Now that we have established an enormous collective trauma is dogging the heels of more or less everyone we are designing products for, adapting our methods to positively impact the post-Covid user is the logical next step. As UXers, product designers, industrial designers, and engineers, our CVs could not be more suited to this. Researching and uncovering user needs, goals, and fears is, after all, what we do best. But like many things post-pandemic, the way we go about mining for user insights must also shift to reflect a new reality.
All user researchers likely made some fairly dynamic shifts in their approaches during the height of Covid. They had to. Physical contextual situations were impossible due to shelter-in-place orders and quarantine protocols. Now that those extreme times appear to be behind us, in-person interviews and testing are back, if slightly different.
It is important to remember times are still shifting fast, which is why continued agility in user research modes is critical. The moderated user research study continues to be clutch. Beyond the fact that it is an excellent answer to the growing remote norm, the informal and conversational nature of this approach is fantastic for honing in on how people are thinking as the sands continue to shift.
A well-known tenet of designing thinking, talking to people of extremes, is more relevant than ever before. Going out of the way to recruit research participants who report having changed very much or very little after Covid-19 is an adaptation well suited to this. These extreme users who dwell in the margins can provide similarly obscure insights and, maybe, even a solution or two. At the very least, their unique perspectives or actions can help researchers and designers understand a world with new boundaries. Somewhere everything has changed, or nothing has changed at all; equally as helpful in a bid to holistically understand the new user.
Finally, who collaborates on what, and how is something worth shaking up. For example, recruiting individuals from departments not traditionally tapped for something like empathy mapping allows for an organization-wide understanding and prioritization of user needs. Changing the means of collaboration (i.e., Zoom calls to Slack huddles) towards new and quickly emerging reactive technologies for collaboration adds further agility when context is changing quicker than usual.
If you are anything like us, adapting user research processes to be more empathetic, agile, and diverse will prove less challenging than imagined since we have all felt the weight of the pandemic. Likewise, the difficulty in designing products to address universal Covid emotions is also somewhat absorbable because there is already a lot of thinking on how to design small but meaningful remedies into products: nudges towards things like trust, connectivity, and happiness. It is the reimagining and reshaping of these techniques that can be applied to address the trauma bubbling below the surface of the post-pandemic user.
Let's face it; the last few years have been rough in the trust department for pretty much everything. From widespread misinformation about the Covid vaccine to baseless claims of election fraud, our society has been inundated with doubtful, often strange, lies, made louder and cast further by social media. In other words--to design for trust in a post-pandemic world, we've got some work to do.
A good start is to double down on building (or rebuilding) emotional bonds with users because bonds give people a sense of security through understanding and caring. Human-centered design is the obvious way to go about this, but only when excessively diverse. Why is diversity so important in HCD when building trust with users? Because the varied ways people build trust is shaped by culture.
*Full disclosure, at Speck Design, we will always take the opportunity to call for more diversity in product design, but in this case, that is largely the answer. To build products more people trust, diversify your teams. Include people you don't normally see, who don't fit in, who don't know what you or others around you know. Perhaps, sprinkle in some novice perspectives unpolluted by subject matter ennui. Minorities, women, and non-binary folks? Yes, please! Product development teammates like these are HCD gold and essential for addressing the question trust-starved users need to be answered most: Does this product have my interests in mind?
The key to designing for connectivity is amplifying the conversation between the product and user and the user with others. Throughout the worst of the pandemic, a lot of conversations stopped, and others turned nasty. Discourse is now something old but also very new.
When speaking in terms of how a product speaks to users, the signal can be overt via wording or subtle through colors and lines. When approaching this dialogue, remember two things: design is language, and like any good conversation, the user should feel encouraged, engaged, and heard.
In relation to connecting a user with others, be mindful of a product's overall place in the world. Is it shareable? Can it work to create partnerships, further dialogues, or connect users to community? After the pandemic, people are hungry to interact again; products designed to connect should, can, and will sate them.
"One of the more powerful ways to induce a sense of self is through a personal sense of accomplishment." ~Don Norman, Emotional Design
After an abundance of death, insecurity, and lockdown restrictions followed by shortages, rising prices, and climate emergencies, users are increasingly looking to products to create positive experiences. In short, they want to be happy. The study of happiness is something very familiar to psychologists since, even before the pandemic, the search for happiness was nothing new. They have found that intentional behavior has a substantial role in determining personal happiness. Motivation, or as Don Norman put it, "a sense of self," accounts for about 40 percent of subjective well-being or "happiness."
Therefore designing products to be vessels of significance, motivation, goals, and aspirations can remind users of the pleasure of pursuing these things. When designed with intention, the use of these products--not the ownership--is synonymous with a sense of accomplishment or achievement. So how can we, as product designers, make the world a better place? By handing users the tools to flourish in the form of everyday things: products that challenge them to be better, do better, and succeed.
In good times and bad, the things we use every day shape our lives and, increasingly, our well-being. This is why, post-Covid, it has become clear--a product designer's mind belongs to crisis. It is an opportunity for us to rethink why things work the way they do and why, at the drop of a hat, they don't. In turn, this reminds us the products we design are ephemeral, but the experiences we design are not. These truths, paired with a devastating generational event, require thoughtful change. Product development teams need to take a step back to further consider the impact of our decisions--zoom in and out--rethink what we put into this world. Make them that much more exceptional. This is the behavior that will separate product development firms doing user-centric design from those merely talking about it. People have forever changed, and the true masters of our craft will adapt to meet them.