Home Visit: Lotta Nieminen on Quality Design and Fostering Your Creative Vision


Lotta Nieminen has helped shape the visual identities of some of the most innovative brands in the world. Naturally, her refined eye has also translated beyond her profession. With a penchant for bold colors and classically cool staples, Lotta's aesthetics have reached her wardrobe and just about every aspect of her gorgeous home in Downtown Brooklyn. (Picture plant-adorned corners, an impressive library, and an enviable selection of decorative objects.)

Yet even with a bevy of inspiration and industry resources at her fingertips, Lotta contends that the best creative work happens when she sets foot outside her immediate surroundings. "In an ideal project, there needs to be enough time to explore, try things out, mess things up, and try again," Lotta explained. "That's usually how I get the best results. I think stepping away from the desk is by far the best way to get new ideas and perspective to the work you do."

Moreover, Lotta has made it a point not to wed herself to a particular style, hoping that having an open mind will bring opportunities to flex more creative muscles.

— Rachel Schwartzmann


Who are you outside of your profession, what do you enjoy, and what do you value in life?
My name is Lotta Nieminen, and I'm a graphic designer, art director, and illustrator. I've been running my own company for the past six years. I love that it gives me the flexibility of wearing multiple hats and alternating between disciplines—it keeps things interesting and the work ever-evolving. I like when I get to execute assignments through the medium I think will generate the best result rather than be confined to a very set role. I have occasional interns or freelancers, and I collaborate with people across disciplines, but at its core, this studio is a one-woman show.

I have lived and worked in New York for almost eight years, but I'm originally from Helsinki, Finland, and I usually go back a few times a year. I think it's hard to imagine that the places you live in wouldn't have any effect on the work you do. I'm too close to the work I do to fully determine what parts of my aesthetic are part of having grown up in Finland and which are a product of having lived and worked in New York for the past eight, but I know both manifest themselves in the way I think and the things I do.

My mom is a fine artist, her mother is a painter, and my dad is in classical music. Visual arts and music were always very present growing up, although I don't feel like it was ever forced upon my sisters or me. We did all end up in creative careers (one of my sisters works as a fashion designer in Paris, the other studies musicology in Berlin), so maybe we were just so skillfully brainwashed that we don't even know it! As kids, me and my sister would always rush home from school and could sit at our little desk drawing in full silence for hours—I think we were encouraged to draw mostly so we'd be quiet every once in a while.

I value meaningful connections, and even when I'm busy, I try to carve out time to meet with friends, call family, or sit down for dinner with my husband. I also try to regularly spend time just by myself, not doing anything in particular.

How would you describe your process? Do you have any unexpected sources of creative inspiration?
As a designer, I work on overarching branding projects, and they're printed as well as digital implementations. As an illustrator, my style is different, and so is my client base. People who would commission me as a designer wouldn't necessarily commission me as an illustrator, and vice versa. I like the change that switching between these different roles and projects brings.

I'm inspired by working in as multidisciplinary a way as I can. Realizing that I could identify as both a graphic designer and an illustrator was a big revelation for me at the time. When I started my graphic design studies, I built my professional identity heavily on being a designer: I thought that you should try to master one thing well instead of hustling around doing a bunch of things with mediocrity.

It wasn't until after my exchange semester at the Rhode Island School of Design that I decided to pursue illustration as an equal part of my professional practice. I realized you could develop multiple visions and voices simultaneously—and not only is it doable, but the different types of work will also feed one another. Progress and development can actually lie in exploring things from another perspective—I think this applies to life in general just as much as work.

Nowadays, my professional identity is much looser: I find it important not to have to be stuck to one specific way of doing. For that reason, my current ambition is finding new ways to look: I would love to get into interior or spatial design. Or maybe try to make a short film? I've found that for me focusing too much on the role I'm given at the beginning of a project instead of a creative way to solve problems can be restricting to a great outcome.

To me, a style is an ever-evolving process. I think finding your own voice is important, but I've tried not to treat it as something that can never change. I think the evolution happens by itself, out of a natural yearning for change and looking for new challenges. One reason designers and illustrators often end up sticking to one style is the fact that you mostly get commissioned and referenced on the work you've already done: the kind of work you have in your portfolio is the kind of work you'll get commissioned to do. Pushing past that can help to attract new types of work: I've found seeking new challenges by working with mediums that are new to me is often a good way to gain a new perspective to the work.

In an ideal project, there needs to be enough time to explore, try things out, mess things up, and try again. That's usually how I get to the best results. I think stepping away from the desk is by far the best way to get new ideas and perspectives to the work you do. We contain many facets in addition to our professional ones, and I think it's important to feed them all. To me, sitting at a computer is not the place to get inspired—it's where you put the inspiration to work. Not seeking any experiences outside of the desk can quickly result in a creative block: when I started out on my own, I was initially taking on way more projects than I was able to actually do and was spending most of my time glued to the desk, overtime driving myself into a burnout. It showed in the work: I noticed it's easier to resort to known patterns and old ideas if all you do is sit at your desk.

When it comes to thinking about your work's long-term impact, does sustainability ever play a role in your approach? What role do you think sustainability plays in the design community overall?
Development in technology has changed design itself, but I hope it's also having an ecological impact. I think unnecessary print does deserve to vanish—for example, more and more people consuming daily news online, as opposed to a printed newspaper, is a good thing from an ecological point of view.

From a design point of view, that means an added emphasis on printed things of quality: if you invest in a physical printed piece, it should be something tactile that you actually want to keep. As a designer, I find that choosing the right stock and printing technique is pretty crucial, considering my relatively bare aesthetic and something I've always enjoyed. I want to design printed pieces that people actually want to keep. I've gotten pretty resourceful and can come up with solutions to make beautiful printed pieces on a more restricted budget too, but if a client wants to print a good design in low quality on flimsy paper just to save money, I will tell them that it's much smarter to not make it at all: an email, e-vite or website will have a greater impact than a printed item that'll get immediately thrown in the trash.

Tell us more about your style as it relates to fashion.
I feel like the way I dress pretty naturally mirrors my aesthetic overall—I always strive to make work that is true to myself and do the same with the way I dress. Like with my work, I don't treat dressing up as something static that should never change. For example, moving to New York introduced more color to the way I dress. My personal style is pretty minimal and polished but fun: I like to mix basics with pops of color, and I like good materials. I feel like I know how to enhance my best qualities with my clothing and dress accordingly.

I know very well what I like and don't like, and I only very rarely purchase anything on a whim: I might go try on a piece of clothing a few times before making the final call. This might also have to do with limited closet space, but I like knowing that I'll love everything I have in my closet. I prefer versatile pieces that look completely different depending on what you wear them with. This allows me to have a closet of fewer pieces but many more outfits to fit different occasions and moods.

How do you think creativity contributes to some of the world's bigger conversations? How do you hope your endeavors play a role in this shift?
I think in the past few years, we've seen strides for more inclusiveness—there's more work to be done, but I think having the conversation is a start. A more diverse representation of gender and race is to everyone's benefit, and giving a platform to people in the industry who have harder access to it is a duty for all designers. Even though it doesn't always show in my work, I enjoy the increased platform that critical design is gaining. It is healthy to question, challenge, and make fun of the industry you're in: it's the only way to break existing structures and evolve as a profession. Even though I love what I do, I don't take graphic design or illustration that seriously.

How would you advise the next generation of artists to leave an imprint in the world—simply by doing what they love?
Be emotionally connected enough to care about the work you do but not so much as to take things too personally. Have confidence in what you do and do it with drive, but don't be scared if you don't have a big, specific goal: you can be driven even without a specific end result in mind. Remember to stay critical and curious in regards to your work, but also remember it's just design.