I first encountered Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino at Frontiers of Interaction in Rome in 2010, where she was speaking about how to run a successful business in interaction design based on open-source hardware. Now she’s put the product of one such business on Kickstarter and is seeking to raise 360,000 pounds.

Step back three years with me for a moment, because I want to say that I first came to know about Arduino when looking into what Alexandra was doing in her consultancy business, Tinker.it, of which Massimo Banzi was co-founder. She suggested Arduino for a project that I was hoping to develop for a museum (that never happened), while on her part, she was doing some stuff that was seriously ahead of the game in the field of Internet of Things (like remotely pumping up balloons “hoppers” by Twitter... in 2009!).

Her latest project in the field is the GoodNight Lamp, a family of internet-connected lamps featuring a big lamp that controls one or more little lamps such that they turn off or on in tandem, wherever in the world they are located. Solid, Arduino-based functionality meets beautiful design in a product that is getting its share of media attention, and that we hope will reach its goal on Kickstarter – because we at MakeTank have backed it!

MT: You're a team of 4 - how are roles distributed, and can you use your team as an example to speak to the importance of team, skills, and collaboration in product design?

“My background is in interaction design and product design, but I had been working with John Nussey on and off for years. His background in design and building interactive installations with Arduino was really important to me to be able to prototype a feasible product. Adrian McEwen (our CTO) has a background in building both backend and frontend web products, as well as building web infrastructure for hardware (he's also writing a book on the internet of things) and he's been doing that since the 90s so I knew he'd be able to lead the web development of the Good Night Lamp as we're developing our own online service to manage all the lamps.

Costas is an old friend, interior designer and architect and he helped out with the design of the lamps, CAD drawings and designing our booth for CES.

Tom Cecil is a friend of a friend of John's and as an engineer and product designer was really key in making the prototypes, thinking about mass production and how we would make the best use of the space we had inside the lamps for the electronics.

On an average day, John works with both Costas and Tom to bring everything together, Adrian helps John out on the coding side of things and I fundraise and talk about the product to other people to see if we can work with them further down the road.”

MT: You've been working on this for about a year now - what are the phases of development and why does it take time to make a good product?

“This is an idea I had back in 2005 but didn't acted on as my career led me to co-found a design consultancy (tinkerlondon.com). [Tinker’s closed but her new consultancy company is Design Swarm.] The idea stayed in the back of my mind though, and in March last year, I decided to just register the company and book a booth at CES in Las Vegas (that was last week – Jan. 2013) to act as a deadline. It took some time before the team came together and we worked on a workshop basis initially, so just a few days at a time. Then in July, John joined the team and we started iterating on an old design I had developed and essentially ended up redesigning it entirely to more appropriately suit the type of user interactions we were looking for. We then built about 3 different versions of the design, each time making it easier to make, smaller and using different materials. The booth also took a lot of effort to make, design and ship.”

All the GNL prototypes in a row

MT: Can you tell us a bit about materials and how you approached working with and sourcing the materials used in the GoodNight Lamp?

“Tom worked on using an MDF base with a walnut veneer that was CNCed. A process that he'd never tried before as he was CNCing down to the veneer, something that's not traditionally done. Everything so far is being done in London in the UK, but we expect that'll change as we grow. We do still want to source the wood and plastics in the UK if we can.”

MT: How will the lamps be commanded, and can we hack them?

“They will work with wifi, and you'll be able to access the electronics and make them do other things if you want.”

MT: What was the biggest challenge you've overcome - or have yet to overcome - in commercializing the GoodNight Lamp, and what is your advice on this matter to other Makers?

“Capital. Getting access to funding for these types of projects that have both a product & electronics involved is very difficult and only starting to emerge.”

To address this “capital” problem, the GoodNight lamp team have turned to crowdfunding on Kickstarter – MakeTank has contributed, and you can too! Best of luck to Alexandra and her brilliant team. We can’t wait to see what you come up with next.


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