Designing For A Post-Pandemic World

Making predictions is always a risky endeavor, especially in the midst of a global pandemic. More than six months into the crisis, however, one thing is clear: The increased digital consumption we have seen since the pandemic emerged will continue to shape how we work, shop and play over the next several years. 

Digital consumption has shot up across the board – webinars and Microsoft Teams meetings for work, Zoom classes for education and fitness, streaming video and gaming services for entertainment have all jumped sharply. A recent online study conducted by Invoke, a real-time market research company, found that 75% of respondents (80% of those age 35 and younger) are watching more streaming content than before the pandemic struck. 

Millions of children worldwide have come to rely on digital education alternatives. Digitally inclined consumers are creating and consuming more content than ever before, and digital neophytes are participating for the first time, from Zoom book clubs to remote yoga classes. 



In short, as we retreat into our physically isolated, pod-like pandemic selves, we have become more digitally connected than ever. And we are leaving a greater level of digital exhaust than ever. 

An interesting corollary to increased digital connection is the vast amount of content being created by recorded video calls. Email and chat had already given businesses and organizations a written record of their work, but with recorded video calls there is a new and deeper ability to understand organizations. Use cases include connecting employees working on similar initiatives and finding expertise within a firm. No doubt analysis of the video footage and transcripts will offer new insights in everything from operations and HR to new product development and customer service. 

For practitioners of design, COVID-19 and the resulting lockdowns have also caused considerable disruption in our own craft. Without in-depth, in-person field research and in-person studio workshops, our people (“frogs”) have ramped up remote collaboration using tools like Miro and Teams. To remain focused on creating human-centric products and services in the absence of “human touchpoints,” we’ve had to create techniques to simulate the emotion and tangibility of the human spirit while using a purely digital lens. Games, trivia, rituals and protocols have become even more important elements of the design process as we collaborate remotely. Our remote team happy hours at the completion of a project are one example, as are our daily trivia questions posted in internal Slack channels. In our work with clients, new protocols make it easier to collect input and approvals from a broad array of stakeholders within an organization, resulting in a more democratized engagement and better designs. 

In addition, COVID-19 has accelerated design’s transition to being more data-driven. Good design was historically a one-two punch of insight (problem framing) and solution (problem solving). Design has traditionally indexed on qualitative methods and direct “observation” as inputs into the creative process. Data science and behavioral science are now providing designers with deeper and richer insights that are not easily observable, and given the increase in digitally mediated interactions, there is more data to work with than ever before. This means the creative sparks are being generated from a broader set of inputs. 

If our clients and their customers have become even more digitally oriented, one might wonder what that implies for the future of customer experience design. It is likely that every customer journey needs to be reconsidered for the post-pandemic world. “Convergent design” – the integration of digital, physical and place touchpoints serving both digital experiences as well as in-person customer experience – will be a requirement going forward, and one that will evolve. These historically siloed domains are being woven together more tightly to create more holistic, customer-centric approach aimed at delivering experiences that address emerging needs and introduce magic into this newly shaped world. This trend, already underway, will be accelerated by the pandemic and will undoubtedly affect nearly every industry sector. 

Take, for example, retail. Physical retailing will likely accelerate its migration to playing the role of experience centers, intended to provide an enhanced physical equivalent to the digital shopping experience. And if commercial real estate costs decline, we could see more flexibility in retail manifestations—a WeShop equivalent to WeWork. 

Commercial real estate firms will offer new types of services in the WeShop model, to a new set of retail customers. Some of our own work points to this trend as we see leases on retail space abbreviate themselves from years down to weeks with pop-up space allowing for configurable modules – and providing essentials including point-of-sale systems, signage and even staff. 

It’s an exciting time to be designing products, services and experiences. The impact of COVID-19 seems to be unleashing a digital renaissance. And as part of that, it is spawning the next wave of creative design that aims to improve the human condition with the health of individuals, communities and our planet in mind.

As the world becomes more digitally connected, so must the disciplines of design.


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