Design Philosophies for a Post-Coronavirus World

Design Philosophies for a Post-Coronavirus World

As designers adjusting to this changed world, it is very important to define guiding rules–our design philosophies. The unexpected novel coronavirus outbreak has affected people and organisations around the world and left us wondering: how do we recover from this? One of the keys to a successful turnaround strategy is focusing on your customer experience. We are all in this, fighting together, and building the rapport and community necessary to survive begins with empathising with our customers. In this article, I explain my six design philosophies to improve customer experience.

1. Experience the environment you hope to impact.

(Safely of course.) As designers, we have a role to play in helping the world recover from the shock of COVID-19. The technology we create can and will impact people, but it is up to us to make sure that it has a positive influence. People’s lives have been changed, and in order to understand their needs, we need to listen to their stories and empathise with their experiences. Nearly all of the great inventors through history discovered the opportunity or motivation for their ideas through actually living the situations they wanted to impact. If they didn’t, they worked closely with people who did. Take Benjamin Franklin’s invention of the stove for instance. Previous to this design, he lived in an only fire-warmed house, and experienced firsthand the negative effects. From his experience, he discovered a need for better heating, and created a design that solved the problem as he understood it. If he had just been inventing for someone else’s description of a drafty, smoky house without ever experiencing one, he may have come up with something drastically different and far less effective. It is the same for all designers. In order to truly and rightly impact an area, you have to have the empathy that comes from shared experience. Let’s design for a recovering world by truly listening as others share their experiences.

2. Don’t be restricted by your own knowledge.

Your knowledge is only useful if you are mindful that there is always something you don’t know, or there is an observation that you haven’t yet made. This is especially important to remember when you are an expert in the field that you are designing in since it is very easy to think that you have learned everything there is to know. Throughout the research process the designer needs to treat the user like the expert and ask the basic, naive questions. The design process needs to start from a blank state that comes from eliminating all previous assumptions. For example, what you think you know about how your customer was impacted by COVID-19 may not be the whole picture. Coming into user research and interviews with previous convictions and assumptions will cloud a designer’s vision and keep you from clearly seeing the direction your design should go.

3. Design for your users’ situations

Design should fit smoothly into user’s lives as they are without forcing them to change their intuition or expectations. We as designers should remain sensitive to how user’s situations are changing the wake of this pandemic. In the iconic piece, The computer for the 21st century [1], Mark Weiserspoke about how truly good technology will integrate so seamlessly into our lives that we won’t have to think about using it. Ideally, it will be perfectly intuitive and error free. Although in the real world this is hard to achieve, designers should strive to create devices and systems that support and extend what people currently do rather than taking them out of their world. This is not saying that there can’t be factors in technology that are exciting and engaging, but even the technologies that are deigned to be new and stimulating should fit into user’s frame of understanding so that they can focus on the challenges that are intended by the designer rather than just struggling to figure the design out. Otherwise put, a person’s focus should be on their content, not on the UI. As designers, we can help people work and play without interference from poor design.

4. The small things matter, good or bad.

What this means is that, as designers, we should pay attention to the details, and not gloss over them. Research has shown [2] that even a slightly different size or location on the page can change how easily people can find and click an object. Places on the screen that are easiest to access are known as prime pixels. For example, a popup uses prime pixels by appearing right next to the cursor. It is crucial for designers to understand how to use basic principles like this in order to make an interface more usable and pleasurable to work with. At the time, little differences like the fraction of a second less is takes to locate and click an object might not seem important, but in the accumulation of uses over time it could decide whether a user prefers your website or your competitors.

5. Realize your biases and how your designs effect social issues.

Now more than ever, we, as citizens of the world, need to come together to survive. We need to use the influence that we have to stand up for the marginalised populations. We may be unaware of the deeply entrenched pattern of supporting greater economic powers that we follow. People notice. Our customers care what we do with the power we have. Show your customers that you are committed to helping the world recover. Harmful and socially unjust designs are simply a symptom of the beliefs that we hold and the patterns we follow. This is why it is crucial to develop an awareness of what your biases are as a designer and to recognise what patterns you might be following.

6. Design should imitate the real world.

In order to make design most intuitive and easy for people outside of the technology field to adapt to, it needs to align with concepts and frameworks that they already understand. This concept is known as ‘mental models.’ Customers use mental models to understand what to do when something unexpected happens with a system or when encountering unfamiliar systems. During this time of remote work and in the aftermath as everyone readjusts, people may look for new technology to help them work and play. All systems start out unfamiliar, so people need to be able to recognise familiar frameworks in them so they can create a ‘mental model’ of how to understand them.

Increasingly, customers are looking for authentic brands that make a contribution to the good of society. If any of these six design philosophies stood out to you, share it with your customers. Let them know that you are thinking about how you can contribute to an even stronger post-coronavirus world.

What are your design philosophies?

This article originally appeared on UX Planet

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