Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino

Founder, Good Night Lamp

Alexandra is an interaction designer, product designer, entrepreneur and international speaker based in London. She is the founder of the Good Night Lamp, a family of internet-connected lamps for your loved ones around the globe. She has been running the London Internet of Things meet up, the largest in the world, since 2011. Alexandra’s work has been exhibited at MoMA in New York, the V&A and galleries worldwide.

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Damned if you do, damned if you don’t: commerce and the internet of things

In 2007 two things happened. One was the iPhone which completely changed our idea of the phone, music on the go and computing generally. And the Ardunio was released – initially as an academic project. It’s become the base platform for the Maker movement. At the time, the Internet of Things wasn’t even registering with Gartner and its hype cycle. (That’s why she give stem zero credibility on the hype charts.) But things were happening: the hug shirt was a Masters project, which allowed two people to wear a shirt. When one person hugged themselves, the other would feel it. The Nabaztag was an internet-connected rabbit. It was commercial successful-ish. About 250,000 of them were sold over five years. You paired two rabbits and when you moved one rabbit’s ears, the other would match. It had apps, and an app store (before Apple) and it was very popular with divorcees with kids. It gave them an opportunity to communicate in a non-verbal, politics-free way. Both sweet and super-sad. A to of them were given away with broadband connections.

An Ambient Umbrella glows when it’s going to rain. Great in California, not so great in the UK when you always have an umbrella with you…

Today, the Internet of Things is at the peak of inflated expectations according to Gartner. There’s been a lot of work (and tears) along the way.

The problem with wearables

The industry appears to have rallied around the idea of wearable computing. But there’s very little interest in people wearing a large number of wearable tech devices. How many people wear watches after the mobile? She doesn’t wear one.

It’s all getting a bit 1987 digital watch. In fact, before 2007 wearables meant a parole ankle bracelet. Now, a screen and a mobile phone allegedly makes it cool. Sproutling is terrifying. The comments on the YouTube video are gold. Parenthood is difficult – so you should spend more time on your mobile in a different room checking on your child?

We have ideas driven by marketing not user research. Nivea gave away a bluetooth wrist band for your child in magazines in Brazil. For use. On the beach. Why would you be looking at your phone not your child on the beach?  Others are playing to fashion – after all, it;s wearable. The problem is that things go out of fashion, too… Ringly is a ring with an LED that changes colour base don the e-mails you receive. Highly distracting…

There are issues around products being developed because there’s a market for investment in them, even if there’s not a market for selling them. When did we get adverse to user-research? The maker community has helped build this issue. If you can build something for yourself, there’s no guarantee or necessity that anyone else will want one. Products are being developed which are doomed to fail, and which will lead to negative coverage of the internet of things.

Connected ignorance

We’re in super-early days just yet. Most people have no idea why they would want an internet-connected thing. We’re living in an age of science-fiction, fuelled by crowd-funding, startups and makerfaires. Most internet of things devices on kickstarted are aimed at the $200 or less mark. But you’re probably losing money at this point, but not creating excitement. At $500, you might make money and generate excitement.

Pebble was the first to suffer from these factors. They had an incredibly successful Kickstarter. A year later they had a beta – and all the big companies started doing their own version. Pebble has come back to the Maker Faire to try and find use for the device.

Design tends to come too late in the process. Jawbone has had problems with product life. On average activity trackers are used for six months.

Insurance companies are all very interested in this. Your activity tracker will start selling your information. The price of being an early adopter is that you fuel things like this. The companies who are paying attention are seeing how much we’re prepared to share, and will make use of that.

Three things:

  1. Making implies using materials. We’re selling them as kits and we think that removes us from the environment equation. It doesn’t.
  2. Design for dis-assembly when you can.
  3. Don’t be afraid to charge too much. People will value the experience more if you charge them more. The Goodnight Lamp – her project – will cost money, because she hasn’t found funders and its selling it herself.