It’s redundant to say that the pandemic has completely turned our world upside down, changing our lives and habits in ways we could have never imagined — from the way we work to the way we socialise. But we have also become more digitalised than we could predict just a few years ago.
If on one hand, the pandemic has brought more political, economical and social instability among many countries and families, on the other hand, it has been the catalyst for rapid scientific and technological advancement. Never before have we seen vaccines being approved and produced so quickly — whilst still conforming to the safety standards — and never before have we seen so many new digital products for remote collaboration being launched in a short period of time.
Why talk about post-pandemic design?
With this forced shift into a ‘new-normal’, the design industry had to promptly adapt and embrace people’s novel needs, coming up with new digital products and experiences that allowed for new ways to work, socialise, entertain, educate, engage, and much more. Some of these products already existed but found new meaning and grew exponentially during the pandemic — e.g. Twitch, Zoom, Discord, Miro, Strava. Some other digital products, on the other hand, appeared and disappeared as quickly as a falling star — a famous example is Clubhouse.
But which of these new trends and digital products are here to stay? What features or characteristics make a product bound to remain popular and relevant in a post-pandemic society? Exploring the designs emerged post-pandemic and investigating these questions at Design Matters 21 seemed only natural — especially if we’re trying to predict what our life is going to look like in the near future.
What emerged from the talks at Design Matters 21
3D collaboration is paving the way for spatial collaboration
Oluwaseyi Sosanya is CEO & co-Founder of Gravity Sketch, an intuitive 3D design platform that allows cross-disciplinary teams to create using a variety of digital tools in VR, collaborate, and review projects. He discussed how the need for connectivity and remote collaboration have stepped up during the pandemic. In fact, after mastering already-popular collaboration tools like Figma, users want and need more to continue to work effectively from home. In particular, those working with 3D designs — e.g. products, transportation, entertainment — need a way to work together spatially. This is what allowed Gravity Sketch to grow massively in the past two years, managing to raise $3.7 million in funding in 2020 alone.
In general, 3D collaboration tools are bound to become increasingly important, since consumers request products quicker, with more features, and produced more sustainably. With the pandemic, there has been a surge in multinational companies growing with design and engineering teams distributed globally, who need to stay connected in order to deliver with the same accuracy they once did being in the same location. High quality and decentralized work, obtainable with tools like Gravity Sketch, can represent a great way for design companies to win business in the future.
Virtual First and asynchronous work setup are here to stay
Vlad Zely, Head of Design at Miro, highlighted that the pandemic has redefined the tools we use, our processes, as well as our work ethics. We rely on a much larger number of tools, apps, and platforms; we brainstorm an idea on Miro, we hop on countless Zoom calls, we keep our colleagues updated on Slack, we leave a comment on a Google Doc, we update our Trello to keep track of our progress, and we take a break scrolling through TikTok or read what’s hot on Twitter. All this has given us video-conferencing fatigue, digital burnout, disengagement, and causes us to have messy procedures or reduced productivity. How can companies and teams adapt to the new, constantly changing environment? How can they redesign their work rituals and gain enough resilience for the future?
Tiffany Jones Brown, Executive Editorial Director at Dropbox, told us that, prompted by the pandemic, Dropbox redesigned completely the way teams work by going Virtual First. Remote work is now their day-to-day default for individual work. But how did they do it in a systematic way? They researched, came up with a strategy and set five goals for their company’s remote policy:
- Support the company mission
- Give employees freedom and flexibility
- Preserve human connection and company culture
- Sustain the long term health of the company
- Retain a learning mindset
One of the main differences from a traditional work setup is embracing non-linear workdays; with this system, the company sets core collaboration hours with overlap between different time zones and encourages employees to design their own schedules beyond that. Individual working time creates more flexibility around time zones and helps balance collaboration with needs for individual focus. Dropbox also wrote a Virtual First Toolkit, a guide to help employees shift their mindset, manage time better, stay well, and communicate more effectively virtually.
Design Ethics will become more important as we adopt more digital platforms
Sketch is also one of the design companies that work asynchronously, which, unlike Dropbox, has been globally distributed and remote from day 1. Matteo Gratton, Design Advocate at Sketch, discussed ethics and data, and how we can design digital products that take into account privacy and ethics in a super-digitalised era. Data treatment is a compelling topic for social media platforms and collaboration tools. Think for a moment about the number of digital platforms and apps you use to collaborate and stay connected with our friends and coworkers; how many are they? How much information about you do they have? (Matteo had arleady discussed this with us in this article). Matteo showed the audience how Sketch successfully built a collaboration feature that respects users’ data and design ethics — proving that it’s possible for design corporations to design in an ethical and user-centric way.
To see these talks and have access to more than 40 videos of design talks and interviews, subscribe to Design Matters On Demand.
What emerged from the conversations within the Design Matters community
Design Matters isn’t simply a place to get inspiration from the speakers on stage, it’s also a space for designers to meet and discuss their opinions and ideas. Below, you’ll find what was discussed during the workshops and the informal chats among designers.
- 3D collaboration tools, such as Gravity Sketch, could find new fertile ground in the Metaverse.
- When social distancing was imposed, we seeked out new ways to connect mostly through video chat. This highlights the fact we want to do more than just connect through messaging — we want to see one another. Which explains why apps like Zoom, Google Meetups, and even Houseparty (that allows groups of friends to join a single video chat and play games together) received a big boost during lockdowns.
- We have suddenly become reliant on services that allow us to work and learn from home — meaning that technical issues and defective (or even lack of) Internet connection can compromise our productivity much more than before.
- Video games have been gaining popularity during the Pandemic, and games such as Among Us became very popular, making Discord grow dramatically. Similarly, the streaming platform Twitch saw a huge growth.
- With the Pandemic, people spent more time at home and working from home, which led people to buy products for home improvement.
- Fitness apps grew massively during the Pandemic — apps like Strava allow users to make their training sessions more engaging by providing Virtual Rides
- In a few years time our reality will be more tech-driven. This will have a series of positive and negative consequences; technology enhancements and new products will be developed, more jobs will be created and the quality of life of many will improve, but at the same time, big tech corporations will have more power, the economic inequalities between the well-connected and those who have less access to digital tools and technologies will worsen, and misinformation could spread more rapidly — causing the weaponization of emotion and misinformed opinions, reducing social stability.
How has the Pandemic affected us and the products we use?
Research shows that the most exposed groups of the population— such as children, college students, and health workers — are more likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, and other symptoms of distress from the pandemic. The social distance and the security measures have also impacted the relationship among people and their perception of empathy toward others [Saladino, Algeri, Auriemma. 2020. Source]. Therefore, it’s no surprise that technology has assumed a fundamental role in decreasing the negative effects of the pandemic.
Did vulnerable groups in our societies get products catered specifically for them during the pandemic?
We’ve learnt that people with disabilities may struggle to access services and implement measures to keep the virus at bay — e.g. washing hands, frequently cleaning surfaces and homes, or practicing social distancing — which can be hard due to physical impairments, environmental barriers, or interrupted services. An accessible product that was created during the pandemic is clear face masks, which provide protection whilst enabling communication for those who rely on lip-reading due to hearing impairments.
Older people are also more likely to struggle with bigger health risks than the rest of the population and with supporting themselves in isolation. Extreme social isolation has shown to lead to anxiety and depression. To overcome this, Czech company Kaleido offers VR experiences tailor-made to the needs and preferences of the elderly in cooperation with activation therapists; forest walks, beach relaxation, European cities and sights, gallery walks, or violoncello concerts.
Let’s take a closer look at Scandinavia: what design trends have emerged after the pandemic? And how do they mirror the social changes caused by it?
Earthy tones and natural materials
With the pandemic, many Scandinavians have spent more time at home, and oftentimes they have also rediscovered a connection with Nature. This return to nature is now seen a lot in furniture, interior design, fashion, and even in the UIs of the apps and websites selling these products.
This trend sees a predominant use of natural tones — such as earthy brown, beige, natural clay or muted salmon — and natural materials — like wood, clay, textiles, and vegetable fibers. Bringing elements of nature into homes and digital interfaces allows Scandinavians to maintain contact with it whilst still looking stylish. If we look at UIs we notice that the natural hues are usually paired with geometric structures. The examples are from Bolia, Ferm LIVING, Louis Poulsen, and Muuto.
Design for sustainability
On the same wavelength as the natural trend is an increasing tendency to design for sustainability. Second hand shops and flea markets are very popular in Scandinavia. There are many apps and online shops for buying and selling used clothes; Sellpy and Tradera in Sweden, and Trendsales in Denmark. The Danish app Rewearit allows users to rent/borrow clothes from each other. Apps that fight food waste are also increasingly popular in Scandinavia; examples are TooGoodToGo, Eat Grim, Simple Feast, and Karma Life.
Scandinavian design is renowned for its clean, minimalist approach that seeks to combine functionality with beauty, focusing on simple lines and light spaces. This is particularly evident in the most recent UIs of many Scandinavian fintech companies. Dealing with money is a serious matter — especially with all the uncertainties brought by the pandemic — and removing all distractions is surely a smart way to convey a message minimising the risk of misunderstandings. Good examples are Pleo, Klarna, Lunar, and Anyfin.
Emerged in the 1950s, Brutalism is an architectural style that was generally characterised by rough, unfinished surfaces, unusual shapes, heavy-looking materials, straight lines, and small windows. The movement was rooted in the ideas of functionalism and monumental simplicity, seeking to adapt to a post-war world where reconstruction was a necessity. Brutalism in digital design today is a style that intentionally attempts to look raw, haphazard, or unadorned. Both in architecture and in digital design, it is seen as a reaction against artificiality and lightness. So, it doesn’t come as a surprise that this movement has found new popularity during and after the pandemic.
Examples can be found in many Scandinavian fashion brands, websites of creative agencies, concert venues, insurances and more; Ganni, Samsøe & Samsøe, Acne Studios, Alice Cph, Vega, Copen Hagen Agency, Urgent.Agency, Karma Life, Undo App)