SPAN Helsinki: Meet Our Speakers

Learn about the technologists, artists, creatives, and companies excited to share their knowledge at our upcoming design conference

Explore how design and technology shape our everyday lives at #SPAN18, Google’s annual design conference. This year, SPAN ventures to Helsinki, Finland, on 1 November for a full day of talks, workshops, demos, and installations. From urbanism to conversation tech, typography, and environmental design, read about the many perspectives bringing SPAN to life.

Marko Ahtisaari Entrepreneur and Designer

  • Over the past ten years, Ahtisaari was product design lead at Nokia and co-founded two technology companies—Dopplr and Sync Project.
  • He is a professional musician and composer. His band, Construction, is a collaboration with fellow technologist Nadya Peek.
  • Born in Finland, Ahtisaari has lived on three continents, in Helsinki, Dar es Salaam, and New York.
“It’s a very noisy world out there and it’s difficult to cut through. It’s not interesting to do something different just for the sake of being different. You want to do something that is meaningfully better.”
— Marko Ahtisaari, speaking about the Nokia Lumia 920 in a Nokia documentary, 2012

Astrom / Zimmer Studio

  • Astrom / Zimmer is a Zürich-based design studio led by Anthon Astrom and Lukas Zimmer.
  • Since founding Astrom / Zimmer in 2011, their work has received two Swiss Federal Design Awards.
  • Astrom / Zimmer’s Werkbank is a table in the Sitterwerk Art Library—expanding on the ideas of a true free-hand library.
“Perhaps it’s time for the artistic part of creative design practice to get a bigger role, and push for solutions—interfaces, devices—which are blurry, more open-ended.”
— Anthon Astrom, speaking to the Institute of Network Cultures in 2012

Tuuli Sotamaa & Kivi Sotamaa Founders, Ateljé Sotamaa

  • Kivi Sotamaa and Tuuli Sotamaa are the brother and sister team behind Ateljé Sotamaa, a studio that believes architectural environments must appeal to our emotions, and seduce us into exploring new ways of being in the world.
  • The studio is currently planning a walkable, 21st-century community made of custom versions of their Atelier House.
  • Ateljé Sotamaa’s work also includes the award-winning Finnish pavilion at the 2017 Astana world expo, Natura Restaurant, and experiences at the Fazer Visitor Centre.
“Technology will allow architects to offer bespoke solutions much more easily. More people will be able to participate in the design in a meaningful way.”
— Tuuli Sotamaa & Kivi Sotamaa, speaking to Architect’s Newspaper in 2016

Linda Bergroth Designer

  • Bergroth splits her time between Paris and Helsinki, and works in the fields of spatial, product, and set design.

  • She established her studio when she was still a student and has never worked for anyone else.

  • Bergroth is passionate about traveling and small spaces. She dreams of designing a small boutique hotel where she can implement all her ideas and experience

“If I were to point out the differences in the Nordic countries, I would say that the Danish and Swedish tend to have very chic, harmonious interiors. The Finns are not playing it as safe, but like it a bit more creative. Weird isn’t seen as a bad thing.”
— Linda Bergroth, speaking to Vogue in 2017

James Bridle Artist and Writer

“We know more and more about the world, while being less and less able to do anything about it.”
— James Bridle writing in New Dark Age, 2018

Wally Brill Head of Conversation Design Advocacy and Education, Google

  • Brill worked as a DJ on Radio Caroline, a pirate radio station in the North Sea.

  • He spent time as a driver for the mob.

  • Brill’s previous career was as a music producer, where he worked with artists including Henry Badowski, Annabel Lamb, The Sound, Ofra Haza, and Voice Farm.

“We need to accept that the voices we interact with will simply become more and more natural and when driven by AI, surprisingly engaging.”
— Wally Brill, writing in Ubiquitous Voice in 2018

Rosa Tolnov Clausen Textile Designer and Researcher

  • Clausen is a designer and PhD student at the Academy of Design and Crafts in Gothenburg, Sweden.
  • Since she began weaving in 2009, her work has evolved to include a strong social component—where weaving is used as a tool for people to meet, have a break in everyday life, and relate to textiles in interactive and tactile ways.
  • Clausen focuses on Nordic weaving traditions and takes them into a contemporary context—using mediums like polyurethane yarn and spray paint—to explore what happens at the intersection of conceptual projects and traditional techniques.
“I have found that involving people practically in my design process is a way for me to tell stories about textiles and make people relate to woven textile products and their origin.”
— Rosa Tolnov Clausen, describing her work in Fragments Mag, 2015

Stephanie Dinkins Transdisciplinary Artist and Associate Professor, Stony Brook University

“A quest for friendship has turned into a rabbit-hole of questioning and examination of the codification of social, cultural and future histories at the intersection of technology, race, gender and social equity.”
— Stephanie Dinkins describing her work “Conversations with Bina48”

Laura Väinölä Creative Director and Designer, Flora & Laura

  • Väinölä is the creator of Flora & Laura, an artful flower shop bringing magical flower stylings to everything from photoshoots to fashion presentations, window displays, and weddings.

  • She received Design Forum Finland’s Young Designer of the Year award for 2016.

  • Väinölä recently collaborated with director and sound designer Ezra Gould on a unique, nature-inspired installation at New York’s Triangle Arts Association.

“Even though my work is highly visual and involves tangible objects, it is still the idea, story, or perhaps a specific need within a space, that forms the foundation for the work process. These aspects determine the physical outcome of each project.”
— Laura Väinölä, speaking to the Finnish Cultural Institute in 2018

Tonje Værdal Frydenlund Managing Director, Snøhetta Oslo

  • Snøhetta—pronounced [ˈsnøːˌhɛtɑ]—began as a collaborative architectural and landscape workshop in 1987 and has remained true to its trans-disciplinary way of thinking since its inception.
  • The studio’s name was inspired by Dovrefjell—a mountain range in the middle of Norway—where Snøhetta is the highest peak.
  • Their work includes everything from museums, landscapes, and products to reindeer observatories and dollhouses.
“Every project is considered to be unique, independent of size or complexity. The uniqueness is not only based on different contextual situations, but just as much on prevailing conditions defined by society at large.”
— Kjetil Trædal Thorsen, a founding partner at Snøhetta, speaking to Designboom in 2014

Dan Hill Associate Director, Arup

  • Hill is Head of Arup Digital Studio, a multidisciplinary strategic, service, and interaction design team.
  • He started his career working on the urban regeneration of Manchester, and has since worked on city strategy and urban development projects worldwide.
  • Hill is the author of the influential book “Dark Matter & Trojan Horses: A Strategic Design Vocabulary” (Strelka Press, 2012).
“Strategic design work swings from the meta to the matter and back again, oscillating between these two states in order to recalibrate each in response to the other.”
— Dan Hill, Dark Matter & Trojan Horses: A Strategic Design Vocabulary in 2012

Isabelle Olsson Design Director, Google

  • Olsson wanted to become a magician while growing up in Sweden and was influenced by Scandinavian minimalist design from a young age.
  • She was named one of Fast Company’s most creative people in business for 2017 and was selected by Glamour magazine as one of the 35 Women Under 35 Who Are Changing the Tech Industry.
  • Her ultimate goal as a designer is to make people's lives easier and more beautiful.
“You can speculate about the future but somehow it never ends up being what you thought it would be anyway. When you see old futuristic movies, it is kind of laughable.”
— Isabelle Olsson, speaking to Dezeen in 2014

RNDR Studio

  • Based in The Hague, Netherlands, RNDR creates visualizations, coding programs, and creative interactions across different media, ranging from interactive installations to print.
  • Even though RNDR was established in 2017, the studio’s founding members have years of experience as partners, computer scientists, designers, and developers at LUST and LUSTlab.
  • One of the studio’s core projects is OPENRNDR, an open-source framework for creative coding that simplifies writing real-time, audio-visual interactive software.
“Creative coding is approaching computing as a mechanical machine instead of a mathematical formality. A machine that can process data (and what looks like data) with precise and predictable outcomes if operated in the intended way. Creative coding is a necessity in the creation of exciting interactive experiences.”
— RNDR, describing their framework on Medium in 2018

Sanne Schuurman Art Director, Envisions

  • Schuurman co-founded Envisions in 2016 with fellow students— Iwan Pol and Simone Post—from the Design Academy in Eindhoven.
  • She recently led progressive design workshops with students at the Visual College of Art and Design in Vancouver.
  • In collaboration with Envisions and the plastic recycling company ECO-oh, Schuurman is currently working on the development of sustainable composites.
“We focus on process, which doesn’t have to have an end result per se. We believe the research can be as valuable as an end result.”
— Sanne Schuurman, interview in Envisions: Wood In Process Part 3, 2015

Lauri Toikka and Florian Schick Type Designers, Schick Toikka

  • Located in Berlin and Helsinki, Schick Toikka creates high-quality retail fonts and custom typefaces for a wide range of organizations worldwide.

  • In 2018, the foundry published Merged Contours, a retrospective and specimen book featuring nine of their favorite designers, illustrators, and artists.

  • Schick Toikka’s font Saol Text was inspired by eccentric Victorian typefaces from the 19th century.

“What we try to do is build a link between traditional type foundries and typefaces done by amateurs.”
— Lauri Toikka, speaking to Slanted in 2017

Varjo VR/XR product company

  • Based in Helsinki, Varjo creates immersive VR/XR hardware and software—merging real and virtual worlds at human-eye resolution.

  • The company’s Mixed Reality prototype uses two cameras shooting 90 frames per second to create footage that is 40x the capture resolution of comparable technology.

  • Varjo plans to launch the first human-eye resolution VR headset at the end of 2018.

“Looking at what professionals need from VR, you need human-eye resolution.”
— Varjo CEO Urho Konttori, speaking to Upload in 2017

Anni Vartola Architecture Critic, Senior Lecturer, and Bookmonger

“Teaching is definitely one of the best forms of crowdsourcing. I learn from my students more than I can ever teach them.”
— Anni Vartola, Tweet, 2015

Lucas Zanotto Designer and Director

  • Zanotto started his career as a product designer, but ended up directing award-winning TV commercials and branded content, installations, digital builds, and more.

  • His work is analog, modern, and playful at the same time.

  • Zanotto founded the children’s brand YATATOY.

“I still love the area of product design. I love form and ergonomics and colors and shapes.”
— Lucas Zanotto, speaking to Children’s Technology Review in 2017

ARQUOIA Fine art and game design studio

  • ARQUOIA is an artist duo—founded by sculptor Anne-Katrin Altwein and real-time graphics artist Raphael Wolf—dedicated to blurring the lines between technology and art.
  • They believe games are an ideal medium to encounter oneself on a level that lies beyond abstract thinking and human consciousness.
  • The duo’s avant-garde first-person game AENTITY—featured at SPAN 2018—functions more like an art gallery than a game, as it envelopes players in mesmerizing imagery and moods.
“It's a digital art installation that visualizes your acts of watching and trying to understand, letting them become the source of the artwork.”
— Game designer Bennett Foddy, in an AENTITY review on that's not fun, 2018

Dlareme Game Designer

  • Since 2014 dlareme has released five games on itch.ioRain, Compass, Velvet, Ribbon, and Liquorice.
  • Their latest game Liquorice—featured at SPAN 2018—is a first-person interactive synthesizer, musical puzzle, and open-ended mystery.
  • Operating at a hyperreal 70 BPM, Liquorice allows players to explore one-of-a-kind sonic landscapes by listening attentively and reacting to what they hear.
“It's a first-person exploration game where you explore a sonic situation instead of a spatial one. And it sounds gorgeous—turn it up.”
— Game designer Bennett Foddy, in a Liquorice review on that's not fun, 2018