Jenny Theolin is an experienced designer, learning leader and educator. With nearly two decades experience working in the design industry, Jenny can now be found working with some of the world’s leading schools, as well as helping corporate companies become learning organisations through co-designing internal processes and programmes.
Jenny’s first decade working as a graphic designer and art director has definitely been a secret super-power when embarking on her career as a solopreneur and consultant. Jenny loves making ideas manifest, whether it’s in a physical, digital or experiential form.
Founded and financed through her studio, she also runs WOW Academy AB, Toolbox Toolbox and Design Education. On top of that, she's an avid photographer. Jenny's now devoting much of her time to AFRY as Learning & Development Consultant responsible for AFRY Academy.
She graduated with first-class honours after studying Design Studies at the University, and we're delighted to have welcomed her back for talks to our current students.
Tell us a little bit about yourself...
I spent my childhood (up until 19 years old) travelling the world with my diplomatic parents. I lived in Tokyo, Stockholm, Rome, Belmont, Vienna, Istanbul; and when I was 21 I moved to London. I've been based in Stockholm for about eight years now.
What brought you to London Met?
After my Foundation year at Istanbul Bosphorus University, I moved to London and graduated with a First Class Hons Design Studies BA at London Metropolitan University (which was at the time called London Guildhall University). This degree was a broad educational experience including graphic design, design management, design history, moving image, 3D modelling, product design, photography and a dissertation (I wrote mine on the evolution of typography). A really good all-round education.
I moved to London because I wasn’t ready to move to my home country Sweden, as I was so used to the cosmopolitan lifestyle. And London definitely delivered.
What did studying here mean to you? Did anything surprise you about London Met?
University meant a great deal to me. It was my place of reference, where I met my close friends, boyfriend (at the time) and developed my interest in art, design and photography. It was my home. Especially as I didn’t have any family in the UK.
What’s your favourite campaign that you’ve worked on?
I worked on many campaigns during my career, for banks, retail, sport, telecom, you name it. None of my agency-side work is featured in my portfolio however, because when I left the agency world, my entire value proposition changed. My entrepreneurial journey actually started in parallel (in 2009) with the launch of a not-for-profit company called Soapbox Events. In 2012, I went full-time and moved it into the profit sector under the name Soapbox & Sons. My aim was to be a soapbox for creative talent, to showcase others. During the time, I was mostly known as the crazy cat-lady, as I created the world’s first LOLCat Exhibition. Which was probably the. most. fun. job. ever.
Another more recent project I would consider a favourite was Mate Act Now, a climate change poster protest for the digital generation — 100 posters protesting climate change and driving political action launching on Earth Day to raise awareness of climate change and funds for the Red Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery Australia. We also won a bunch of awards for it.
Studio Theolin has since then grown into a creative catalyst for products, services, projects and initiatives.
How did it feel to come back to London Met as a visiting speaker after you’d graduated?
It was fun! It was also an entirely new experience, as I studied at a different campus. So, unfortunately no reminiscing. However, more importantly, the students were great! They were engaging, and great listeners.
Tell us about your current work and how your degree helped you get where you are.
As my degree was so encompassing it helped a great deal. I am glad I didn’t go niche at university, and that I gave attention to both design, management and photography. I had no idea I was to become a solopreneur after nine years agency-side. So when the time came, I could really wear all my hats!
What is your biggest passion in life and where did that passion come from?
Taking photographs. Not photography itself, but seeing the world through my lens, and the active pursuit of finding subjects. I made my passion public in 2020 and have exhibited, sold through a gallery, decorated restaurants and houses, as well as published a book since then.
What drives you?
An innate desire to make ideas manifest.
What’s the proudest moment in your life?
Oh my, I don’t know! There have been many. Winning the dba Inclusive Design Challenge 2010 was a biggie! Sage & Onions: the experience exchange was an idea for a not-for-profit communications initiative aimed at stimulating activity and community participation that encourages people to trade their time and skills with each other. The work was exhibited at the V&A – and even travelled to Japan!
Another was receiving an incredible amount of press for my exhibition work (Creative Review, The Guardian, BBC World News, BBC Technology, The Independent, Buzzfeed, Wired US and UK, Huffington Post US and UK, The Drum, VICE, Wallpaper Magazine, Computer Arts... the list goes on!). The fact that my work is interesting for the masses makes me feel very proud.
Privately, my proudest moment was getting through a turbulent pregnancy and giving birth to my amazing daughter Vera, now 11 months old.
What’s next in your career?
After my consultancy at Afry is over, I intend to look over my business and see where I’ll develop it. Most definitely still within the learning space, we will see! I will also look over my digital waste. I have quite a few domains, projects and businesses being somewhat dormant. They need to either be resurrected or thrown out!
Listen to Jenny's latest podcasts for Voltage Control and Human, the designer.
"My aim was to be a soapbox for creative talent, to showcase others. During the time, I was mostly known as the crazy cat-lady, as I created the world’s first LOLCat Exhibition. Which was probably the. most. fun. job. ever."