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.

What we read this week (Dec 16)

This week we read about smart homes, customer service, remix culture as the new prohibition, patents, Facebook’s revenues and ROI in Social Media Marketing.

Quotes of the week

It’s an incredibly exciting time to be creating things on the web. This year’s advances in browsers, standards, and smart thinking have enabled us to finally begin to web design. We’re no longer forced to think of the web as a digital reproduction of physical pages, but rather to finally embrace it as its own thing.

Dan Cederholm

The hardest thing to do, and I think the most important, is for agency leaders to unlearn everything we’ve been taught over the years. It’s very hard for people my age to admit they don’t know anything. Fact is, when I was young, I asked older people for advice. Now I’m old, and I ask younger people for advice. Our role as leaders is no longer to be the experts.

Clark Kokich, Razorfish

Articles of the week

  • Can’t get no satisfaction: Why service companies can’t keep their promises
    Dave Gray of Dachis again with another look at the service economy and the foundations for a decent customer service.
  • Homesense Final Report
    Georgina Voss and Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino ran the Homesense project for two years, and helped a number of households enhance their homes through networked technology. (No internet fridges, though!) Here’s the final report with their key findings.
  • Waxy: No Copyright Intended
    “Remix culture is the new Prohibition, with massive media companies as the lone voices calling for temperance.” – A wonderfully insightful article by Andy Baio about a generation of people growing up without even understanding the fundamental concept of copyright.
  • TechCrunch: Apple Made A Deal With The Devil (No, Worse: A Patent Troll)
    Especially over the course of the last 12 months, we have seen an increase in the number of lawsuits targeting manufacturers of Android-based devices. Some of them came from Microsoft, some from Oracle, but mostly it was Apple who was trying to prevent others from competing with their products. In an unusual journalistic quality, Jason Kinacid from TechCrunch depicts how Apple transferred valuable patents to a company that can only be described as a patent troll to increase the opportunity for lawsuits. While the use of patents in general is debatable, it becomes obvious that Apple is using those tactics not to protect their assets, but to hinder innovation.
  • Business Insider: Facebook’s Revenue Numbers Just Leaked, And The Numbers Look Underwhelming
    An interesting glimpse into what seem to be Facebook’s revenues. Let’s just say: Facebook is definitely turning a solid profit, but failing the high expectations. Read the full article for some more concrete meat.
  • What I Learned When I Started a Design Studio
    Khoi Vinh with valuable insights that apply to many more businesses than just design studios.
  • There is No ROI in Social Media Marketing
    Sean Jackson, CFO of Copyblogger, says that asking for the RoI of social media is like asking for the RoI of your employees using email. Marketing is not an investment but an essential communication tool.