We sat down with smart home appliance designer Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino recently to chat about emerging Internet of Things (IoT) trends for smart homes. Alexandra is the founder of Design Swarm, where she is an interaction designer, product designer, entrepreneur, and speaker. Her current focus is on discovering what kind of IoT-enabled appliances people want in a home environment. She is also the creator of an IoT-connected lamp. Welcome to the IoT@Intel blog, Alexandra! ~Dave McKinney
Q: How did you become interested in the human experience inside IoT-connected smart homes?
A: In 2009-2010, I started with a project called Home Sense. Home Sense was a research project across six European and U.K.-based homes to discover what IoT could bring to people’s everyday living environments. We went into the six homes with local developers and asked people what they wanted out of their homes that might be smart. We brainstormed with them, and people came up with their own solutions and worked with a local developer in their area.
Some people built smart bins to tell them that they were not recycling enough. Some people built coasters for their mugs, so that they would be prompted to take a break because they worked from home. Other people built a little display so that they could tell when they were being too noisy for their neighbors.
Ultimately, this research resulted in the exhibition, “Talk to Me: Design and the Communication between People and Objects,” which is now in the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York. It was an amazing time to do that piece of work because it was early on in the public conversation around IoT and what smart homes mean.
Q: What is an example of an IoT-connected device you worked on that is helping people experience existing technology in new ways?
A: I can talk about the Good Night Lamp, which is essentially a product that I’ve been working on for 10 years. It’s a family of IoT-connected lamps that includes a big lamp and a cluster of little lamps. You give the little lamp to anyone around the world, and when you turn the big lamp on, the little ones all turn on. It’s a way of indicating to someone who might be living in a different time zone that now is a good time for a call, you’re around right now. It’s just a very simple way of sharing your availability and your presence.
Q: How can we better entice people to embrace smart home experiences that could improve their lives?
A: Homes are unique in that they can provide humans with the greatest diversity of experiences. People work at home. People exercise at home. People engage in a wide variety of activities that we can design for such as health and fitness experiences, work from home experiences, and energy usage experiences. Product designers have always known to enter the home in a very particular way, which is through aesthetics and through storytelling.
For example, when a person walks into Ikea each room tells a story about the home they might want to live in, and they buy a piece of that story. I think smart homes as a sector will have to shift toward storytelling around the experience and away from merely flooding people with functionality specifications and technical stats. Yes, it’s important to include that information, but what’s lacking now is the experiential story that goes along with it.
Q: What product design opportunities are you most looking forward to for the future of smart homes?
A: I’m excited by the possible solutions for people on the edges of the bell curve. I’m interested in a very young person’s experience inside a smart home as well as an elderly or a disabled person’s experience within a smart home. Some product designers may not initially think about those markets, but they are often the ones who have more incentive to embrace technology.
Q: Intel Edison was recently named one of the best IoT products at the Tech Hero Awards in London. How have you seen developers respond to Intel Edison?
A: Design Swarm helped organize an event called Intel Edison Demo Day in London, which was about introducing the IoT developer community here, which is a very big community, to Intel Edison. We organized a day in London for people to get to know Intel Edison. We had about 40 attendees and about 10-15 Intel Edison folks were there to support people getting to know the platform. It was great fun and everybody really got going very quickly. The feedback was very positive.