An Interaction Designer’s CES

Every January, over 140,000 people converge on Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show. While CES caters to the suppliers, buyers, and technology geeks, there is still plenty of fun to be had for a designer like me. After four years of attending, I finally discovered the best ways to make the most of my time on the trade show floor:

1. People watch.

With crowds like these, CES has no shortage of opportunities for anthropologic obeservation. I particularly enjoyed watching how people approached the new products, oriented themselves, and tried to understand what they were looking at. I listened both the questions they asked and how they picked up, examined, and played with demo models.


People loved trying out the Recon goggles with retina display


Long lines formed around the gesture-controlled dashboard concept from Mercedes Benz.


There was also plenty to see in the corridors, lounges, coffee lines, watching people use their personal technologies to navigate, catch up and recharge, often at the same time.

 

2. Talk to the exhibitors.

Especially at the smaller booths, I often got lucky and met the makers themselves. I asked them how and why. The excitement they have for their products, and the stories they told were both entertaining and inspiring.  It is true that not everything may be innovative, to me, at least. But CES is at its heart a trade show, and to those in their specific trade, what they’re showing is the latest and greatest for a reason.


The iBaby monitor is remote controlled by its iPad app.


There’s a person sleeping in that booth!

3. Try demos—many demos.

I picked up the products whenever possible. I put on the 3D glasses, controlled the UIs, explored the settings and options, and looked for the patterns and affordances in the designs. While  some products fell short of a “wow,” some of them were delightfully intuitive. Testing them out made my experience more playful and hands-on.


Testing out the Omek Interactive Gestural Interface.

4. Pay attention to the whimsy of it.

There’s a lot of interesting (and out there) stuff to be found if you look hard enough, especially in the smaller halls. And I sure found it. I found inspiration in the shapes, colors and materials of all manner of objects.  The robotics zone, health and fitness, and cases and accessories areas were especially good for getting caught up in the whimsy of ideas come to life.

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Soccer ball speakers


Tosy Robots, dancing to “Billie Jean”

5. Appreciate the exhibits themselves.

There is just no way around it: The Central Hall at CES is always overwhelming. I tried to break my visit to the main show floor into a few different trips, so I could take it all in.  Among the new tvs, phones, and tablets, the exhibition spaces themselves were pretty amazing. It was easy to get lost in the sea of branding but I found that sometimes the design around the products was cool if not cooler than the new products themselves.


Intel’s “Connect to Life” 3D Interactive Wall, designed by our friends at Stimulant


An actual boxing ring. On the show room floor.

 

As an interaction designer, the CES experience was as layered and complex as interaction design itself. It only took me 4 years to realize that I could geek out, too, just by looking at the makers, products, and designs a little differently.