The Consumer Electronics Show is reviewed extensively in the press but rarely from a design perspective. Here are our most notable “design” take-aways from the show:
TV’s have always dominated the main hall and every year there are incremental advancements that entice users to keep upgrading their TV. This year Ultra Hi Def (called 4K for pixel count), and OLED were hot. Both of these technologies are stunning and allow for super thin dimensions, which opens up opportunities for designers. TV thickness has decreased so much that the Z dimension leaves little room for design expression, and the display borders are so small that they too are limiting…however when the thickness and border widths are constrained form-wise it allows for expression using materials such as metals and glass. We did see lots of design in the stands and supports, the most radical being the Samsung frame. They surrounded the TV with a huge speaker frame spaced well away from the display.
Finally we seem to be getting somewhere with connected home technology. Our gadgets are talking to one another. The ability to share content and a unified interaction model between one’s phone, tablet and TV were demonstrated by all the big makers including Samsung, Panasonic and Sony. The UI’s still need help because they all still look too much like computers but the experiences are beginning to feel a bit more seamless and integrated. There were a lot of “streaming boxes” too that connected these devices. This trend also applied to cars.
CES can be divided into a few camps: The giant rich companies like Sony, Samsung, and LG that have their own big design teams; the mid-size companies like Belkin, Eton, and Monster, that are doing a good job with design by hiring design consultants or a small staff; and the recent startups like Fitbit and Dropcam with hopeful futures. There is another category of midsize companies like Coby that make so many mediocre looking products that are banged out in China by the millions. We were surprised to see that Polaroid has become one of these companies. They had hundreds of knock-off products, some licensed, and few were interesting. They displayed sepia posters with profound quotes about innovation by their brilliant founder Edwin Land that directly contradicted their cheap products sitting in the foreground.
It’s one thing to be influenced by a successful product like the iPhone, but to copy is a whole different type of offense. Polaroid practically Xeroxed the Nikon 1 camera, LG did a Nike FuelBand copy, and we saw several lesser-known audio brands that copied the Jambox.
Products that look like iPhones
Simplified geometric forms with authentic materials are good, but unless a products purpose and environment call for it, it will appear forced. Panasonic showed a line of home appliances including a toaster, coffee maker and blender that from a side view were no different than an iPad…?
Colors that used to just be for accessories are finding their way into product SKUs.This is reflective of a bigger trend in lifestyle and fashion influences on the world of CE.
Headphones ran amuck at CES, spread equally across the good, bad, and ugly. Turtle Beach needed the most design help; Parrot by Philippe Stark was interesting but weird; Beats is the standard, and we thought Sennheiser sounded the best but it could use more contemporary design. A new company called Marley had Rasta-influenced headphone design and a Rasta brand language, using natural materials like wood, leather and canvas.
Convertible Notebook PC’s
PC’s have been having an identity crisis but there appears to be some traction in convertibles, or notebooks that morph into pads. We’ve worked on these for companies like Intel and we’re excited about the category because it’s a new transformable form factor that gives users (and designers) more freedom.
Big Screen phones
Every new Android smart phone has a big screen – way bigger than the iPhone, and many are very nice, dare I say catching up with Apple. Apple, please make a bigger display, my typing fingers and hungry eyes will thank you.
Fitness and wellness products
We think this is a cool, new and rapidly evolving sector, with products that monitor workouts, calories, distance, heart rate and more. There were stationary bicycles that interact with TV apps, group calisthenics apps and even fitness technology products aimed at the pet market (Tagg). iHealth had an iPhone accessory/ blood glucose monitor device that works with a proprietary app to manage Diabetes.
2D approach to 3D
Complex form and IMD used to be king, but the new trend features a bold graphical statement on a simple product. 3D Textures, bold patterns, oversized vent or perforation, etc. are used to this effect.
Competition lies in fringe features and style
As performance expectations and specs are becoming more flat, the focus is less on the product itself and rather how it helps enable self-expression and personal style.
Cool bits of technology waiting for designers
We found sparkles of new raw technology yet to be turned into real products for consumption. Tops were flexible display tech by Samsung (designers have been drawing flex display products for decades).
Credit: Images and insights contributed by the Whipsaw design team, edited and written by Dan Harden.
Dan is President/CEO and cofounder of Whipsaw. He is also the Principal Designer, and directs the strategic and conceptual direction of most accounts. Dan is a passionate and consumate designer, with a keen eye, a unique perspective, and a strong drive to innovate. Throughout his prolific 29 year career, Dan has designed hundreds of highly successful products for clients such as Acer, AT&T, Braun, Cisco, Disney, Eton, GE, Intel, Leapfrog, Logitech, Motorola, Optovue, Topcon and Sony.