Workshop 4: Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino, ‘Creativity outside the boxes’

Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino (CEO & Co-Founder Tinker.It, London) opened her presentation by introducing herself briefly. She explained to the participants that she runs a design studio based in London and Milan called!. Deschamps-Sonsino described! as a firm oriented on making interactive products, spaces and events that link the digital to the physical. She stated that she started this company with a man called Massimo Banzi. While a student at IDII in an interaction design program in Italy, Massimo Banzi developed a product called Arduino. Deschamps-Sonsino proceeded to explain that Arduino and following its creations will be the topic of her presentation.

Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino began by elaborating on how Arduino was developed and is being manufactured in Italy since 2005. She explained that Arduino is about the size of a credit card and it works with a USB cable and connects up to a computer where it communicates with free software you can download. Subsequently, Deschamps-Sonsino emphasized Arduino’s academic background and the fact that it is being sold around the world.

Further, Deschamps-Sonsino argued that Arduino was a collective academic project started by this group of people, mostly academics, who wanted to give designers resources and means to learn about electronics, the stuff of physical computing and what some are now calling physical interaction design. Deschamps-Sonsino claimed that being cheap and open-source, Arduino has spawned complementary industries. 

Consequently, Deschamps-Sonsino proceeded to talk about what Arduino has created. She argued that it has caused a disruption in the technology market that did not come from companies but from the ground up; from the open source community but more than that, from creative people with no technological background. Here, Deschamps-Sonsino illustrated that this novel approach enabled to see the binary distinctions of open versus closed and transparent versus opaque in an entirely new light.

Further, Deschamps-Sonsino argued that an industry that has, of course, embraced the applications of Arduino is the advertising sector. She emphasized that bespoke one-offs used for large campaigns and product launches are easier to build with Arduino if you’re a Creative director than having to invest in getting something made by a specialist engineering firm. Further, Deschamps-Sonsino pointed out that those people (advertisers) understand that a final polished result is better than a hack.

Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino argued that novel technology and novel ways of accessing it – just as in the case of Arduino – enable a certain game changing in the filed of technology to take place. Here, in terms of an example she referred to the Tata car from Tata industries in India. She explained that this car costs about 2500 US dollars and is supposed to be launched on the European market soon. Deschamps-Sonsino proposed that this has more power to change the conversation around pollution, sustainability and global fuel usage than any open source car you can develop. Hence, she pointed out that this raises questions about whether we shouldn’t be concentrating on open designs for bicycles instead. Deschamps-Sonsino emphasised that established manufacturing and industry has more power to be game-changing because its outcome is something that the general public can use and see the value in. Further, she explained that its  strength lies in numbers of units.

Concomitantly, Deschamps-Sonsino proposed that we need to move out of the art education and hobbyist market into the mass market: not unlike Tata did with its 2500 car, except that the solutions that would be the result of a collaboration between a computer scientist, a hacker and a product designer would be more integrated and more intelligent. She concluded her presentation arguing that this crucial move could allow to change the game, being more creative and inclusive so that schools and programs can participate and new relationships with those kinds of technology can be established.



Firstly, a parallel between science and design was made in terms of the similarity of the objects of concern (i.e. genes are so small that nearly immaterial and at the same time very complex and powerful, just as Arduino and computing technologies). Further, the issues related to an open approach were debated in the cases where mastery, control and understanding were all achieved from the expert knowledge. This was compared to the open approach presented by Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino which on the contrary, demands of us that we become experts and take on responsibility and learn the ability to experiment with technology. Here, it was pointed out that this method is an unusual one as generally we allow computing to become the domain embedded in objects, taking away the ability to care about it and control it. Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino contributed to the discussion presenting some common ethical and political ideas about technology. She used an example of ID chips in passports to argue that people reacted to technology that they don’t quite understand, protecting the idea of privacy. Further, Deschamps-Sonsino claimed that people tend to forget about privacy issues if the object in question is functional for them and aesthetically pleasing. She argued that people lured by entertainment and beauty of objects dismiss the political implications and proposed that we should make people touch immaterial allowing an honest and open way of creation.

Secondly, it was proposed that we don’t know how to care in relation to technology. It was pointed out that there aren’t many available alternatives and there is no way of understanding the production, consumption and waste for ordinary people. Here, it was emphasised that it takes extraordinary skills to trace these things and it was questioned whether there are any alternatives to the existing providers of technology.

Finally, some issues regarding open sources, sustainability and re-usability of technology were debated. Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino argued that Arduino should be available in its current form indefinitely as it is very hard to shut down the entire community with the level of transparency that exists now. Further, she explained that people who still own the project are academics so that pushes it into a very different point: what will happen is that the other producers might want to close down their projects but the main one will remain an open source.