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

Week 71

An “average” week in Berlin

About last week, well, it was … kinda average, which I’m hardly able to say about any week so far. Nothing really big or exceptional happened. Just the usual of running a small shop in Berlin. A startup-breakfast-meetup where everyone is in pitch-mode but you nevertheless meet a couple of friends who enjoy catching up over coffee. A short-term booking by an agency1 that has one of us in Hamburg for most of this week. Drinks with friends from Copenhagen who are in town for a quick visit. A workshop about implementing the strategy we build with an enthusiastic client. Editing some excellent writing for our forecasting report and getting excited and inspired by the level of thinking. Seeing the Makers Loft slowly transforming into one of the best working environments while welcoming new friends. Getting “word on the street” about a new coffee place2 and discovering an instant hit for the local coffee scene. Booking a trip to a new-media-festival that will happen in March in Belgrade, Serbia and that is right up our alley: a fresh line-up of the up and coming, an emerging city and not too many familiar faces. Trying out another restaurant on Oranienstraße and instantly adding it to our list of possible lunch spots, you know, the list with about 40 spots already on it.

Yes, we really enjoy working in this city, no matter how hard the weather tries to connivence us of the opposite. It’s an excellent place to be right now. Btw. if you’re considering moving here, have a look at Peter’s article on that topic (Also check out his thoughts on embracing serendipity in our work.).

After enjoying the city almost uninterruptedly for some weeks, we nevertheless are looking forward to a lot of traveling throughout the next months. It’s New York and Iceland for Igor, Japan for Peter and London and above-mentioned Belgrade for me. We just want to make the best use of Tegel airport while it’s still there3. It will take us some time to getting used to being welcomed by Berlin-Brandenburg airport. But once we hit the city, there won’t be any doubt where we feel at home.

  1. Sorry for the redundancy of mentioning “short-term” while talking about an agency booking. 

  2. It’s at SUPERMARKT at Brunnenstr. 64 and is open from 10 till 6 from Monday till Friday. 

  3. We agree with Tyler on this one. 

What we read this week (18 Nov)

While we retreat for a few days of strategic planning, brainstorming and relaxation, we have a long list of fantastic reading material for you. Enjoy!

Third Wave in Coffee

The Third Wave of Coffee refers to a current movement to produce high-quality coffee, and consider coffee as an artisanal foodstuff, like wine, rather than a commodity, like wheat. Third Wave Coffee aspires to the highest form of culinary appreciation of coffee, so that one may appreciate subtleties of flavor, bean varietal, and growing region.

Bonanza Coffee Heroes
Bonanza Coffee Heroes, a Third Wave coffee shop

As you may know, Third Wave coffee has been a big inspiration for us:

The Third Wave of Coffee refers to a current movement to produce high-quality coffee, and consider coffee as an artisanal foodstuff, like wine, rather than a commodity, like wheat. This involves improvements at all stages of production, from improving coffee bean growing, harvesting, and processing, to stronger relationships between coffee growers and coffee traders and roasters, to higher quality and fresh roasting, at times called microroasting (by analogy with microbrew beer), to skilled brewing. Third Wave Coffee aspires to the highest form of culinary appreciation of coffee, so that one may appreciate subtleties of flavor, bean varietal, and growing region.”


So if you swing by our office, you’ll always find a steaming hot cup of fine espresso. We keep rotating brands and flavors, so here’s a small selection of beans we like:

If you’re in the neighborhood, make sure to drop by for a cup!