Interview with Conor Delahunty

Third in a series of interviews with people whose work we admire: designer Conor Delahunty. Conor tells us what pop songs have to do with service design, how the state of the recruitment industry is like Gotham City, and gives us a peek at what he’s working on at Somewhere.

Conor (@conordelahunty) is a designer working at Somewhere. Recently arrived in Berlin, he previously worked for Made by Many in London. He likes the internet a lot.

Conor Delahunty

What are you working on?
Right now I work for a new company called Somewhere. Somewhere is looking at the (pretty massive) problem that is how people find work that matters to them. We like to say we’re designing a service for humans, not human resources. That means we focus on people and the way that they talk to each other, not technology. But if we are to tackle this problem properly, that also means we have to build brand new tools and infrastructure! Catch-22, but I think we’re figuring out the balance. We were running a beta for a while and have just rolled out our first product. Baby steps right now but hopefully the next release will be a much bigger one.

How do you see the current state of affairs in the employment market?
I think it’s like in Batman Begins, you know! Ra’s al Ghul thinks Gotham is beyond saving, and that it must be allowed to die. I feel the same way about the recruitment industry. It’s a massively inefficient, deeply impersonal, cripplingly expensive, broken system. We know that people’s relationship to their work, their ambitions, their mobility, etc. is changing drastically. It needs a fresh start, a whole new way of thinking about the problem and what people really want out of it. I’m inclined to think we should just ignore the industry rather than save or change it! To quote Clay Shirky (I know, I know!), “Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution”.

What do you want to change about that through your work?
Studs Terkel has said about work, “It’s about a search, too, for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash.” If we can design a thoughtful, humane service that helps people with that search I’ll be very happy. We want people to find the people that they should be working with.

What other topics have become interesting to you lately, and why?

Pop Songs
I do lots of service ecology mapping and user journeys and all these other dry-sounding exercises to try and make sense of what we should be doing. When I’m making them though, I keep thinking about pop songs. I think a great service is like a great pop song. Introduce a catchy idea, keep it bubbling along, hit people with an irresistible chorus every now and again, keep it brief enough that it leaves people wanting more, etc. etc. So I’ve decided to just write pop songs instead making flow diagrams! It’s way more fun.

How do you design and build little gaps and broken spaces into things that encourage people to do something unexpected with the product/service you have created? Twitter and MySpace were full of these little gaps and that why I think they did well. When people are moulding the experience to their needs you get a much stronger sense of ownership. I like the fact that you don’t even really have a choice now either. IFTTT allows you to pull services apart and only use the bits that interest you.

3D Printing
I’m not really interested in the printing side of things right now but more so the impact it could have on our mindset. If people get used to being an integral part of the entire lifecycle of a product (i.e. creation, distribution, consumption, etc.), what does that do to a generation? What will they then want from products and service or even institutions? How will people approach boring things like banking or mobile phone contracts when they think or even know that they should be allowed to have a huge impact on how the system works, or that they should be allowed to just take the small bit that they see as valuable?

Architecture of home icons
I’d love to do an architectural review of home icons from popular sites and apps. I want to know what types of houses these companies are building for people and what that might say about what these companies think of their users.

Diversions 1994-1996 by Lee Gamble
I’m getting a bit lost inside this record. It makes me nostalgic for a time I was neither a part of nor had any real interest in! He took a load of samples off of his old Jungle mixtapes and made these hazy ambient memories out of them. Reminds me of “Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore.”

Mariachi Connecticut Serenades a Beluga Whale
It’s the best thing I’ve ever seen on the internet. I can’t stop watching it. Bizarre, tender and beautiful.

What does your media diet currently consist of?
It’s pretty standard I guess. Twitter is the backbone; I’m always on it and it’s where I discover 80-90% of everything these days. My favourite account right now is @SeinfeldToday. For example: “Jerry breaks up with a beautiful woman because she favorites every one of his tweets. Kramer and Newman start a podcast.” Perfect. I also love Tumblr and I listen to tons of podcasts.

Oh yeah, I use all the time. It’s just a big list of what people are reading right now. I always find a few gems in there every day. I urge you all to sign up. It’s really lovely. I don’t really buy too many magazines anymore, usually only when I’m flying. Stuart Eccles (@stueccles) once told me that he thinks the 20 minutes after take-off and before landing when you’re not allowed to use an electronic device will be the last dying breath of the magazine industry!

Interviews in this series:

  1. Caroline Drucker
  2. Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino
  3. Conor Delahunty

Interview with Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino

This is the second in a series in which we interview people whose work we admire. This time, we speak with Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino, of Good Night Lamp and Designswarm.

Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino (@iotwatch on Twitter) is an interaction designer and entrepreneur, and has been focused on the “internet of things” and its implications in the design of everyday products since 2005. She is the founder of Good Night Lamp, a family of internet-connected lamps. She also leads Designswarm, an “internet of things” design studio and consultancy, and works with clients who want to design next generation connected products. She uses her expertise to help shape early business ideas around smart products. Her work has been exhibited at The Victoria & Albert Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

From 2007 to 2010, she co-founded and ran Tinker London, a smart product design studio. Focused on creating connected product experiences that linked the digital to the physical, Tinker was the first distributor of the Arduino platform in the UK, ran workshops around the world and offered design and consultancy services.

Alexandra is involved in organizing technology and design community events in London such as the Internet of Things meetup and This Happened London.

What are the issues you’re currently fascinated with, or problems you’re currently trying to solve?
I’m like two people in one at the moment, where I have a very successful consultancy, Designswarm, and my startup Good Night Lamp, so mostly my problem is not having enough hours in the day. : ) But seriously, the big challenge for me is to make Good Night Lamp into a credible and successful business that can inspire others to start their own “internet of things” startup. I think there’s a lot of value in making and building businesses as a measure of success of an idea. Tinker London, my first business, suffered from trying to do too much at a time. We were part Arduino resellers, part workshop designers, part consultancy, part production house. It was a nightmare to try to market what we did. The Good Night Lamp is an opportunity for me to do just one thing and do it well.

Explain what Good Night Lamp is, and how it is relevant.
The Good Night Lamp is a family of internet-connected lamps. You turn a Big Lamp on in your home, and a network of Little Lamps you’ve given away to friends of family is turned on too. It’s a physical social network you can collect to keep an eye on people you care about who might be living in another town or country.

You work in East London, which is considered one of the European hotbeds of tech innovation. How does that environment influence your work?
I’ve been working in and around Shoreditch for about 4 years and I really enjoy the mix of tech startups, ad agencies, fashion and art studios that meet in this area. Every time I go for lunch, there’s a chance I might meet someone I haven’t seen in ages and have a quick catchup. It’s really a dense area with a lot of people crammed in, all doing amazing things. If I wasn’t next door to MakieLab and near Berg (who are making the Little Printer) I don’t think I would have had the impetus to get Good Night Lamp off the ground.

Share the most important thing you learned while building physical, networked products.
It’s hard. There are generally more single points of failure than if you were making a regular product. The software that talks to the hardware as well as making sure your product is beautiful all become part of the equation and a world of problems you have to be ready to deal with. It’s a world I’m massively excited by regardless.

What’s your coffee setup at home?
I’m not a coffee fascist as I recently became lactose intolerant. So it’s Americanos for me. It’s really easy for cafés to screw up an Americano, sadly…

At home I have the small Bialetti Italian coffee maker I bought when I was a student in Italy back in 2004. I mostly use Illy or sometimes Lavazza coffee, rarely anything else. I got used to the taste in Italy when I started drinking coffee and old habits die hard. I only have one coffee a day though and rarely at home, so it’s a weekend treat.

Interviews in this series:

  1. Caroline Drucker
  2. Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino

More interviews coming soon – stay tuned.

Interview with Caroline Drucker

The first instalment of a series in which we interview people whose work we admire. This round’s subject: Caroline Drucker, Etsy Germany’s Country Manager.

We’re starting a new project. We’re interviewing some people in fields either directly or tangentially related to ours, and whose work we admire. We hope to glean something from these interviews that will be helpful for ourselves and others working in the digital sphere, and for your inspiration.

First up: Caroline Drucker, a friend of ours who now works just down the road.

Caroline Drucker (@bougie on Twitter) is the Country Manager for Etsy Germany. Prior to Etsy she worked as Product Manager and Partner Marketing Manager for SoundCloud, the world’s leading social sound platform. Caroline also has significant experience in media publishing – playing a key role in establishing VICE magazine in the German market; managing the business development for the leading literary and creative quarterly DUMMY and spearheading the digital strategy behind the re-launch of der Freitag, a left-leaning weekly newspaper.

Caroline graduated Magna Cum Laude from Bryn Mawr College with a double major in German and The Growth and Structure of Cities. Born in Canada, she currently resides in Berlin.

What are the issues you’re currently fascinated with, or problems you’re currently trying to solve?

How to communicate passion. Simply the word passion is so overused, it sounds a bit precious. But at Etsy, I can’t think of another word to describe what we do. Our vision is to fundamentally change the world by building a people-powered economy that is sustainable, responsible and profitable, all while increasing the wellbeing for those involved. To demonstrate that dedication, we’ve been certified as a B-Corporation. Everything at the company, from the lowest level of code to the handmade desks in our office, is executed with a poignant level of craftsmanship. The passion for what we do every day and what we believe the world can be, sets us apart. We need to show, not tell this passion. So, how do we do this for a mass audience within Germany?

You’ve been working with creative communities for a while. What have you learned so far about working in this setting that you can apply in your new position at Etsy?

Tools are by far the most important thing for any craftsperson. Just like they may need a soldering iron to make a circuit board, they also need a way to share or monetize that work. Offering simple tools that create value is key.

Etsy has been around since 2005 (profitable since 2009), has over 15 million community members globally and is often regarded as a benchmark for quality in the start-up world. In other words, there’s more than just a great foundation for exceptional tools, there’s a skyscraper already. At Etsy I’ll work with the team to continue to refine the product for Germany, amongst many, many other things.

You’ve worked with makers of both digital and physical things. What tips do you have for working with these communities?

  • People’s ingenuity will never cease to surprise, or even at times, slightly terrify you.
  • A great support team is the best way to turn a bad situation into a good one. With the right internal tools, this is possible at scale!
  • Community building means knowing and loving your community. You have to engage and excite them. The only way you can do this is to know them, well.
  • Support your community by teaching them the skills to support themselves.
  • Have fun!

What’s the next big craft project you’ve got in the pipeline?

A corkboard made out of wine bottle corks. I’m currently working on collecting the needed materials.

What’s your coffee setup at home?

A Dualit Coffee System and a grinder. We buy our beans from the Barn primarily. My partner makes the coffee because before a coffee I can’t bear to work the coffee machine. He says he makes me coffee out of love, but I’m pretty sure it’s fear.

Interviews in this series:

  1. Caroline Drucker
  2. Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino