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Key take-aways from Slush 2021 for digital products

A neon-lit Slush 2021 was back live. Not bigger than ever, but more focused and determined to set things right, Slush has returned to its roots, writes Johanna Mäkeläinen as she conveys her key take-aways on developments in digital service design and monetization.


Johanna Mäkeläinen

lehtori, markkinointi ja viestintä
Haaga-Helia ammattikorkeakoulu

Published : 22.12.2021

It was great to be back live at the neon-lit Slush 2021. Not bigger than ever, but more focused and determined than ever to set things right, Slush has returned to its roots. The carnival ambiance and over-the-top techno hype was gone. As one presenter aptly pointed: who cares about the metaverse, we have a planet to save.

My goal at Slush was to focus on new ideas and emerging technologies that would bring added value to Haaga-Helia’s Home Opera RDI project. Thus, I paid a close attention to developments in digital service design and monetization. Here are my key take-aways.

Timing is everything in product-market fit

Slush 2021 kicked off with a keynote from someone who knows everything about building iconic products. Tony Fadell is the inventor of Apple’s biggest consumer products like the iPod and the iPhone, as well as Nest, the pioneer of internet of things. He has proven beyond a doubt that he can make products that people love. Not surprisingly, for him this is the essence of product design.

As all great inventors, Tony Fadell makes designing world-altering consumer products sound easy. There are just two magic ingredients: make products people need and get the timing right. To emphasize his point, Fadell told us the story of how he invented the iPhone 15 years too early.

Most of the crucial technology was already in place with the iPhone’s predecessor, which Fadell built at General Magic. However, only 4000 units were sold – ever. The world was not ready for it, people didn’t understand its value, and very few were even using the email back then. There is a great film about the ‘biggest cock-up in tech’. 15 years later the timing was right and the rest is history.

Consumer research will not predict the future

In a related discussion, Georgie Smallwood from Tier also talked about the consumer first mentality. Her advice was to start from the psychology of why people love products. When building a pioneer product, you cannot rely on what people tell you in consumer research. Instead, you need to connect the current convenience to what people need to what life could be like in the future. To use the old metaphor: not a faster horse, but a car. Or perhaps a flying car.

At the moment, Smallwood would like people to love health-tech products. We are getting older, working at home, staying immobile. This should create the next big product market fits. Also, early adapters are more important than ever. People don’t look at brands, they look at pears. You have to start by recruiting advocates, to win the hearts and minds of the most valuable users to make products that are to become an extension of one’s identity.

People will love your product or leave it

There are valuable lessons here. How do we make people love the solutions we are proving them? Is the market ready for the technology we are developing?

Working with the pioneers of XR technology may cloud our judgement on what the audience needs. Technology allows us to bring breathtaking and fully immersive experiences to people, but will they want it, let alone love it?

About the HomeOpera project
The article is part of the HomeOpera – Digital Social Cultural Experiences project, which aims to develop a concept for a social XR service that improves elderly peoples’ opportunities for a high-quality life at home. The project is conducted between 09/2021-08/2023 and funded by the European Regional Development Fund as part of the EU’s COVID-19 recovery funding (REACT-EU).
The project is conducted by Haaga-Helia’s Service Experience Laboratory LAB8

Interested in more take-aways from Slush 2021? Read Johanna Mäkeläinen’s blog Key take-aways from Slush 2021 for game development.