Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino: ‘Be good at what you do and never apologise’

 

Women Shift Digital is extremely excited to launch a new series of blog contributions dedicated to Women active in Digital Creativity with the story of Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino (Good Night Lamp, designswarm). We have invited women and supportive men who are active movers and shakers in the field of digital creativity to share their stories and thoughts with our readers in the coming months, so if you would like to nominate an inspiring personality please do get in touch

 

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“I don’t know if I’ve ever stopped looking for role models”

I don’t know if I’ve ever stopped looking for role models. I grew up in an abusive household, moving constantly, so very early on started looking for a different type of woman. Someone smart, strong and calm.

Often that magical creature would be a school teacher. I was in awe of my history teacher, Madame Rivière and my French teacher Madame Devaux when I was 13. At 17, my adoptive mother Marielle and Micheline with whom I would live for a year at university changed my life by providing me with an environment where someone would listen to my ideas and encouraged me to follow my dreams.

In the subsequent years, I was surrounded by women who were very entrepreneurial – Lucie a manager at the HMV I worked at, Danielle who ran her own local art store and Diane who was one of the best immigration lawyers in Montreal. None of them were in design or technology but they showed me what entrepreneurship looked like when it was a woman running the show. And it was glorious, over the top, full of gut instinct, risk taking and adventures. Those women totally and radically changed my outlook on how I would enter the workplace.

“It was glorious, over the top, full of gut instinct, risk taking and adventures”

As I started my own business at 26 (tinkerlondon.com) I started turning to the men around me for inspiration and have two who I consider mentors, Russell and Tom. I don’t think of them as lesser than the women who inspired and continue to inspire me, simply different. Now almost 10 years into my career, I wish I could find women in my field to engage with but they are still few and far between in technology and even less when it comes to the internet of things.

I’ve been tremendously inspired by reading about the lives of Diane Arbus, Lee Miller, Diana Vreeland, Sunday Reed and other women in the arts, fashion and photography. Canaries in the coalmine of their profession, which is sometimes how I feel. Closer to home, Georgina Voss co-founder of Strange Telemetry and Lauren Bowker from THE UNSEEN do unique work albeit in very different fields. Looking to other fields for leadership and inspiration also means I can find universal problems we all share as women and entrepreneurs, challenges we all face working, in relationships and building families. A creative working woman’s life is far from limited to a simple set of choices.

 “A creative working woman’s life is far from limited to a simple set of choices”

My drives for creation, an independent voice and an endless curiosity makes simple life choices feel completely irrelevant. I don’t own a flat or have any savings. Dangerous perhaps, but I’ve decided to put my money elsewhere. It’s allowed me to push through with the  Good Night Lamp 10 years after coming up with the idea. It’s made it possible for me to run a studio and work with large corporations on great projects like BBC, Intel, Nokia and others.

That drive I know will make me work through the challenges of running a consultancy & a product company at the same time as making sure I eat well, do enough exercise, pay my bills and hug my boyfriend enough. There is plenty of space for failure in this arrangement, but I’m not afraid of it. I closed down my first business after 4 years at the age of 29, knee deep in debt. I did learn a lot from that and it has helped me grow as a professional.

“Don’t think about getting a job, think about making the career you dream of happen, one project at a time”

I studied design and ended up in technology, not a typical but not an unusual path either. There’s a continuum of creativity that flows between them and the only thing that younger women need to keep in mind is that there is no such thing as “knowing it all”. I’m constantly learning and constantly learning how to get a collaborator to understand what I’d like to achieve because I understand that they need to hear about ideas in a specific way, with code, or drawings, or ideas. These are just a set of tools I have at my disposal as a creative professional. The boxes of “designer” and “technologist” are an arcane leftover of factory and corporate thinking and the faster you get your job description to exclude them, the faster you will do interesting cross-disciplinary work. Founding your own company is the fastest way to doing lots of different things and learning constantly. Don’t think about getting a job, think about making the career you dream of happen, one project at a time. And don’t do work you wouldn’t be proud of, you will only get more of that work. You always get the work you do.

A life in technology and the creative industries is exciting, unknown and on the cutting edge”

Being a woman doesn’t make you special though in the creative industries and technology, just a minority. Just be good at what you do, never apologise, engage in public speaking and always question someone’s thinking if you think it’s wrong. Just be confident and proud of your work and you’ll be fine. A life in technology and the creative industries is exciting, unknown and on the cutting edge. You will have plenty to contribute, so just get stuck in!

‘You will have plenty to contribute, so just get stuck in!’

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Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino is an interaction designer, product designer, entrepreneur & speaker based in London. She was named 2nd in Top 100 Internet of Things Thought Leaders (Onalytica, 2014) and included in the Top 100 Influencial Tech Women on Twitter (Business Insider, 2014). Since 2006, she has built consumer-facing internet of things products, services and communities for clients such as BBC R&D, Nokia, British Gas, EDF, British Telecom. She is the founder of the Good Night Lamp (see picture above) a family of internet-connected lamps for your global friends and family. She heads up designswarm a consultancy for governments & corporate clients who want to plan for next generation connected products, experiences & strategies. She also helps advise early stage startups.

Photo credit for Good Night Lamp: Ben Barker

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