Transition from Jewelry Design to Heavy Machinery

Apr 25, 2024

Juhani Salonen started his career as a jewelry designer, experimenting with materials and expressing his creativity through design. But as we know, skills are transferable, which led him to discover that design, creativity, and craftsmanship also have a place in heavy machinery.

Industrial Design Manager Juhani Salonen leaning on a handrail and looking outside


Would you like to introduce yourself briefly and tell a bit more about your interesting background?

“Certainly! My name is Juhani Salonen, and I currently I work as an Industrial Design Manager at Valmet in Finland.

My childhood dream was to work in a creative field. I also wanted to make something with my hand, preferably something three-dimensional that involved doing small, detailed work. When combined, studying jewelry and object design was a natural choice. Even though I always felt like I was more gifted in natural sciences, I turned my back on them, probably more so as an act of defiance towards other peoples’ expectations rather than anything else.

After graduating, I worked as a jewelry designer and artisan for a few years but eventually realized I lacked the passion for them – and probably even more importantly, the hardship of being an entrepreneur in such a field. I rationalized that I needed another degree and a change of field, and I applied for engineering studies and graduated as a mechanical engineer with flying colors a few years later.”

Juhani Salonen practicing his craftmanship and making a piece of jewelry in his workshop.

Making a necklace at the workshop in Tampere. Juhani designed and made the necklace for Finland’s “Lucia Maiden” in 2013.

What particularly fascinated you about heavy machinery? How did you end up at Valmet?

"Sometime before graduation, I was completely convinced I had given up being a creative professional for good until a friend of mine convinced me to apply to an open position as an industrial design trainee here at Valmet in 2017. I absolutely could not see how a jewelry designer with no industrial design experience could fit well in that role, but luckily my friend convinced me to apply, and the hiring manager had an open mind and a stronger belief in me than I did, and selected me from among the applicants. So here I am!” 

“At Valmet, the most intriguing things are a sense of purpose and the sheer scale of things – and consequently, the potential for a positive impact my work can have in this world”, Juhani adds.

What do you do in your current role at Valmet?

“My current role as an Industrial Design Manager consists of making sure design-related targets are pursued and met. The most important ones here at Valmet are good usability and user experience, cost-efficiency, visual quality, and brand conformity of our products."

What do you like the most about your job?

 “I absolutely love new beginnings and quick sprints of “snack-sized” concept-level design assignments and consider myself thriving on them. One of my biggest professional passions is promoting agile product design tools and mindset."  

Biggest learnings from your career?

“With my current job, I have been able to get the best of both worlds from my design and engineering degrees. I feel like constructing pieces of jewelry is surprisingly similar to designing grand-scale industrial machinery, and many of the same principles can be applied to both”.

“Whatever the discipline we are talking about – mechanical engineering, industrial design, jewelry design, or something else – I feel like the underlying principles are rather similar, and in the end, it just comes down to good product design, regardless of the labels. Just like with learning to play new instruments or speaking a new language: If you already how to play or speak several others, learning a new one is going to get that much easier”, Juhani continues.

Anything else you’d like to share about your career?

“I consider myself lucky to have such a unique professional history and have been able to greatly benefit from that in my current position. I strongly encourage others with a similar, diverse background to try to see the positives of it. I, for one, can attest that what seemed like a string of professional failures (or at least some serious missteps), turned out to be one of my greatest advantages after landing on working in R&D", Juhani says.