Starter for 10: Meet Jonna Iljin, Nordcloud’s Head of Design

When people start working with Nordcloud, they generally comment on 2 things. First, how friendly and knowledgeable everyone is. Second, how fast Nordcloud is growing.

This blog series gives you insight into both those elements – the great people and the supercharged growth. In this article, we talk to Jonna Iljin, our new Head of Design, about her first impressions as a Nordcloudian and the cloud-native future.

Q1: First impressions, Jonna: what struck you about your first week at Nordcloud?

If I go back in time and think back to the interviews with different people, what I loved was the dynamic atmosphere and the energy that the people had. There is a very open and informal way of talking and sharing which gave me the confidence in joining.

I was surprised by how easy it has been to reach out to people, and how friendly everyone is. Having all this energy and growth around me has been very welcoming.

Q2: What made you decide to join Nordcloud?

I would say, in simple terms, there were two main ingredients;

The first is the energy of the people, and the second is that, as a team, we are able to impact where we are going from a design angle.

We don’t really know what the finishing line looks like and it is inspiring to be part of this growth journey and to be involved in shaping how design is utilised and harnessed in this context. 

For some designers, coming into a complex tech company might be perceived as challenging, but for me I see huge potential. Technology is driving a lot of what is happening in the world today and what Nordcloud is dealing with is deeply interesting, varied and new. Services and features which were previously not feasible are now available for use, providing new solutions and possibilities. Combining these factors with leading the design and development in a practical way makes this a very exciting challenge.

Q3: Tell us a bit more about your background and journey to this point?

I first started working in digital design during the dotcom bubble when digital businesses were booming and many companies were investing heavily into building and creating the first web services. It may not have been the ‘healthiest’ start to my career in terms of a normal work life – it was a crazy time in many ways – but was super interesting and inspiring!

I would say I have had quite a logical path, every now and then changing roles, the approach, and point of view. I have always been keen to learn, and moved quite quickly from practical roles into more conceptual ones; what and why we are doing with a focus on user experience. I’ve worked at different consultancy companies, collecting experiences from different fields and organisations along the way.

At one stage I really wanted to focus on business fundamentals, so I took a slight sidetrack, running a business for 2 years, gaining a different perspective into the day to day running of a digital business, an experience which has really helped me to this day.

I jumped back into design and consultancy at a time where the whole design approach seemed to be broadening in the area of digital solution development. And now as the Head of Design at Nordcloud, I am operating in the intersection of strategic and UX design leading a team of designers within a fast-moving space.

Q4: What do you see as your most exciting challenge as Nordcloud’s new Design lead?

For me it’s that we’re only just starting to see the full potential and benefits of design within an IT context. Human-driven design and traditional IT used to be very far from each other, but now we start to see that gap finally closing in. And through that, we actually end up talking about larger transformation within organisations, than “just” IT infrastructure development. It’s a larger phenomena, where design has an essential role.

And even though this might sound visionary, our approach is very practical: We’re focusing on the human-aspect of processes and great user experience of digital services. We’re not selling design…well, for the sake of selling “design”. Design alone has no value, it needs to be utilised in a context – for example in new service innovations, digital process development or organisational transformation.

Design influences the way we feel, the decisions we make and the actions we take. In our case, we need to define what this means within a cloud native company. 

Q5: What should Nordcloud customers look out for over the next 12 months?

We are working closely with customers to have a more strategic level partnership, ensuring we can help clients throughout their cloud journey, being it about cloud driven transformation or new digital business creation. With design I think you see this embedded throughout these journeys and not just as an add-on at implementation.

Q6: What does the term ‘cloud native’ mean to you?

Cloud native can be interpreted differently by different people depending on the context. For me in design, cloud native means the tools and processes that allow us to embrace the cloud.

The immediate obvious elements relate to speed and utlisation of the most modern technologies. New tools make it possible to create things in a different way than they used to. With advances such as AI and machine learning we’re able to create totally new concepts, things which were not possible earlier. And even better yet, we get to implement these solution concepts fast, making them tangible and functional early on – and thus we get to deliver value to client organisations fast.

Q7: How do you see the IBM and Nordcloud philosophies working together?

From within the growing design team at Nordcloud, I see the acquisition with IBM as a “joining of forces.” Especially with resources and skills, there is a lot that can be shared. IBM has been working on combining cloud and design for some time already, so I’m eager to dive more into this and how we can work together.

Q8: How would you describe the characteristic ‘Jonna Iljin’ style?

I would say my signature style is positive, empowering, collaborative, systematic and process-driven. I tend to create processes to tackle a problem – everything is a process to me. 

My personal approach is that I strongly believe in people and their capabilities. There are a lot of great skills and abilities, often hidden within people, so I like to try to make that visible and to support that person to grow and develop. This benefits the organisation on many levels, from culture through to business performance.

Q9: What do you like doing outside of work?

Outside of work you can find me in the Alps, doing mountain sports. I have also climbed some of the “high mountains” – The Andes and The Himalayas.

Fun fact: I used to work as a mountain travel-leader while I was freelancing, and while it’s certainly different to design, in both fields I’ve always been keen to help people on that journey up the mountain. And to reach that summit, you gotta enjoy the process along the way!

Q10: How can people connect with you?

Connect with me on LinkedIn or send me a message.

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Let’s discuss how we can help with your cloud journey. Our experts are standing by to talk about your migration, modernisation, development and skills challenges.

    Digital Design Forecast: Cloudy with a Chance of Dropping Jaws



    Tomorrow’s services are designed, developed and run on the cloud. What once was science fiction is now readily available for anyone. But technology itself is of little value unless it solves a relevant problem. For designers, this is both a challenge and an opportunity.

    Better Services Live on the Cloud

    Hyperscale public cloud platforms solve problems related to managing servers, developing software, and scaling services. They provide organisations with benefits such as lower costs and faster time to market.

    But the benefits of modern cloud technology are not only about making existing stuff cheaper and faster. They’re about making better stuff.

    Going into the cloud is not just about refactoring — it’s about reimagining.

    I’m talking about new service concepts, intuitive human interaction, and simpler ways for you to serve your customers.

    But technology alone won’t do any of those things. Not without some help.

    And that’s where design comes in.

    Cloud-Powered Designer Emerges

    Design is about conceptualising and creating new things; designers imagine and designers make. Design differs from art in that it solves problems by delivering what people need.

    Consider an industrial designer set to design a chair. The designer would have to understand who will use the chair, for what purpose, and where.

    For example, watching TV with the family requires a different kind of ‘sitting solution’ than, say, manning an information desk at a shopping mall.

    To design a chair that can be physically built, the industrial designer must also understand the properties of materials, such as wood, metal, plastic, and fabrics.

    The same principles apply to digital design in the cloud.

    For a new breed of cloud-powered designer, the beginning of the design process is the same. They too must understand who is going to use the digital service, for what purpose, and in what context.

    But when it comes to the materials, the two designers deviate. Where the industrial designer uses tangible substances, the cloud-powered designer’s materials are in the cloud.

    It’s not Science Fiction Anymore

    All hyper-scale cloud platforms feature pre-made components, e.g. image recognition, language processing, intelligent search, decision making, machine learning…

    There’s a new one almost every week. For the cloud-powered designer, those are the building blocks of services that help users reach their goals easier and faster.

    For example, Uber is using Microsoft Azure’s Cognitive Services to offer real-time ID checks. Drivers verify their identity using selfies before they are able to accept rides.

    Uniqlo uses Google Cloud Platform’s Dialogflow to offer a new type of shopping experience through a messaging interface, and responses are constantly improved through machine learning.

    Tinder uses Amazon Webservices SageMaker to simplify machine learning and build models for predictions that create new connections that otherwise might have never been possible.

    These are but a few examples of cloud-enabled building blocks that today’s digital designers have at their disposal.

    Yesterday’s science fiction is today’s pre-made component.

    And with those building blocks, we can create some jaw-dropping stuff.

    Reimagining the Future, Together

    The future of digital services is in the cloud, and those services are being imagined now. Going into the cloud is not just about refactoring — it’s about reimagining. As Abraham Lincoln said, the best way to predict the future is to create it.

    For organisations, this means learning and working together.

    If you’re a technologist, you must understand that design is the only thing that will differentiate you from the rest. Design makes for better business. Design is not only what it looks like; it’s about how it works.

    If you’re a digital designer, you must become comfortable with technology. Become comfortable with the cloud; learn all about the building blocks of great digital services. It will be a challenge, but to design better things, you must know how to make them.

    If you’re anyone involved in creating digital services, say hello to new team members outside the obvious realms of business, design or technology. Say hello to data scientists, futurists, anthropologists, social scientists, ethicists, philosophers… or people beyond the comfortable set of disciplines.

    The future will be imagined and built by diverse groups of skilled people working together as teams toward common goals. For this to work well, everyone must be curious beyond one discipline.

    By nature, designers have a massive opportunity to be the glue that binds everyone together.

    Let’s use the best technologies to solve relevant problems. And let’s work together to create a more humane digital future.

    Get in Touch.

    Let’s discuss how we can help with your cloud journey. Our experts are standing by to talk about your migration, modernisation, development and skills challenges.

      NiceICT event: Team leads at Nordcloud


      Life at Nordcloud

      In Jyväskylä, we Nordcloudians attend community events actively. Now it was our turn to invite NiceICT community to visit us. NiceICT has a strong cause for women in tech. Many members are students who are still pondering what they will become after graduation, so we wanted to spread knowledge of diverse roles in technology industry with a presentation on different team lead roles in our company from the pespectives of Tuire Peurala and Eija Jokilahti.

      Tuire is a supervisor in Nordcloud design studio Intergalactico, and also works as a designer on customer projects. She’s responsible of taking care of her team’s wellbeing and supporting professional development. Tuire participates actively in recruiting and works in collaboration with sales to staff most suitable people on projects, and to ensure that everyone gets to switch projects once in a while to keep up interest and get learning possibilities.

      One of the best things as a UX lead is to use my expertise to help others grow professionally.

      Eija Jokilahti has been working as a UX lead in her recent projects. Her responsibilities include putting design processes to practice, facilitating workshops and building design culture, among others. As one of her responsibilities was coaching others on design related issues, Eija reflects: “One of the best things as a UX lead is to use my expertise to help others grow professionally.”

      The event begun with bagels and lively discussion among the guests. After the presentation, there were lots of excellent questions to dig deeper in the roles we have. Following these questions, we discussed very personal matters of being a woman in tech industry. Tuire and Eija were glad to tell that Nordcloud has done exceptionally well in taking people as they are instead of focusing on external matters. Nordcloud hosting NiceICT

      When all the questions were asked and answered, we went back to vivid discussion in small groups. The event was very warm and had an intimate touch in it. Everybody went home happy and with more diverse view on what the work can be in tech industry.

      Get in Touch.

      Let’s discuss how we can help with your cloud journey. Our experts are standing by to talk about your migration, modernisation, development and skills challenges.

        Kari Koskikallio joined to lead our digital design studio Intergalactico



        Kari Koskikallio, 43, has joined Nordcloud to lead our designers to engage the human superpower of creation at Intergalactico, Nordcloud digital design studio.


        Watch Kari talk about the magic in creative work on this video



        Kari Koskikallio,43


        • Finnish and Australian citizen
        • Begun his career as a graphic designer in an advertising agency
        • Business consultant at Accenture (Finland and Australia)
        • COO at Fjord (Finland and Australia)

        At Nordcloud 

        • I will grow and develop the design business in all our 10 countries in Europe and sync the design offering with Nordcloud´s offering.

        When I have free time

        • I write science fiction under alias Rock Forsberg
        • I exercise and run
        • I am a football manager of my son´s football team


        Read more about Intergalactico digital design services here

        Get in Touch.

        Let’s discuss how we can help with your cloud journey. Our experts are standing by to talk about your migration, modernisation, development and skills challenges.

          State of AI for digital business in 2018



          One of the influential people in AI who I follow is Andrew Ng. In the past, he has headed AI functions at both Google and Baidu and co-founded Coursera. Last December he was back on the stage of MIT Technology Review conference EmTech discussing the present state of AI. I found his presentation very inspiring and picked the following insights for those who didn’t have the half an hour to listen to him.

          What is AI now good at?

          Andrew has for some time defined the capacity of current AI as follows:

          Anything that a typical person can do in less than one second AI can learn. This is an imperfect rule, but holds pretty well.

          Jobs and manual procedures which can be decomposed into these simple, constituent jobs can probably be automated in the near future.

          Nowadays there are good examples of using AI to do market automation, loan decisions, speech recognition, and even to steer an autonomous vehicle. The technology behind the majority of these opportunities is “standard” AI, otherwise known as supervised learning.

          99% of value created by AI comes out of supervised learning – mapping from A to B [identification, categorization].

          The deep learning is the fancy new variant of AI repeatedly discussed in the media. Deep learning is finally improving and it provides superior performance in comparison to “old” AI technologies (SVM etc.) when the number of available data increases. Old learning solutions could not benefit from larger data sets, whereas neural networks can benefit from increasing datasets. The bigger the network, the more data can be poured in with a performance increment.

          Andrew lists different techniques based on their current business impact

          1. Supervised learning
          2. Transfer learning
          3. Unsupervised learning
          4. Reinforcement learning

          “Reinforcement learning PR excitement is largely disproportionate with its impact”

          The most valuable thing for AI-based businesses is an exclusive data asset

          Leading AI company don’t only have great data scientists, but unique data assets. Andrew says that data assets make AI-based businesses defendable in a competitive landscape. Although he has worked with leading search engines and knows intimately how they work, he would be unable to create a competitive product without similar sets of user data. To build a defensible business, a company must build a positive feedback loop that allows to accumulate more data from users.

          Data assets allow leading web search companies to provide more relevant results.

          What is an internet company and what is an AI company?

          Andrew introduces the notion of an AI company, a digital business set apart by their unique power derived from utilisation of AI. But what defines this type of a company? Let us compare it to the picture of an internet company.

          An Internet company is not just about selling stuff over the internet. Based on Andrew, the advantage of internet companies is to have distributed decision making which can’t depend upon centralized decision making (or the Hippo, cf. Lean). They do testing (AB) and have short cycle times and are able to ship product improvements frequently.

          In comparison, an AI company is not just a company which uses neural networks on top of traditional technology products. AI companies do strategic data acquisition, which allows them to build defensible data-based business. They have unified data warehouses which allow fluid flow of data from application to application, across any superficial silos. They are good at spotting pervasive automation opportunities, including those under the one-second threshold.

          New requirements for product management

          To run an AI company or manage an AI-heavy product, visual representation of the new product is not enough. To deal with AI capabilities, product managers must meet AI developers in their terms, for instance, present annotated datasets which describe how the product should behave, in terms of matching A’s to B’s. Traditional specifications such as wireframes do not suffice when trying to crack this equation.

          How to incorporate AI into a corporate structure

          The final theme Andrew touches is upon is the integration of AI know-how in large organisations. First, he recognises that AI is not a mature capability. As such AI capabilities are currently best integrated as centralised AI teams which help the whole organisation to integrate AI functions (in a matrix fashion). Later on, when the practices and methods of AI work mature, individual business units may hire their own talent as has happened with UX and mobile developers, for instance.

          “Common teams, common standard, company-wide platforms of AI”

          Find out about our data-driven solutions delivering business intelligence here.

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            What is data-driven service design?



            For a few years now, I’ve been engaged in a personal passion project of explicating what the increasing abundance of data can do for design. My most recent definition of data-driven design is that it means digitalisation and automation of design research. In future, data-driven design will possibly reach out to decision making and generative design. But we’re not there yet.

            As I’ve written over the years about the concept and tools of data-driven design, my musing around the topic has been somewhat limited. As I’m operating in a digital design and development company context, design has referred to interaction design: user interface design decisions and how to best implement certain features.

            I have left several design domains with little attention. In this article, I will venture a bit beyond my home turf. I’ll change the question and think about what should we build, instead of how we create it. This question takes a step to a higher abstraction level, that commonly associated with service design. In the following, I’ll consider what the big data world could offer for service design.

            Why → What → How
            (business design → service design → interface design)

            What good can more data do for service design?

            Service design is a bit of niche area of its own originating from 1980’s. Starting from the design of banking services, it has since slowly grown to be recognised profession serving the development of many physical touch points. But nowadays professionals calling themselves service designers also regularly deal with digital touch points.

            In the few visual depictions of what is the overall field of design visualised below, service design is totally missing from the left one (based Dan Saffer) illustrating UX design and occupies a small segment of human-centred design. But I assure you, it still exists, even thou it is clearly far out of the spotlight of more recent disciplines of digital design.

            How about the use of data in this domain? The public examples of data-driven service design are rare. For instance, the global Service Design Network chapter Netherlands was apparently among the first to host a session specifically aimed at sharing experiences with data in service design.

            The short story written about the data-driven service design event gives an opinion I can readily agree with: quantitative data must complement, challenge and give a foundation for qualitative data.

            Service design requires a mix of research inputs

            The long-term experience design specialist Kerry Bodine puts it as “service design requires a mix of research inputs.” She has expressed a great concern of over-reliance on big data methods without the complementary qualitative insights. This relationship has been previously highlighted by Pamela Pavliscak under the terms big and thick data, in order to highlight their contemporary nature.

            In other words, data-driven design means using more data, particularly quantitative, in the design process.

            A side note: a term that may seem relevant to data-driven service design is service analytics. Service analytics, in my opinion, are a subset of traditional analytics areas: web analytics, market intelligence, and business intelligence. For instance, in Sumeet Wadhwa’s article on the topic, service analytics are presented foremost as a tool quantify, track and manage service design efforts, not so much inspire or help to find new design opportunities. Thus they are not a creative driver for the design process.

            “Data” for transformational design is embodied in designers, not the customer

            Data can’t solve or even easily be used to support all design decisions.  Given that people are naturally resistant to change, defending any major change using backward-looking data is not going be easy. In a recent post, frog founder Hartmut Esslinger provided strong criticism for misinterpretations of “big” data.

            His examples very neatly illustrate conservative interpretation bias of data. For instance, in a 2001 Motorola case, the company discarded a touchscreen smartphone concept (later known as the iPhone) because market intelligence data clearly showed people wanted to buy phones akin to those designed by Nokia! Clearly, the data-based insight was inferior to a “designer-based” insight about what you should create.

            Solving this challenge is not easy. I’ve personally helped to articulate one user acceptance testing approach called resonance testing originating from American design company Continuum. This method presents a quite specific procedure to investigate quantitatively consumers reactions to ‘what’ questions. However, this method is dependent upon face-to-face interactions and does not thus really fall within the domain of data-driven design as defined at the start.

            Tools for data-driven service design

            The data-driven or data-informed design does not identify any particular design approach. However, I see that it requires a certain prototypical process to support it. First and foremost, it always requires real data. Representative data must be collected, analysed, inferences made and brought to bear upon design decisions and new designs.

            Data-driven design always requires real data

            What kind of data and which tools of analysis will help service designers to decide what needs to be created? In my previous writing, I’ve proposed a taxonomy of the different types of tools available for data-driven design. Starting from there, we can observe that we have three categories of tools that hold a promise in this direction. They are active data collection solutions, user recordings, and heat maps.

            Once more the origin of these tools is within the digital domain, in the web and mobile apps, but it is more important to bear in mind that they are very heavily related to the foremost revision or assessment of existing features. They can give a glimpse of what else your customers might love, what they fail to achieve or which part of service they neglect.

            Passive records from use sessions on digital or physical touch points can be revealing, but active data collection – from co-design to all manners of classical qualitative research has been the core of service design research. But are there any qualitative research methods that can scale, to provide the automation aspect I attach to data-driven design approach?

            Different types of surveys naturally scale well. Especially digital environments offer unprecedented opportunities to target and trigger surveys, making them much more powerful than they were in the past.  Of course, they are limited by the structure of their insight. But free, open-ended can be very intuitive and applicable in data-driven design if we can also provide the tools that automate the analysis of the inputs, not just collection. Sentiment analysis alone, as criticised by Boden above, is a weak method. Segmentation and automated summaries can add value to aggregate figures alone. This is bit futuristic but already feasible (see also Zendesk’s approach to data in automating customer service).

            Insights from the local industry insiders

            I had a chance to talk with Petteri Hertto, a long-term specialist in quantitative research, about the topic. He is a service designer currently working at Palmu agency in Helsinki, Finland. He says that too many projects feel obliged to gather quantitative data without good reasons. They end up with data that is non-actionable from a design point of view.

            Petteri has personally transformed from a quantitative data specialist to a designer that sees value in both types of data. “The best uses of quantitative data lie in proofing new ideas and verifying a business case around it,” he believes. Petteri has documented a model of value measurement his agency prefers in a Touchpoint article (Touchpoint magazine is the journal published by Service Design Network).

            Are there any new tools specifically for data-driven service design?

            I further pressed Petteri on whether any (quantitative) design research tools have appeared in the past 10 years that would resemble my definition of data-driven design.

            He recounted that there are few radically new developments. In the design approach favoured by their agency, they use the same tools as UX designers, including those data-intensive ones. However, he named one novel survey tool made possible by mobile technologies. It addresses several deficiencies of validity in traditional research.

            Crowst is a Finnish startup which provides surveys targeted on verified user behaviour in the physical world, improving the quality of input.

            Then again, this is an incremental improvement over existing tools, not a radically novel approach with unforeseen data masses, new level of insight or scalability.

            Can data reveal what the customer needs?

            Are we back to square one in terms of answering the question of what does the customer want? Yes and no. I believe a thoughtful analysis of big data can serve three purposes in service design:

            1. Identify opportunities for new experiences & features
            2. Inspire solution creation
            3. Validate solutions*

            * difficult to validate without a detailed implementation and answering the how question

            However, the data about yesterday can’t really tell us what is going to happen tomorrow. We have to more or less make the future available today through scenarios and prototypes which can generate the data that illustrates the future.


            Data-driven design in user interface level is in good speed, but the need for qualitative insight still dominates service design. Contemporary service designs acknowledge the potential – and danger – in big data, but the tools to transform the potential into a revolution in the ways of working is still missing.

            It is evident service designers must be comfortable with working with data as big as it comes. However, ready-made tools and methods are far fewer than in user interface design. Answering the fundamental question “what to design” is notoriously difficult with data that describes things of the past.

            I believe it is and will be possible even to a greater extent than we can today imagine in a couple of years. Join the revolution today!

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