Paola Antonelli, who is redefining the idea of design and pushing the definition toward biology and organic design. Working with tech companies has been educational, too. There is something interesting when these three worlds come together: it combines my design background, business thinking, and technology. And that is something I look forward to at Facebook.
Interview by Liisa Jokinen