April 6, 2022

Pandemic — A silver lining for designers.

Pandemic — A silver lining for designers.

Pandemic — A silver lining for designers.

A big protest in listed against the corona pandemic measurements — ( Credit: Kajetan Sumila )

March 4th, 2020 — I started observing the sprinklers of COVID 19 news. For most people, it was just another random feed in their daily scroll and no one knows if it will be the headline across the news world. Everyone was new to this situation, not scared, but clueless. This hit hard on everyone when governments implemented lockdowns across nations. Lockdown would have been the best way to understand the severity of the disease, which was increasing exponentially. And that is how an unknown word suddenly became a star overnight — “PANDEMIC”.

Last few decades humans have done tremendous technological revolutions, from the first working transistor in 1947 to the simulation of a calibrated black hole image in 2019. Isn’t it enormous? Today, we as humans have not only come across technological resonance but have also seen the best possible executions. Importantly, medical science and technologies are the best amalgamations, responsible for a successful and marvelous demonstration of a woman who could play the violin during her open brain surgery! But in contrast, are these advancements sustainable enough to terminate biotic disasters? a current pandemic could be the best affirmation for this. In an effort to stop the spread of COVID 19 World Health Organization and governments across the world communicated repeatedly the three fundamental rules — wash your hand, wear a mask and maintain 6 feet of social distance. Aren’t these rules affordable? I will say they are the simplest routine tasks. But still, it failed in the execution process.

“Every great design begins with an even better story.” — Lorinda Mamo

When I try to frame it in design derivation, around 62.07% of people have a smartphone and almost 67.03% have a mobile device across the globe. Isn’t this huge setup enough to easily communicate the three basic rules with at least three-fourths of the global population? It may sound simple, but this gap between governing bodies and the people across the world is humongous, enigmatic and super complicated. Deciphering this gap can lead designers to the next revolution. Out of curiosity, when I retrospect the pattern of human revolution after each crisis, industrial and society has shifted to a new paradigm and this has been proven from time to time in history.

A woman wears a flu mask during the Spanish flu epidemic. (Photo by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

Referring to the same, in 1331–1353, the black death crisis was the trigger to emerge a wealthier society, increase in literacy, the Renaissance period, and genesis to modern medicine. This was the dramatic shift in belief in science and art over religion. Similarly, in 1918–1919, the post-effect of the Spanish Flu was the bombshell, the rise of women's empowerment not only resulted in 21% growth in the women's workforce but also elevated them socially and financially. The Great Depression was the commencement of innovation across industries, such as aviation, film, architecture, and design. The perceptible movement of modernisation changed lifestyle for decades and the following centuries. Practicality and simplicity preferred over demonstration and ornateness. Hence, the manifestation of the crisis never failed to demonstrate the footprint of the human revolution.

System Affordance — A big failure in 2020

Holiday travelers at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta on Dec. 23. ( Credit: Nicole Craine for The New York Times )

Pertaining to the revolutionary shift, the adaptation of new technology in the global security system is at its peak today. Humans have developed high precision screening processes and protocols across the world — like behavioural scanning, thermal camera screening, AI-enabled image recognition, code security systems and whatnot. But, do these technologies really create a high precision ecosystem? That could be the big question for technologists and designers. And that could probably be validation for system design failure in 2020. Everyone knows COVID-19 originated from one single place, but still, we failed to stop its spread across countries. The international media was alerted at the very beginning of the pandemic and our global social media reach was enough the alert people across the world. But we failed to stop the spread, and we cannot blame humans for this. Generally, people don’t break rules in the system, they do what is affordable, and that is what happens during the pandemic, they tried to pass through the broken fence in the system. As a designer, this is high time to think about system designs. Designers must drill down on new topics like human behavioural patterns, system loopholes, quick responsive administration design, adaptive system models, and more. But unless we see the problem from a different facet, we will always fail to identify ground problems. For that, designers must come out of their comfort zone and seek more, probably finding new adjacent stakeholders in the design process. Implementation of design thinking could be the next milestone for all lawmakers across the world. Hence, designers must closely work with epidemiologists, health workers, government bodies, security officers, psychologists and doctors, while being a huge participant in the process to design futuristic responsive ecosystems. Exposure to new professional personas across the different streams can increase the possibilities to find unseen design loopholes, and provide a better creative solution, considering humans at the center. Probably, government bodies could launch more design projects and designers could pitch more creative solutions to governments.

Shoppers patiently wait to pay at Waitrose, as London prepares to lockdown ( Credit : John Cameron )

Government plays a very pivotal role in system making and is also responsible for its failure. At the beginning of the pandemic, there was another system failure in supply chain management. This further increases the seriousness of the situation. Panic shopping is one of the biggest examples of this. After lockdown implementations, people started rushing to buy groceries out of fear of running out of supplies, and again, we cannot blame humans. Because everyone was doing the same and a sense of social impose motivates them to do so. The big reason behind this could be a lack of transparency, the spreading of misinformation, fake news. The government system protocols were not designed for these situations. Hence, this opens up another possibility for the designer to think about strategic communication methods. In this century, information flows at the speed of light, and it becomes more crucial for digital platforms to responsibly come up with a more holistic solution as well as validate the information with inclusive expression. Designers can create strategic communication methods considering information clarity, consistency and distribution of information. Today, with the use of AI and advanced sensory technology, we can passively diagnose human behavioural problems, we can identify what they think from their digital behavior keeping the personal privacy upfront. This could help organizations to come up with strategic information feeds and keep individuals at the center of the system. Nonetheless, people won’t trust what they can’t see, hence designer can come up with solutions like disclosed source of information, open privacy settings, transparent data flow and high-security information transaction. Blockchain technology and Quantum Computing could be the next playground for designers to resolve digital trust issues. This could lead to making strong relationships between human trust and technology.

“Good design is obvious. Great design is transparent.” — Joe Sparano,

In the spectrum of communication design, data visualization plays a very salient role while referring to the pandemic. People were checking world covid data probably more than they have seen the last World Cup final match scoreboard. The dramatic game of inclining and declining graphs held everyone’s breath. Following the high demand for online COVID-19 information, tech companies, and publications across the world experimented with sundry data presentations. There is no thumb rule to understand which data presentation is more communicative and effective. But one of them was highly magnetic and out of the box for me. This was an image with thousands of chairs laid outside the White House to demonstrate the number of people who died due to COVID-19. Maybe the image is not informative, but it is highly impactful to increase my empathy and connect with the people who died. This works so well to increase the sense of awareness, educate people to understand the seriousness, and motivates them to help, which serves the purpose of data visualization in layman language. When it comes to data visualization in pandemics people are not interested in digits, rather, they look for the impact of graphs in their lives. In the near future, designers can explore such more creative dimensions to communicate information that is more conscious and humanised in nature. This could be the new way to communicate static information in metaphoric arrangements.

20,000 chairs laid outside the White House, with each chair with each one representing 10 lives lost. ( Credit: Washingtonian )

Moving out of a pandemic, people are exhausted and insensitive about the future. Everyone is depressed and anxious due to isolation. Pertaining to the future, the designer must hold the galver and lead the ship into a new creative world. Maybe the designer needs to consciously balance the seesaw of functionality and art, and derive the new creative spectrum of civilization. Post-pandemic, we all are more inclined towards an organic lifestyle, human relations and nature. Connected to nature gives us a sense of belonging and mental satisfaction. This new way of living enables millions of opportunities for designers to express creative solutions. The biophilic design could be the best example of a new revolutionary force. Moreover, we can see the face of transportation methods in the near future. Tesla has reported its highest sales record in 2020 despite the pandemic. This will witness the emerge of the EV revolution soon. EV is an economical, nature-friendly and low maintenance way of transportation. Hence, post-pandemic, people will prefer personal EV over public transportation, and this could drive new lifestyle habits. With new adaption, there will be new challenges for designers in transportation design, sustainable charging network, and energy source management. Hence, In the near future, we could see designers working with cross-functional system projects, bio-inspired architecture and government urban civilisation projects.

“Close scrutiny will show that most ‘crisis situations’ are opportunities to either advance, or stay where you are.” — Maxwell Maltz

In my closing thoughts, this pandemic reflects our disaster of systems, failure in problem acknowledgement, and unsustainable solutions. In my opinion, this crisis is more about design failure! However, looking towards the silver line, the current situation gives us time to rethink, identify problems from new dimensions, and come up with more imperishable design solutions. Many solutions in crisis may not be sustained but will be the motivation for designers in the next whiteboard session and stimulation for the next revolutionary paradigm.