Interview with Joachim Horn, SAM Labs: Lego of the Internet Generation
The SAM Internet of Things Toolkits, combining hardware and software, were developed by London based start-up SAM Labs. The building blocks empower creatives to innovate interactive prototypes, products, and apps in seconds without any previous coding experience. Connected to an intuitive interface using drag and drop software SAM turn any physical object into an internet connected smart device.
Founder of SAM Labs Joachim Horn, a mechanical engineering graduate (2013) and essential player in the Imperial College Design Collective, fused his passion for design and technology to develop SAM, dubbed the “Lego of the Internet generation”. We have asked him some questions about the start-up’s origination process and the role of designers within the team of SAM Labs.
What’s the key principle of SAM?
SAM gives the powers of engineering to anyone who is creative and who has got an idea. Whether you want to create a new product, a new app, or an invention based on an entirely new approach, the last thing you need is to give up because you’re not a tech expert. SAM is a tool to turn ideas into reality in five minutes. SAM makes it a fun, rewarding, and learning process, regardless of whether you’re a beginner or an expert. SAM kits are made of tiny wireless hardware building blocks that connect to each other through a minimalist software app. People have created home automation systems, toys, wearable tech , lighting projects or smart doorbells.
How long did the development process of the first building blocks take?
The idea came in August 2013 in Tokyo and early prototypes of an interface connecting wireless modules were made in December 2013. By February 2014, we were working as a team of friends, all but me still at university. In October 2014, we launched our first Kickstarter campaign, raising 125.000 pounds in 30 days. Only then did we realise how big the demand was for something we had created as a cool idea and set to work to create a proper, fully-certified product. We started working with MAP and Pentagram to make our design language consistent across hardware and software. This helped a great deal, as we had created a lot of material, but we needed to string them in a coherent design story. We shipped the first SAM kits to backers in June 2015 and it’s been mind-blowing to see actual people working with SAM, rather than us in our offices.
Which is the role of designers in your team?
The designers maintain and nurture the uncompromising vision of “exposing people’s creative potential” with SAM. This means constantly simplifying and improving the experience across SAM’s physical and digital manifestations. Designers work hand-in-hand with technology and marketing to get feedback on new ideas and to make sure we deliver a clear message to our community.
Our designer team also helps inspire the wider SAM community by sharing their own projects on our community page. The diversity of their projects includes SAMmy the robot, a colour-responsive lighting wall, and a twitter-powered art installation.
Was the look-and-feel of app icons on smartphones an inspiration for the SAM product design and identity?
I've never thought about this, but I guess we’ve all felt the impact of the simplification, minimalism, and skeumorphisms of services in the small squares on smartphones. In general the design of icons in SAM represents sensors, actors, and apps we use every day (buttons, sliders, light sensors, thermometer, lights, motors, Twitter, Facebook) and encourages you to connect them together to innovate or solve a problem of your own.