User norms are always evolving, but the corona lockdown has put change into overdrive — as UX designers we need to account for this in our design thinking.
Self-isolation, social distancing, face masks, rigorous hand washing rituals and communicating with friends and family exclusively via video conference are just some of the ways societal norms have drastically changed in the last few months.
It’s pretty much a given that we won’t return to how things were, even once restrictions are relaxed. In order to account for this in our design process, we first need to understand these changes and the new landscape.
So what’s changed…
1. Mindsets, behaviours and habits
Our hands have been forced to accept significant behavioural lifestyle changes for the greater good, social distancing and lockdown has made us rethink everything from picking up groceries to our very livelihoods. Individuals are becoming more accepting to bigger changes, especially when they see it has a positive impact, and we focus our energies and work together.
As UX designers we know that behavioural and habitual change is extremely difficult to influence in individuals — post lockdown many of these attitudes especially those motivated by fear will not simply revert back, there will be a new normal. We can look at this as an opportunity, for positive change and ensure we don’t complacently exploit these fears in the future.
2. Increased reliance on technology
We have become even more reliant on connected technology — it’s a lifeline for those that are not co-habiting to have a human connection, it brings a wealth of entertainment for downtime, provides resources for home schooling, allows people to continue working remotely and lets you order supplies direct to your door. An extended wi-fi outage at home during lockdown is not a scenario I’d like to imagine.
We already use technology abundantly in our everyday lives, what we’re witnessing is a further entrenchment – affecting how we fundamentally live and work.
We may see remote working become the new norm, more flexible working hours and travelling in crowded trains and buses into cities something we do far less frequently.
3. The human connection
We all thrive on human interaction, not the vacuous social media kind but the real world type where we sit and talk and share moments with family, friends and colleagues. The absence of this interaction can be difficult for most of us, video chat apps have been a lifeline to see and speak to one another. Shared experiences are part of what bonds us, so it’s no surprise to see applications like Netflix Party becoming popular, letting us share those small moments — even if it’s just watching our favourite shows together.
Video conferencing apps like Zoom and House Party have seen a sudden uptake, a commonality across both of these is the very low barrier to entry and cross-platform access. House party flips the interaction of video calling from an organised conference to a more organic revolving door type system where you’re notified if friends are “in the house”, which can lead to impromptu casual chats — not dissimilar to a corridor chat or lunchtime chin-wag.
FaceTime, Skype and Hangouts have been around for years and essentially perform the same function but are geared to work in the more traditional format of a phone call. Rethinking user needs can create new product opportunities, and there will be plenty in the post-lockdown world.
4. Digital and contactless payments
Cash has been side-lined in the lockdown world, with physical merchants preferring contactless and card payments over cash. There has been a greater uptake in self-scan checkouts in grocery stores, to limit the interaction with cashiers. Take-away and delivery providers are primarily using online ordering apps to deal with customers, similarly to limit customer interactions. Online ordering has been the only way to get many products other than groceries.
This trend of online shopping and digital payments via apps, has been happening well over the last decade. It may mean that online grocery shopping will become more normalised, and the frequency of in-store shopping visits may change.
On the dark side, if we’re not careful in the UK we may end up trading our civil liberties in a jack and the bean stalk like deal for some magic beans, or a “magic” contact tracing app.
It all sounds like a good idea, if you’ve been in contact with an individual that’s tested positive — you self isolate, and then inform others you’ve been in contact with to break the chain of transmission.
Ultimately though with current technology it’s flawed from the outset — using Bluetooth as a means to detect contact proximity without using location data could mean it flags you as having extended contact with an infected neighbour — even though in reality you never interacted, but Bluetooth detects you’re a few metres from one another and disregards the apartment wall that separates you.
For contact tracing to work effectively, you’d need a network of contact tracers to follow-up on contacts and also mandate everyone uses the app, amongst other things.
The bigger picture at play here is that in times of crisis we are often asked to be flexible with our liberties and act in favour of the greater good to save lives, but what happens post-lockdown? Does giving up tracking information become the new norm? The implications to this could fundamentally change our society as we know it.
As designers we need to be even more responsible when we utilise personal user data in our products, and that we do not make light of the new good faith afforded by these new user norms.
Change is constant
One thing we’re all familiar with in the tech industry is that it keeps on evolving and adapting even in these strange times. Our lives will return, but it will take time and those user norms will continue to change.
We can look at this as an opportunity to design better experiences for our users, as opposed to thinking we need to return to entrenched norms and assumption that were in some instance limiting the way we designed experiences. We now can see that if the human race wants to accomplish something, they really can still work together toward a common goal, a norm I’d like to see stick.
Keep safe — stay hard, stay hungry and stay alive.