Streamlining Objects, Technologies and Experiences
If you’re in the tech world, you’ve likely read a number of articles that list the “biggest tech trends for 2019,” or tell you about the world-changing powers of 5G. Every year, Whipsaw attends CES to see these world-changing technologies first hand. We spend a lot of time observing some of the less flashy trends that are more about what users are expecting tomorrow, not what is realistically coming in five years. When we talk about observing design trends, we’re not just talking about the latest finishes, colors and forms, we’re also talking about noticing technologies and paradigm shifts that will help us design products that are relevant, sensitive, and cutting edge. Included here are some of the pivotal experiences and technologies driving the trends we observed at CES this year.
Psychological – Beyond the Tracker
A few years ago, health-tech mostly meant fitness tracking and the occasional wearable with a deeper medical application. Last year in our CES recap, we wrote about a move from products concentrated on the physical to those concentrated on the psychological. In 2019, we seem to be continuing our journey up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. This year, CES showcased a myriad of products geared towards sleep, mindfulness, and mood tracking (and adjusting). Wellness products across the floor seemed to be be taking a more holistic and sensitive angle.
We seem to be entering a world that doesn’t just have all our internet data, vitals and feelings, but is starting to know what to do with all this information.
Companies big and small honed in on sleep, but unlike previous years, sleep-oriented products were not focused just on tracking. These products aimed to really improve your sleep and highlight the importance of a good night sleep for health and happiness. PocketSky showcased a small light-therapy device worn like glasses that folds up into the size of a pen. Light therapy helps establish circadian rhythms to promote wakefulness and sleepiness for a properly aligned schedule, and this little product is making that therapy much more mobile and accessible. Somnox has created a sleep robot that you snuggle with to help you fall asleep and stay asleep. And numerous companies are tackling pillows and mattresses to combat snoring, keep you just the right temperature, and gently sway you to sleep.
This year we also saw more head-worn wearables touting their ability to help you reach relaxed, productive, and mindful states. Muse seems to have a strong place in the mindfulness space. The Muse 2 and Softband convert users’ electrical activity into focus and relaxation. Not sure about the tech here, but there seems to be demand for these kinds of tools.
Mood tracking was front and center in a number of products. This included a high-profile demonstration by Kia showcasing a technology that combines AI with biosignal recognition to track human emotions and then adjust the environment based on the mood it reads. It’s exciting to see technology moving beyond tracking. We seem to be entering a world that doesn’t just have all our internet data, vitals and feelings, but is starting to know what to do with all this information.
Moving from Seamless to Invisible
The trend towards addressing psychological needs in a number of industries is lighting the way for products that are increasingly invisible. While fitness trackers of yesteryear were sporty and techy, sleep aids, mindfulness tools, and smart home products are being designed to blend and disappear into their environments. This leaves users with experiences rather than a clutter. This year felt less about the physical object and more about what that object lets you do. This is both an empowering call-to-action for improved experiences and a bit of a challenge for a design firm concentrated on physical products.
Unfortunately, it seems we have a ways to go in figuring out how to design the invisible. Companies in the smart home product world seem game to move towards invisibility. They have attempted to do so by designing lots of white circles and squares that plug into your house. Invisible doesn’t have to mean vanilla. These invisible products definitely open up a space that is ripe for design innovation.
Of course, design alone can’t blend products into our world. Luckily, screen technology saw some big innovation this year that has the potential to really make products disappear. We saw screens in every shape, size and form–from rollable (LG) and foldable (Royale) to transparent and projected. A significant portion of the products we design at Whipsaw feature a screen in some form, so it was good news to see screen technology helping us out in this future of invisible products.
Autonomous driving is one of many features turning yesterday’s concept cars into reality, and bringing them onto our streets. In the show’s North Hall, automakers and transportation companies showcased numerous methods for bringing the technological advancements seen in the consumer industry into the world of mobility. Automakers and electronic giants alike unveiled many visions of what a people-mover could be. It became clear they were all asking the same question: “Now that driving is optional, what is the experience of transportation?”
Mercedes-Benz showcased their polarizing Vision Urbanetic concept, which covered notions of modularity with a bold organic design and a lounge-like interior space. Their vision for the future of autonomous travel is not one of car ownership, but of shared use. Why own a car, when one can pick you up from your door when you need it? This could represent a substantial shift which focuses less on the vehicle itself, and more on an intelligent mobility infrastructure.
Many companies explored unique interfaces to allow passengers to more intuitively access the world around them. Hyundai and Kia explored gesture controls and the emotion-sensing R.E.A.D. system, while Nissan’s Invisible-to-Visible concept looked at augmented reality as a way to enhance the driving or riding experience. It’s becoming commonplace for cars to sense what’s around and approaching them. The turn inward, towards sensing the rider, signifies a shift in our expectations of the automotive interior.
Above all, it was exciting to see experimentation. The future of transportation is an evolving idea. CES proved the perfect platform for the mobility industry to test the water. As designers, it’s rewarding to see the this kind of exploration and boundary-pushing becoming the industry standard.
Easy or Lazy?
Driven by technology innovation in spaces like voice control and artificial intelligence, true “ease of use” is becoming a more realistic goal for many products. We’re not just talking about conveniently placed buttons, thoughtful ergonomics, and simple app integration, but really making effort disappear almost entirely. You may be reading this and wondering why “ease of use” is a pivotal observation. And you’re right, it’s not a new concept at all. In fact, almost every client who walks through our doors lists “ease of use” as a product requirement. However, this year we started to question whether “ease of use” is verging on “lazy use.”
Google and Amazon voice integrations were omnipresent at CES. Where do we draw the line between products that should leverage voice (maybe vehicles for safety reasons) and those where voice control is a couch potato enabler? Should we continue to fold laundry and clean up after our dogs? Some companies feel these are chores of the past. We wonder whether some of these basic interactions with the world around us are important to keep us grounded and feeling a small sense of accomplishment at the end of the day.
We are seeing hardware take a backseat to experience. We’re excited about moving towards a future that is user-first, not tech-first. We still have a ways to go for buzzword-tech like voice control, AI, and robotics to evolve into their most impactful applications, but this year really felt like a step towards the future. Companies seemed genuinely focused on users, not just technologies.