Thought Piece | Innovation

Ways in which COVID has changed how we approach design in digital

Author: Chris Marsh
Date: 02/06/20

Ways in which COVID has changed how we approach design in digital

The digital products we make now should reflect the situation we’re in – a situation that is very different from the one that inspired all those 2020 experience design trends we read all about in January. Being able to pivot plans and approaches has never made agile delivery seem more relevant. In the case of one of our clients, their ability to reprioritise their backlog in the last month has enabled this care provider to create an online recruitment platform capable of remotely hiring 10,000 new carers over the next quarter, as well as continuing to use innovative technology to provide tailored, responsive care and same-day reporting to the families of patients and local health authorities. With such dramatic changes sweeping across almost every walk of life, what does this mean for experience design in 2020?

1. Education - lockdown has accelerated digital design innovation

Much like a teenager grounded on a snow day – the queues outside supermarkets indicate that we’ll do pretty much anything for 5 mins of fresh air. However, empty shelves have made the wider population realise the convenience of having our weekly shop delivered to our door, not to mention the accessibility of local produce, nice-to-haves, puzzles, weights, wine and everything else. Ocado were criticised for the communication on their UX interface with consumers when all this happened, but the fact of the matter was that the sudden surge in demand caught them off-guard. They’ve since changed and adapted the design and flow of communication so customers know what’s happening and when they can re-access.

Not to say Amazon didn’t have this covered, but with the amount of new pop-up digital solutions to help facilitate people’s change in their behaviour it begs the question – how, in life post-COVID, can we find ways to use data and ‘deep-thinking design’ to make sure we create solutions that not only solve the now but enhance and provide experiences that address the needs of the consumer’s new outlook on consumerism? Microsoft Teams is having to quickly pivot and create means to have more than four people on a screen at once to be able to compete with Zoom’s proficiency in the multi-face meeting and event set-up.

Due to the fact that user issues are being highlighted so openly at the moment, flipping these into positive design solutions has the potential to make this a great starting place for product designers going forward. Basically, if we can learn from what lockdown is teaching us, users should reap the benefits of the products we design.

2. Bravery – boldly ‘go create’ as people are ready to change

Dinner dates with House Party. Work-outs with Joe Wicks. Changes in behaviour have been forced on people due to the lockdown, and this shift in mindset is making customers open their minds to doing things differently. We, as designers, need to act responsibly in response to this, but we also need to be bold in how we respond.

So many digital experiences today are nothing more than regurgitations of existing solutions – quite often sold to clients by some General Assembly kid using the forbidden words “that’s just how customers think”. Depending on business and customer needs, metrics such as efficiency, engagement, and expression should lead to very different outputs.

Look Fantastic has opened up its online space to help hairdresser and beautician influencers. Suddenly designing and creating new virtual spaces to sell and communicate is becoming an everyday occurrence. Even retail giants like Aldi have suddenly had a carpe diem moment and decided that ‘now is the time’ to sell online. In fashion, Primark is one of the very few outlets that doesn’t have any e-commerce capabilities online and therefore has been ‘hit unconceivably’.

3. Design to self-develop

COVID has put an entire nation on downtime. Although this can put all kinds of social and mental pressures on us, being benched in such a fashion can also lead to incredible periods of growth. People are creating a ‘new normal’, seeking much more positive outlets to express themselves and in response, brands are reinventing how we educate, entertain and connect with one another.

So far in lockdown life, we have seen established apps like Headspace flourish. On the flip side, we have also seen rapid design solutions to human needs such as House Party, proving yet again the power of ‘just get it out there, test and iterate’. With this in mind, we should be looking to build on these experiences and help people continue their self-development with ever-improved digital products.

The amount of people that have opened YouTube channels to promote exercise routines has risen exponentially. Nike has also offered its premium workout app for free as COVID keeps people indoors, allowing customers to stream workout videos, training programs and expert tips from trainers.

4. Digital Acts of Kindness

In times of great stress and uncertainty, creating moments of delight that celebrate achievement and success are perhaps more important than ever. However, although everyone loves a good firework display (dogs and my 4-year-old son excluded) it is important to understand the importance of tone when delivering these moments.

For example, if a customer has shown patience and loyalty by queuing for 2 hours to book a delivery slot, we should celebrate with them (and hopefully reward too). We should do so by admitting vulnerability as a brand and ask for understanding.

Also, digital as a vehicle for galvanising and communicating kindness has really come into its own as we see a sea of people clapping for carers across the nation. Nextdoor has also redesigned its app in order to help people support their neighbourhood and communities. From leaving milk and flour on doorsteps to enable mums to bake cookies with their kids, to helping the more vulnerable, the digital design has become a vehicle to support local communities.

The point of all this?

Every year we read a dozen predictions of what the year will bring. What 2020 is teaching us is, you never really know what life is going to throw at you.

The bottom line? Be nimble. Be human. Be kind.