Since moving from Finland to New York City in 2010, Lotta Nieminen has become well recognized for her beautiful graphic and illustration work. With clients including Hermès, New York Magazine & Volkswagen, a published children’s book, and a spot on Forbes 30 under 30 this year, Lotta has a lot to brag about. But she’ll shrug this off in typical Finnish modesty and probably make a joke about herself instead. Humor and humility make for a really likable person. Lotta is hilarious with a heart that’s as big as it is humble: she’s easy to love in an instant.

“I’ve never been good at setting goals for myself. I had no idea I would end up here and really just wobble through life. I’m very meticulous and organized when it comes to day-to-day, but I’m pretty bad at thinking big picture and working towards big aspirations. I feel like that would close my eyes to opportunity, and that a lot of what’s happened in my life wouldn’t be the same if I’d had everything too planned out. Sometimes I envy people who have very specific goals they strive towards, they seem so strategic and focused. But I’m happy with the natural way I progress, where my achievements build on each other. That said, I’ve always been very ambitious with a very strong drive.

Being self-motivated and willing to work your ass off is more important to me than having a very clear end result in mind.

Graphic design is not a fine art. You really have to accept that you’re in customer service with a paying client and brief. There’s a fine line to tread with the service you offer—you’re being hired for your professional experience but you have to fit that within your client’s needs and tastes. It’s really important to be able to communicate your ideas well for that reason—I love talking my clients into things and helping them make good decisions. 

That skill has a lot to do with confidence, something I’ve definitely gained in the past few years. A Finnish upbringing really influenced that for me, we’re traditionally very modest and not encouraged to boast our talents—it’s looked down upon. Being confident about my work is something I’ve had to learn, and I actually enjoy a bit of American ego where it’s OK to acknowledge what you’re good at. It’s especially important in NYC where you have to know exactly what you want and where you’re headed, and it’s enabled me to speak up and take advantage of opportunity. While confidence is important, there’s also a balance of keeping your insecurities in tact. They stop you from becoming an asshole.

You need to be emotionally connected enough to care about your work, but not enough to take things personally.

For me, the insecurities never go away. Becoming more established doesn’t decrease them, they just move around to different baskets. I still have this nagging fear in the back of my mind that someone is going to call my bluff—that I really have no idea and everyone’s going to realize that I tricked them. I think that has a lot to do with being a woman in this industry—graphic design & illustration is surprisingly still very much a man’s business. Women are really under-represented in this field. At the conferences I speak at, there’s often about 2 women out of 20 speakers, which is crazy because there are so many talented female designers. I don’t believe in a 50/50 ratio for the sake of it, but there should be an honest representation. I think that’s what feminism is about:

Not being good because you’re a woman, but being good because you’re good.

When it comes to work and life, it’s strange how we refer to them as separate things. They both feed into each other and you can’t be too extreme in either—you end up losing a sense of purpose vs a sense of person. Happiness is somewhere in the middle, when you go to bed and look forward to the next day.”

Lotta’s #OKREALTALK Tips

  • A perfect plan is secondary to hard work.
  • That fear you have of being a fraud is all in your head.
  • Don't try prove yourself because you're a woman. Prove yourself because you're good at what you do.
  • Be confident, but don't let this overrule your sense of self-awareness.

t. @lottanieminen

i. @lottanieminen

As told to Amy Woodside, May 2014
Photographed by Amy Woodside