We need to put the consumer back at the focus of the Consumer Electronics Show.

We need to put the consumer back at the focus of the Consumer Electronics Show.

That was my big take away as I reflected on my recent CES trip. This theme was slowly creeping up on me as I was walking the floor looking at the shiny gadgets and sparkling images in booths, but it didn’t really become clear until I was sitting at my gate in the Las Vegas airport waiting for my flight back home while doing one of my favorite activities: people watching.

Some you could see were clearly zoning out trying to get the over-stimulation of Vegas out of their head before returning home. Others could be seen making large gestures while they loudly talk about all the money they won and then totally lost because they needed just a little more but red never hit…”Like literally, black came up like five times in a row… Like how does that even happen…Like you’re welcome for my money Vegas”. I also overheard a few people one up each other over the agony of lack of sleep and drinking way too much at the 3, 5, no…6 places they had shots at after drinking the yard of daiquiri they purchased on the strip. The plan was brilliant to them because they originally figured it was way better to stay up all night and drink because they are going to just sleep on the plane anyway, but now totally regret it (I’ve made that mistake before).

However, most people were asking each other what cool things they saw at the show. Cool things like drones that could follow you while doing x-games style tricks when snow skiing (AirDog). The cars that could sense people jumping out in front of it while parking itself for you (Like the Genesis from Hyundai). Or even the dumb stuff like putting your face on a 3D printed Captain America body that could be carefully placed on your office desk next to the Back to the Future Delorean model. Or whatever other typical things you’d find on a normal office desk. (Full disclosure: I stood in line but once I found out how much it was going to cost I left to find something way cooler).

With all of this conversation going on, I didn’t hear a single person say anything close to “The cool gadget I saw at the North Hall…wow, I’m getting that as soon as I get back” or “This thing was perfect for me. Can’t believe it took this long before someone created this.”. No one. I also didn’t hear it while I was on the floor looking at strange gadgets and wondering how people could really benefit from using them.

What I did overhear on the floor was a lot of pitches from gadget representatives trying to sell people on why they needed it. Or why it was better than the exact same gadget two booths down from them that was pretty much identical, but didn’t want to admit it. Most of the time, the people on the other end of the sales pitch were politely dismissing them or carelessly handing over business cards before quickly grabbing the marketing tchotchke and moving on.

As I was wandering from booth to booth I was trying to understand why I, along with a lot of other people, weren’t being moved to latch on to something longer than it took to tweet out a picture. So I started to ask a few of the people representing the products a few questions. Questions like:

  • How many people were you able to interview during the concept phase for this product?
  • What feedback did you get from your user testing sessions?
  • How many people are using this now and actively giving feedback?

Some people had good answers…and it was reflected in their product. Like the Giroptic 360 camera for example. All kinds of tech packed into a little camera, but easy to use.

But once I started asking what turned out to be uncomfortable questions to most of the gadget reps, they either gave me a blank stare or quickly asked what business I was in in hopes to dismiss me. Once they found out what I do, they wanted to know if I would be interested in doing user testing for them because they do think it’s important but haven’t had a chance to do it yet . In my head I was thinking “You didn’t have time to do it yet?! How do you not have time to talk to potential users and get feedback on if your product would solve a problem for them or not!”. (I said no by the way).

A prime example of one of these interactions would be with the group called Beeraider. They have developed an interesting alternate keyboard layout to the traditional QWERTY we are all familiar with. Their design claims to be more efficient and cause less strain…but I’ll be honest, I was intimidated right form the start. I asked them about the user testing they have conducted and I got a 15 minute explanation on how they are trying to verify the design with a third party to help vindicate their layout. Vindicate their layout…really? Instead of vindication, why wouldn’t they be looking for satisfaction ratings or at the very least raving reviews from actual users.

I feel for them because they are trying to solve real problems that come with the traditional QWERTY keyboard. But in my opinion , I think they are going to have a hard time convincing people to change from what they are currently familiar with. No matter how inefficient or strenuous the current solution may be, people are used to it and it’s used in almost every device people interact with. I honestly think they would have come to this conclusion by talking to users before investing a lot of money in developing something they now have to prove works better. If you ever watch Shark Tank, you’ll know educating the consumers is very expensive and not a lot of investors want to sink money into educating users. “Mr. Wonderful” might even say that you are dead to him.

A lot of the products I saw were interesting solutions to actual problems that people have. But in my opinion a lot of them were too complex for the users that they were meant for. The gadgets either had too many features and not enough benefits or the solution seemed to be bent towards a vision where I can only assume was driven by someone trying to prove this was the right thing to do, no matter what.

To wrap this up, here is a potential take away for you:

Don’t try to prove your solution is right, prove you have the right solution.

Every gadget I saw had a representative that thought they had a great solution for our everyday problems. But I think only a select few will break through that barrier of being a real usable solution people will embrace. The sad thing is I believe most of the products could achieve this elite status.

Here’s the other take away:

Stop speculating, start validating!

You can do this in a lot of ways, but talking to the people that use your product or service is one of the best ways to figure out if your solution works. And if it doesn’t work for those that you are targeting, tweak it until it does. I’m not saying cave to every wish and request that you hear. But you should be able to figure out pretty quickly if you are on the right track or not after a few interviews.

So put the consumer back at the focus of your product or service. Talk to people (not just your friends and family) to get the quality feedback that your product deserves. Your gadget or service wants to be loved! And I know love is a strong word when it comes to a product. But you and I both I have products that are loved. There are services so great I can’t stop talking about them (You’re the greatest Trello!).

Aim to be the product people can’t stop talking about.


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Mat Winegarden

Product manager at Handrail. Sometimes I have ideas...other times I am brilliantly late to the party.

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