Meet the cool creatives from Hyper Island – the “digital Harvard” grooming a crop of top startup talent

Hyper Island
Hyper Island

Hyper Island

Swedish digital learning institute Hyper Island first opened its doors in 1996 in a former military prison on an island in Karlskrona. There, in the unorthodox educational setting, students practiced experiential learning and were challenged to solve real-world problems in a collaborative environment – rather than abide to the typical teacher-to-student or lecture methodology.

Since then, the organisation has been dubbed the “digital Harvard” by TBWA/Worldwide‘s Global Creative President Robert Schwartz, listed in Domus Magazine as one of the Top 100 Schools of Architecture and Design 2013 and teamed up with Adidas for a scholarship to support data-driven strategy and marketing.

With offices in Sweden, the UK, US and Singapore, Hyper Island’s growing global presence stems from these unique student and executive programmes, which are aimed at preparing individuals for the fast-paced digital landscape.

We speak to some of the rising talent emerging from the school and ask if this is the template for future startup talent…

“There’s no teachers or grades”

Learning at Hyper Island is broken down into modules and created in collaboration with industry insiders to ensure that content remains relevant to the ever-changing workplace.

Hyper Island

The Hyper Island experience is guided by six key principles: life-long learning, real-world experience, embracing change, team collaboration, unlocking individual potential and challenging the status quo – all of which are important in building a healthy startup culture. To  stress the “learning-by-doing” approach, each programme is accompanied with an mandatory internship portion.

So what’s the hype about Hyper Island? We talk to three creatives from the the two-year Digital Media programme – who have worked at Berlin-based startups Xyo, Gidsy and Loopcam – about their unconventional learning experience, entrepreneurial ambitions and how the school has primed them for startup life….

Elin Aram – Head of Design at Xyo, Founder A Box From

Elin Aram

Originally from Uppsala, Elin Aram – Head of Design at mobile app search platform Xyo and founder of A Box From – attended the Digital Media programme in Stockholm from 2009 to 2011 and specialised in technology.

Aram went to Seoul as part of her internship requirement, where she landed a gig at a digital agency that ultimately led her to Berlin, the world of startups and to leading her own venture: “I’m so happy that I got the opportunity to go there. In one way or another, I got all my jobs afterwards because of my experience in Seoul,” explained Aram.

After Seoul, she moved to Berlin for a junior position at digital ad agency AKQA. Eventually, with the help of Readmill CEO Henrik Berggren, she segued into the tech scene as a digital strategist at photosharing startup EyeEm – where she was responsible for everything from product development to interaction design.

Groomed for the unpredictable startup life

“Hyper really prepared me for startup life. They emphasised the importance of being ready for change,” said Aram enthusiastically. “Sometimes they would actually trick us.”

She recalls a time when her class was given four weeks to develop a concept and prepare a presentation for clients. However, after two weeks, the module leader came back to the group of students and said that because of unforeseen circumstances, a key component of the project had been changed and presentations were to be held in two days.

“So we worked day and night – and this is like startup life, you know? Everything changes. At the time, I didn’t understand what they meant by adapting to change. But now, I’m so thankful they prepared me for it,” she explained. “It’s more of a state of mind you get at Hyper Island.”

Cultivating an “I can do it” mentality

When asked about her most valuable takeaways from the school, Aram responded, “You have to learn by yourself. If you don’t know how to do something, you figure it out.” She added, “You can do any project you want and have the freedom to convince your leaders that you should opt out from one class and do something else. It’s up to you to shape your education.”

During her internship in Seoul, Aram was asked to create an app for the agency, “I had to learn how to build an app for the first time. In Korea. I was like, ‘Oh, I can do it!’ This is the type of stuff you say after attending Hyper – I can do it,” she said.

Starting A Box From

A Box From

Recently, Aram launched curated souvenirs site A Box From where she sells a box of carefully selected items from cities around the world and presents them with a story. “I’ve been thinking about it for a long time, but I’ve been working. But then I came to Xyo and got the opportunity to do some side projects.”

Her first box from Seoul, where the idea originated, sold out in over an hour. So, whats next? “I was in Iran two weeks ago, so I brought a lot of stuff over from Tehran – I’m gonna do a box from there,” says Aram.

Julien Donck – Product designer, former design/development intern at Gidsy

Julien Donck

Belgian-born product designer Julien Donck was working at an ad agency when he discovered the Swedish new media school. After learning that secondary education wasn’t a prerequisite to the programme, Donck applied and was accepted two weeks later.

“It’s great, we get the opportunity to work with cool clients – people from the industry – and can start making connections while you’re in school,” said Donck describing his Hyper Island experience.

Learning about team dynamics and collaboration

Regardless of industry, individuals tend to end up in working in a group – for startups, in particular, team dynamics are crucial to success. Hyper Island knows this, which is why it heavily emphasises “the group dynamic process” in its learnings.

“The school taught me what I needed to know most about working in a team – self-awareness in a professional group environment. More than half of the time, it’s about how you work with people,” said Donck. “We have a lot of intensive feedback and group-building sessions that really prepare you for the workplace.”

Getting to know Gidsy and the startup world

“My experience at Gidsy was great in terms of getting to know the startup world in Berlin. It was interesting for me to observe what happened with the company while I was there – especially since they were bought out by GetYourGuide.”

Donck decided against moving to GetYourGuide with the Gidsy team because “it’s too big” and he prefers working in smaller companies where there is the opportunity to do a little bit of everything.

So what are Donck’s plans after graduation? “It would be great if I could secure a designer role in Berlin. Eventually, I would like to start my own thing with the right people and make a difference,” he said.

Julia Wallin and Love Krok Attling – Digital media students who built a hack for Loopcam

Julia and Love

Swedes Julia Wallin and Love Krok Attling have only been at Hyper Island for a year and have already been reeled into the whirlwind world of startups. Earlier this month, the duo built and released a hack that transformed GIF-animating platform Loopcam into an online movie charades.

“At Loopcam, everyone is passionate about the project and they’re not working for anyone else. They’re just working on their project – for me, that was an eye-opener. I really like the startup climate in Berlin, it’s very social here and easy to connect with others,” said Wallin reflecting on her experience.

Attling, a friend of Loopcam CEO Tor Rauden Källstigen, decided that he wanted to complete one of his “specialisation” modules in Berlin. “I had never been there and I wanted to go there and make something,” he explained. After overhearing Attling’s plans in class, Wallin expressed her interest and joined him for the project in the German capital.

Why Hyper Island?

Before Hyper Island, Wallin was studying gender studies in university because, like many newly graduated high school students, she was unsure of what to do and the topic “sounded interesting”.

“I had no clue about Hyper until a friend told me about it. The mixture between tech and creativity, and the freedom to choose, for me, was crucial in picking Hyper – it wasn’t something I had found in other schools,” said Wallin.

Image credits:
Hyper Island sticky notes via Hyper Island’s Facebook page

Elin Aram by photographer Emilia Bergmark-Jiménez 

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