Describing herself as a typical shy and awkward kid, Matilda Leppäkoski, also known by her artistic name Matilda Diletta, now art director at SEK, isn’t a stranger to humble beginnings. As a child she would spend her time drawing monsters and anime girls, or watching them on TV and reading about them (all things she still is partial to, however now she adds horror to the list of genre favourites). As early as seven-years-old, Matilda won an international drawing contest for children, after which she became convinced that this was her true calling in life. In addition to drawing, her hobbies consisted of the almost mutually exclusive wrestling and classical guitar. “I was raised in a small village in the middle of the woods, where there weren't many sports or hobby opportunities for kids. My mum made me choose between wrestling and ballet, and that’s how I got into the wrestling part,” explains Matilda.
Her mother being Italian and her dad being Finnish colours Matilda’s background, and according to her, gives her a great advantage in life. According to Matilda she was fortunate enough to have two cultures to grow around and learn from, as she believes that being raised in such a small village can sometimes prompt people to forget what the rest of the world holds. But she adds that there is one way in which she is ‘typically Finnish’: this being that she prefers listening to speaking. “In addition,” she continues, “I’m quite ambitious and terrible at losing, which is a trait I try to work on.”
Naturally, after being convinced of art as her life’s purpose, Matilda joined Lahti University of Applied Sciences where she did her bachelor’s degree in graphic design. She explains that she also grew up around a lot of artistic relatives, which might have been another detail that pushed her towards her career path. Although not her first choice of university, as she failed at joining Edinburgh College of Art, two months after moving to Lahti to start her studies she had stopped regretting her decision. “I cried the day I had to move to Lahti to start my studies there, that’s how upset I was. After the first two months I fell in love with graphic design and the school’s atmosphere.”
During that time Matilda also did many freelance design projects, which gave her good insight into the field., “My first full time job was at an advertising and design agency called ThreeFiveEight, where I worked as a designer,” she says. “At that point I had been doing a lot of small-scale freelance projects by myself and I really needed a full-time job and experience on how things get done in an agency.” At ThreeFiveEight, Matilda ended up learning much more about advertising, as her university studies were heavily design-focused and she hadn’t seen much of that side of the field. ”I didn't know much about campaigns and commercials. At the agency I had the opportunity to watch closely how the copywriters, strategists and producers worked, which was all new to me.” When she looks back at the days spent at the agency, Matilda explains that one of her most important learnings was to find joy in what you do. “No work is fun and games all the time but the key to stay inspired and excited is to take every project as a possibility to learn and improve your skills.”
Matilda took those lessons straight into her first projects - one of which made a real difference to her career. “It was the visual identity I made for a design agency and sales platform called UU Market,” she says. “I also designed the website for them, which was the first time I had ever heard of UX and UI design.” Albeit quite stressful, the project enveloped Matilda with its challenges and to her, attempting to tackle new tasks while designing the identity was what made the success of the project all the more rewarding. This success was evident from the project’s subsequent silver win at the Grafia annual The Best Finnish Creative Design competition.
When it comes to Matilda’s favourite parts about her work, she loves working with a wide range of talents. “I’m really lucky to be surrounded by inspiring people, both colleagues and friends,” she says. “They are the ones that push me to be a better designer and also a better person.” On the flip side, what is challenging to Matilda is the constant wrestle with an ever-changing field which reflects the equally fast-paced changes in the world. What Matilda believes one needs is an ever-evolving skill set and a consistent arsenal of knowledge to help clients adapt and react to current events.
Although contradictory to her nature of work, Matilda admits to being quite anxious about the pressure of trying to “make people buy more and consume as much as possible,” while neglecting our impact on the environment. This comes as an example of how the field reflects the evolving world, with the sustainability conversation taking over almost every corner of adland and beyond. “ I wish companies would encourage people to buy consciously, spend wisely and make more ethical choices,” she adds. “That’s where I think agencies play an important role: they should guide and push companies to be more conscious and to prioritise sustainability in every aspect.”
As a side hustle, Matilda does prints for her partner’s fashion brand - which goes by his own name, Rolf Ekroth and something which she has been doing for the past two years. “It gives me a good opportunity to do something more artistic and purely visual, and it offers a good balance to my day-job,” she says. “I also do some other tiny freelance projects now and then, whenever I have time and interest.” Besides this, Matilda enjoys using her free time to partake in as many sports as possible - balancing out the fact that she spends all-day sitting at a desk with some much needed physical activity.
Matilda explains that what drives her the most, both in her work and outside of her professional life, is her inability to stay still. “I think everyone’s dream, no matter what their field of work is, is to make a positive change. That’s what I’m also aiming for, even if it’s just a small thing that would make the world a better place. Generally, in life, I think anger and dissatisfaction is also a great motivator for action.”