Hello Jouni and welcome to the Aragon team!
Let’s start by getting to know you a bit on a more personal level, how did you end up working as the Design Lead at Aragon?
After finishing a visual arts focused high school in Helsinki I found out that my design/front-end skills were surprisingly good enough to get a job in the booming dot-com era, so I ended up going straight into the industry. At that time there were no university courses for design/web technologies as it was all so new — as often happens when there is this sort of a paradigm shift in technology.
I first started working as a web designer in Finland working on the website of Nokia in the late 90’s. While design and web dev was fun, I was also doing a lot of music composition and sound design (for Nokia and a bunch of record labels in Finland and in the UK). I really enjoyed music and wanted to focus more on it, so I ended up doing that full time for a few years. As most of the labels were UK based, I ended up moving over there — Manchester first, then London — and worked a couple of years with a really great bunch of labels, musicians, producers and singers. It was a mix of broken beat, soul, hiphop, drum&bass — live and electronic. It was a great time, very fulfilling to work with various people from different backgrounds coming together because of the love for the same thing.
As people moved on to digital downloads and music sales pretty much disappeared, I got back into design/tech again. I worked with various digital agencies in London for many years, then around 2012 I started as a Design Lead at Canonical, working on Ubuntu. I ended up staying there for 4 years — it was a really great experience, and working on mobile and desktop OS design outside the US is a rare opportunity. We designed and shipped a Linux based mobile OS, and a couple of mobile phones which many people got really excited about, but ultimately it was tough getting market share from Android and iOS.
After leaving Canonical a year ago, I have been contracting mostly on FinTech projects, startups and large banks/funds/insurance companies in London and the US.
And now I’m very excited to be contributing to Aragon and shaping the future of organisations and work!
What are the issues in our current global environment that you think could be shaped for a brighter future to all of us?
I think the most crucial things in the world are staying out of large wars/conflicts and solving the issue between population growth and the environment. Those are the two main things that threaten future generations.
Personally, I think most human behavior is shaped by evolution. The little reward system in our brain in response to things we do are primarily a result of millions of years of evolution. For most of that time, the environment has been a natural environment, small communities, tribes, villages, with our actions having very limited impact on the habitat around us.
Because of technology, we now live in a world where we have radically transformed our habitat, and due to there being so many of us, our collective actions have a huge impact on our surroundings. Everything is amplified — one person throwing away plastic doesn’t have a huge influence, but 7 billion people doing the same does. And the same goes for almost everything we produce, consume and dispose.
The reward signals don’t work at that level — there is nothing in our brain that we are born with, that guides us through this new environment, that stops us from doing things that have a negative impact — just the old reward pathways that were fine for living in nature and in tribal societies. Pollution wasn’t a thing when our brains evolved, nor were weapons that could wipe out whole cities and make huge areas of land uninhabitable.
So how do we navigate this for a better outcome, beyond the individual level that is primarily controlled by our short-term reward pathways? I’m not sure we actually can, as individuals. But superstructures of individuals — organizations — can evolve at the speed of ideas and technology, not at the speed of biology. Organizations (both private and public) also make decisions. Often those decisions are done for short-term gains right now, utterly disregarding the negative long-term impact or “externalities”. But with the right kind of organizational structures and technological tools, we could enable different types of incentives, longer time spans, delegate decision making to experts of our choice, and so on. I find this very fascinating.
And how do you see Aragon shaping the future of work?
I think we are already seeing new ways of working emerge — the whole startup movement, gig economy, open source — but even those are often still run very traditionally. I think there are other ways of organizing decision making and distribution of value, which are more effective and fair, that can help remove the friction from starting new companies/projects, but we haven’t had the tools to do this before.
I would like to see Aragon reach wide adoption in the open source community for running (and getting rewarded for) open source projects. I think most Ethereum projects could run their organisation on Aragon. I believe companies in the future will be internet based, rather than country based, and something like Aragon enables this in a way that is secure and transparent to the participants in the company. I also think the line between an employer and an employee, and owner/worker is kind of arbitrary and will blur — and Aragon can make that transition very natural.
How does Ethereum and blockchain technology fit into this vision of future society and work?
Well first of all, the Ethereum project could still fail. But I think there is something fundamental in the blockchain technology that will have an impact on society sooner or later. I think many people agree here — once the fundamental technical challenges around scaling, efficiency, and energy use are solved, it will very quickly take over some existing functions, probably mainly around transfer of value and ownership at first.
And having a company/organization structure that is worldwide, has immediately liquid tokens, a new kind of division of tokens among participants, and finding out ways to link tokens to value that each participant produces — those are fundamental changes to how people organize themselves around work.
What is it about blockchain technology that you really like and what do you see as the biggest challenges for it?
C’mon, what’s not to like? Distributed digital money/contracts, not controlled by any single party, worldwide, near instant (ahem) transactions. I’ve been waiting for this shit ever since I played Cyberpunk role playing games with my friends when I was 12!
I used to go to Ethereum meetups in London around 2014 that Stephan Tual organised, and found it was always a very welcoming, tech savvy and enthusiastic community. I haven’t been so active on the community side recently, but I think generally it’s a very positive community with real aspirations to change things for the better.
In the short term I’m excited to see the development of distributed exchanges, token sales as a method to raise funding for open source projects and projects that focus on great user experience that’s on par with the best non-decentralised applications.
But I see that blockchain technologies do still have many user experience issues that are confusing to new and non-technical users. I think some kind of in-browser seamless integration with the blockchain is needed for wider adoption. I don’t think it’s quite clear how that is going to pan out just yet. Making it very easy for everyone to take part is a big challenge that I’m personally looking forward to simplifying through my own work.
Talking about your own work, what are you looking forward to working on at Aragon and how can we be better at building this project?
The main thing I’m looking forward to is starting to see real users on Aragon v0.5 and working with them to make the product better. When designing a product I always think of users first — how to make their lives easier. The tech is new, but how to make things intuitive and enjoyable for people to use doesn’t change fundamentally.
I believe we can be better at building Aragon by putting together a team where people respect and appreciate each others skills, have fun together, celebrate and reward success. By having people who know what they’re doing, having a shared mission and well aligned incentives. But I think the question should be, how do we know we are building the right thing 🙂
Outside of work, what do you enjoy doing and what helps you get the most out of life?
I enjoy making music — http://soundcloud.com/dharmaone, I have a growing stack of analog synth “investments” I am trying to find time to use 🙂 I play the piano, guitar and violin pretty badly, and I’m learning to play cello, flute and tabla, but I’m even worse with those. Thankfully you only need one good take in the studio! Other than that, I enjoy spending time with my kids, gardening, and doing photography/film. I shoot with Sony and Blackmagic cameras that I like a lot.
I find it important to be enjoying the moment, just giving time for yourself to enjoy the moment. Connecting with other people on something you all love. Good food — that can be the highlight of the day!
That was great Jouni, thank you for the interview and hopefully we can all make the future better for everyone!
You can also follow Jouni on Twitter!