Celebrating International Women’s Month: Malin Leschly, Logitech’s New Chief Design Officer

As posted on: https://medium.com/@LogitechCreativeDesign

Written by Thomas Young

Malin Leschly, Logitech’s Chief Design Officer

The 1974 Renault 4 is the world’s first mass-produced commercial hatchback. An extremely compact four-door vehicle, it features large, bulbous headlights, tiny 13” wheels, and a 747cc engine producing just 32 horsepower — and at 144 inches long, it is over two feet shorter than a modern Volkswagen Beetle. Despite this diminutive stature, in one of the R4’s original marketing campaigns, four Parisian women drove two R4s from Tierra del Fuego, at the southernmost tip of South America, all the way to Anchorage, Alaska, crossing the entire American continent over a span of four and a half months. All of this was intended to demonstrate the ruggedness and durability of what could easily be mistaken as a family car, making clear to prospective buyers that the R4 was ideal for long, arduous drives.

Though their choice of the R4 was driven more by its relative affordability, Malin’s family loved adventure. Every summer, the four of them — mom, dad, and their two young children — would pack several weeks’ worth of supplies into this tiny car, cram inside of its narrow cabin, and journey south to explore continental Europe.

And journeys they were. Over time, the little Renault ventured through France, Germany, Denmark, and several other countries. 

With thousands of miles ahead of them, they set off from their native Uppsala, one of Sweden’s oldest cities, with dad in the driver’s seat, mom in the passenger seat, and their two children — Malin, age six, and her brother, age four — in the back. There they went, past Gamla Uppsala kyrka, a modest but mighty church built at the end of the viking era — where the children’s grandfather had been a priest; past Uppsala University, the oldest in all of the Nordic countries, dating back to the 15th century, where their other grandfather had been a professor; and along the Fyrisån, or River Fyris, a pristine, ancient waterway that splits the city in two. Making their way south, they followed the river’s babbling brooks and marshy banks into acres of rolling, pastoral hills — bright green and blanketed with dew under a tepid summer sun, whose rays were obscured only by occasional patches of oak and pine. By then, following Sweden’s cool spring and long, freezing winter, the grasslands were speckled with the vibrant oranges, yellows, and purples of blooming wildflowers. It’s said that a thousand years ago, along these very hillsides, there was an epic battle between Eric the Victorious — King of Sweden — and his nephew Styrbjörn the Strong over the Fýrisvellir plain, on which today sits modern Uppsala. After Eric sacrificed to Odin for victory, according to legend, the Allfather caused a great avalanche, burying Styrbjörn’s forces in the dirt.

It seemed that everywhere Malin went — at school and at home — she was reminded of these legends, of the generations of her family that had come before her, all native to this patch of Sweden. And if what she heard was true, somewhere beneath those grassy hillsides — the same ones that rushed before her in blurs of green and brown on the other side of the car window — laid an entire viking army: her heritage fertilizing the dahlias and the daisies

In the brisk Scandinavian summer, as the R4 scampered and sputtered through the Uppsala plains, little wisps of wind bit at Malin’s skin, well-wishings from ancestors of old as she set forth on her journey, making her way towards Stockholm, where the Leschlys would catch a ferry across the vast cascading emerald of the Baltic Sea. 

Malin Leschly, age 7, celebrating Midsummer in Sweden

Some twenty years later, Malin made her way to the United States to study at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. The balmy weather in California’s modern, suburban Silicon Valley was a far cry from Uppsala’s sub-Arctic winters and mild springs — and its diverse, globalized population invigorated her, since she had yet to live outside of Sweden save for a year as an undergraduate in Boston. Seemingly overnight, her world of ancient runestones and centuries-old townhomes was replaced by a vast sea of suburbia situated in the heart of the world’s tech capital, though perhaps due to her untraditional upbringing driving through Europe, she felt a sense of comfort in the myriad of new cultures around her.

“I loved how open and diverse everything was,” she muses today. “It felt like there wasn’t any judgment about where you came from, and when you walked down the street, everyone would say hello.”

Though considered a large city in Sweden, Uppsala County has a population of about 400,000, which is on par with many mid-size American cities such as Tucson or Oklahoma City. By comparison, the greater San Francisco Bay Area is home to more than eight million people. Leschly remains a Silicon Valley resident to this day, due in part to her love of the local community and in part to Stanford Business School, which springboarded her from business into the world of design.

“The best class I took in business school was called Design for Marketability and Manufacturing,” she explains. “After that, I knew I wanted to work in design, but it was before design companies had their eyes open to hiring MBAs.”

As Leschly mentions, during this time, it was somewhat uncommon for design firms to hire MBAs, so, in the years following graduate school, she found herself bouncing around start-ups and experimenting with starting her own business. Her first venture into product design was an idea hatched with a fellow Stanford colleague that the two named Concert: a smart alarm clock that could integrate with several items in a user’s home such that all connected devices (i.e. a coffee maker, lamp, or television) would orchestrate a customized wake-up experience, making for more convenient and comfortable mornings. After some time, Concert was bought out by Phillips’ Home Networking group, sparking the conclusion of a process that led Leschly to fall in love with product design and development.

“The whole experience with Concert made me realize that product management really wasn’t for me,” Leschly says today. “I wanted to create experiences.”

Following this, in pursuit of a new, design-driven career, Leshly slotted into a role at Nonobject, an award-winning Silicon Valley design studio that has been featured in the Smithsonian Design Museum. Nonobject was in the market for someone with a background in business and design — and Leschly’s experience creating Concert as well as her expertise in marketing and brand strategy prior to business school made her the perfect fit for the studio. 

Notably, at this time, Nonobject was partnered with Logitech. Some of the company’s most groundbreaking and most innovative products came from this partnership. The Folio, a clean, compact keyboard for tablets, is more akin to a sleeve or case of soft fabric — and the Ultimate Ears Boom and Megaboom acted as a genesis for a line of sleek, modern bluetooth speakers that runs to this day.

Megaboom 3

“They combined everything: industrial design, CMF, UX,” she reflects. “You couldn’t tell when one discipline started and the other stopped.”

“What Malin brings in through her work in brand innovation is an emphasis on simplicity and clarity, which can speak to the simplicity of a brand portfolio, ease of use in product design — it’s a bit of a Scandinavian design trait,” says Pontus Wahlgren, Logitech Creative & Design’s Global Head of DE&I, who himself is Swedish.

“It’s about an experience — the layers you go through when learning about a product, unboxing it, and finally using it — how each consumer touchpoint builds into the next,” he clarifies. “I think simple products and experiences make them more understandable and approachable.”

One career move later, and Leschly pivoted to Logitech full-time as the Head of Design for its Streamers and Creators product group, using her business acumen and design knowledge gained from Nonobject to work with the talented design team to develop solutions and create ecosystems for a diverse range of users, from streamers to podcasters and beyond. 

“What I loved about that role was that it went beyond the product level,” Leschly explains. “Instead, it was about nailing solutions and ecosystems.”

Now, after the recent departure of Alastair Curtis, she looks to fill the role of Chief Design Officer with insights gained from her unique combination of business acumen, design skills, and a deep-seated beliefs in diversity, storytelling, and the Scandinavian design value of simplicity — all of which harken back to her family’s roots in Uppsala.

E4 Road in Northernmost Sweden

(Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:E4_Road_in_Northenmost_Sweden.jpg)

The E4 is Sweden’s most important highway. 

A hulking snake of concrete, this historic road winds its way from Helsingborg, which lies at Sweden’s southern border with Denmark, all the way up — through wind, snow, and forest — to Tornio, the northerly Finnish city that borders Sweden just below the Arctic Circle.

Uppsala lies somewhere in the middle, latitudinally aligned with the southernmost point of Finland, and every year, in summer and spring, Malin Leschly returns home, making her way across that same winding road that her family’s old Renault scampered along all those years ago.

“Those trips were considered slightly strange back then — almost hippy-esque,” she admits, chuckling. “But they were also my first exposure to working with diversity.”

“I had this experience a few summers ago when my kids and I were driving to Uppsala; we drove past some viking runestones, and they couldn’t believe they weren’t in a museum,” she added happily. “I didn’t appreciate how incredible it was having those stones scattered across the landscape when I was a kid, but I definitely do now.”

Through all of these experiences, befriending strangers on their long trips, learning of her heritage from her family, and raising her own family, Malin learned one important lesson — to listen.

“What I try to do still is listen,” Leschly says today, when asked about her leadership style. “Especially since Logitech is a global company, I can never assume that my view or communication style is the same as everyone else’s — it varies so much depending on personalities, cultures, working styles, and all of that.”

Like her father piloted the little Renault across Europe all those years ago, exploring the wonders and discoveries that lay beyond the Leschly family’s native Sweden, Malin is now in the driver’s seat as Logitech’s new Chief Design Officer, poised to steer the organization in a new, exciting direction.

“I grew up in a time in Sweden that was driven by ideals around inclusion, the environment, everyone’s betterment,” she reminisced. “It really was wonderful.”

She attributes at least some of these ideals to her beliefs today, and many of the ideals that she grew up around — especially those surrounding sustainability, equity, inclusion — are deeply embedded in her personal leadership philosophy and her vision for the future of Logitech Creative & Design.

“Logitech is a very multicultural company,” explains Wahlgren. “What makes Malin great for the role is her inclusive approach and international perspective — along with her ability to strive for simplicity and end-to-end user experiences.”

“What is very exciting to me is the ability to create something that cuts across all products,” she says excitedly, “the ability to help our products feel distinctly Logitech — so that they can look and feel a way that is uniquely ours.”

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