CES 2011: Five Trends Influencing Product Design



By now, you’ve probably already read about the new products introduced at CES 2011 and started building your new gadget wish list. But what does it all mean?


Karten Design digested our experience over two days at CES into five trends that are starting to influence product design and consumer behavior.


Blurring Boundaries: Digital convergence means that the same content is universally accessible across a broad range of devices, from TVs to computers and smart phones to tablets. This year we saw new devices that blur not only content boundaries, but boundaries between product categories. Google TV goes a step beyond the “Smart TV,” allowing people to search the full web on a television. The Motorola Atrix, designed to essentially become a user’s primary digital hub, enables users to extend the capabilities of their smart phones when used with Motorola’s three docks—one of which transforms the phone into a laptop computer. Tablet designs like the Samsung PC7 Slider or the Lenovo IdeaPad U1 create a tablet/netbook hybrid category. Until now, we’ve all been pretty certain about the categories of devices that we need to manage our daily productivity and entertainment. This year’s products re-open the discussion for adventurous early adopters willing to test new solutions. I’m already looking at cancelling my cable TV.


Express Yourself: User generated content receives a creative boost at the hands of companies seeking to engage their customers by empowering them. From fabric printing and embroidering to digital photography, companies are providing products and interfaces that elevate creativity and allow customers to unleash their inner artists. Proud parents can now capture their kids’ birthday parties in 3D thanks to a new line of cameras and camcorders from Sony. Casio’s new TRYX camera takes a more low-tech approach to creativity with a frame that can twist and turn to capture shots from new angles. Photographers can load their shots from any camera onto Casio’s Imaging Square, an online service that will enable users to transform their photos into art prints with effects such as watercolor and pointillism, or print them out wirelessly with special edge effects on Polaroid’s Polaprinter, part of the company’s Grey Label designed by Lady Gaga and her team at Haus of Gaga. With products like these, perhaps creative output, not consumption, will become a standard of personal success.  


Invisible Hardware: Apple started this trend with minimal design that disappears behind the content it presents. Now most major American manufacturers have adopted a minimal design aesthetic. Look no further than the ultra thin bezel on Samsung’s 2011 TVs to prove the point: Hardware is taking a back seat to content and interface. Traditional design—that is, creative exploration of form, material color and finish—was more the prerogative of smaller Asian companies, which exhibited some delightful objects that served as ends in themselves, from panda-shaped speakers to a host of colorful Apple accessories.


Making Information Tangible: Speaking of content and interface, new innovations in these categories certainly deserve a spotlight. Today we typically control computers with mice and track pads, and TV and games with handheld remote controls. These interfaces are intangible and distant, and have essentially remained the same for years. Following closely on the heels of the Wii, the iPad and the Kinect, this year’s interfaces and technology could really change the way we interact with digital data, making information on a screen more tangible and immediate. The 80 new tablets at CES allow users to hold content in their hands and interact by direct touch. I believe this natural and intuitive approach to manipulating information is the tablet’s chief draw. This sort of personal, direct control may become even more pervasive if companies like 3M, Touch Revolution and PrimeSense are successful in making touch screen displays and gesture control a part of the daily environment in education, gaming, business and retail. With such friendly, touchable, portable screens, look out for more blurring than ever between the virtual and “reality.”


Information = Motivation: One thing was certain at CES: there’s an abundance of information at our fingertips. In addition to content for entertainment, this year’s introductions included smart appliances and smart monitors that can capture, record and display endless information. Want to see how many calories you burned today? Look no further than BodyMedia’s FIT armband monitor. Want to make sure that your mom in Florida got out of bed and took her medications today? Lifecomm and Proteus Biomedical can help you in the near future with (respectively) a stylish body-worn monitor that provides mobile access to emergency assistance and a smart pill that can register whether a patient is compliant with their medication regimen. Maybe you’d like to know how to save on your energy bills? A host of Smart Appliances from virtually every manufacturer let you monitor real-time and historic energy usage on TVs, smart phones and smart meters. Beyond just supplying data, most of these smart devices present it through info graphics and games, making the underlying data actionable and meaningful—a catalyst to real behavior change.

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