The Commoners - Iona Inglesby

Over the past year The Common E2 has connected with an incredible number of talented and skilled artists and entrepreneurs. In this new section titled The Commoners we interview the individuals who are creating great work amongst us right here in Bethnal Green, East London.

Today we introduce to you Iona Inglesby the creator of Dot One. Dot One offers bespoke products personalised by the customer’s DNA profile. Thanks to Iona for breaking the ice with our first edition of The Commoners. We sat down with Iona over a cup of coffee and asked her a few questions, these are her answers:

What would you say most motivates you to do what you do?  

Selfishly I just find it really interesting – the fusion of science and design and the whole genomics revolution that is happening at the moment. I hope other people do too otherwise it’s not going to be much of a business. It’s like the feeling when you discover a really insane fact and you want to tell all your friends, that’s how I feel about genetics, and design is a great communication tool to spread the word.

I guess it’s just my personal passion and that is what I have decided to build my career on as I have never really seen a line between work and play – everything pretty much just merges into ‘life’.

What are you most excited or passionate about?

I love data! When I delve more into the science and find out how exploration into our genetics can empower us in so many ways it’s fascinating. I did 23andme’s DNA test last year and it taught me so much about myself. It also told me things that I knew already but I didn’t know were genetically predetermined; like that I hate coriander, I sneeze when I eat dark chocolate and I can’t stand the sound of people chewing.

Due to advances in genetic technology this information is becoming more accessible every day:

In 2001 the price of having your whole genome sequenced was $100M – this is the same price as an Airbus 390. In 2015, a company, Illumina, provide this service for under $1000 (a 1998 Ford Escort)! This price shift has opened up things to the public like never before and it’s new and it’s happening right now. That’s what’s exciting – and things are moving so fast who knows what will be possible next year and how that will affect my own business.

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We want to understand how and why you ended up here? What led you to this work? 

Genetics is a relatively new obsession but I have always been interested in science. My parents both have medical backgrounds and it was normal to have scientific conversations around the dinner table. I even used to build my dad’s old medical skeleton as a game when I was little and study his anatomy books. Although in the end I turned to design and I did product design masters; my interest in science always influenced my work. I also had never thought about setting up my own company till recently. I always thought I would go and work in a big creative agency but I realise that I like being my own boss and every day I am learning something new and it’s a challenge but I am never bored.

What were you doing before you got here?  

I was studying Design Products at the Royal College of Art. It was an incredible place bursting with ideas and creative energy and it is where the concept for Dot One was born out of my final project there which was called ‘GeneWeaver’. Before that I was living in the Finnish Arctic training sled dogs for a polar exploration company – Cape Lapland.

What’s the specific project you’re going to be telling us about today? Give us a brief overview of it.

You are 99.9% genetically identical to every other human on earth –  we analyse part of the 0.1% of your DNA that can identify you from 7.4 billion others. From a cheek swab your DNA is extracted and analysed to give an official ‘DNA Profile’. Using an algorithm, the raw data is translated into a design 100% unique to you. The products celebrate your identity as an individual as well as visually show how you relate to or differ from others.

DNA testing is no longer confined to the lab and is making its way into the consumer environment, yet there are still a lot of reservations from people fearful of decoding their own genetic language. Customers are not used to doing an at-home DNA test as part of their retail experience, and Dot One, as a design company, is introducing this personalisation method in a fun and engaging way. This process in the future may apply to how they are prescribed precision medicine from their GP, use home diagnostic kits to track inherited diseases or even find a compatible partner using a DNA dating app.

Were there any key turning points in this project?

Yes. I had been developing the idea for over a year and doing commissions for people who were friends or friends of friends but I needed to convert it into a proper business. In November 2015 I decided to push forward and made a website, got a friend to shoot a promo video for me and did a press release. I send it out to a few people and it got published in Dezeen and WIRED that week –  from those two blogs it sort of spread across the internet and December was crazy. I definitely wasn’t ready and people were giving me their money and I had to suddenly get my act together.

Were there any surprises?

As I am dealing with people’s genetic data there could always be some ‘surprises’ coming up in the results as the is the sort of testing used not only for identification but paternity cases. Fortunately no ‘surprises’ yet but apparently 1 in 6 people* who have a paternity test are not the father of their child so … it’s only a matter of time!

*People who take DNA tests for paternity reasons, not 1 in 6 as a whole population.

What are the lessons for someone who might be embarking on a project similar to this one?

I would say – go for it! – unless it’s really similar and then I would say get off my patch :).

The thing I have learned is if you feel it in your gut that you should follow through with something, even when someone tells you it’s not good, you have to do it anyway.

At the RCA I was presenting the concept for a DNA Personalised Tartan to the director of a huge weaving company in Scotland. We were getting marked on the project and there would be a winner in the class. I was thinking, Scotland – Tartan – DNA Personalised,  I’ve got this one in the bag –  turns out gave he gave me the lowest mark in the group –  3/10 and said he could not see commercial viability in any way. At that moment I decided I would make it a success so this one’s for you James.

What’s next for you in your work?  What are you looking forward to?

I am off to California soon where I will be am building partnerships with some big genetics databases which is super exciting. I also am developing plans to work with charities who support people with inherited genetic conditions and research in this field. I want part of the company to focus on healthcare and work on some educational and communicative projects.

What is your dream?

To be a successful entrepreneur, living in California with two huskies. To run a company which brings happiness to people’s lives as well as has some sort of educational aspect and connection to the healthcare system as I don’t want to have a superficial existence (I’m working on developing this side to the company at the moment).

Secondly I want to go to the south pole before I am 35.

What is success in your opinion?

Success means different things to different people. I think personal success for me will be when I achieve the quality of life I want. On a very basic level success is also being a good person and sticking to the principles that you wish you live your life by.

I was reading Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits and he talks about working out what you want from life and as an exercise you shut your eyes and imagine you are going to a funeral. You go into the room and take a seat and then you realise it’s your own funeral that you’re witnessing. People stand up from different aspects of your life and start talking about you and you think about what you want them to say. And this is actually what you wish to achieve in your life.

What is the coolest thing you can share with us?

You share 50% of your DNA with a banana.


Want to learn more about Iona or her projects? Check out the Dot One website or stay up to date on new projects through twitter Instagram or Facebook



Sean Errey