In product development, the user experience is arguably the most essential part of the project to get right. Second only to useability. And while any UX designer will rattle off the fact that user experience is not the same for anyone, things have changed, at least in our lifetimes, for everyone. In a post-pandemic, early endemic world, every one of us (therefore all of our users too) has something very new and very much in common. And, it is still driving, consciously or otherwise, many of our behaviors. We have all lived through a global pandemic that killed one out of every 500 people in the world.
Quantitatively that number tells us something big, like really big, happened to our global users. But it is not great at parsing out the ripple effect of collective trauma. As product designers, it is our job to figure out how to gather the qualitative data around that. We must understand that the novel user experience is tempered by cynicism that only great trauma can bring. Furthermore, we must adapt our user research methods, rethink user personas, adjust our approach to contextualization, and expand our organizational approach to user evaluations to reflect this reality. We do this to create a new--hopefully better--user experience for the shadowed people we are today.
We aren't a lost generation per se, but we are a broken one. Believe it or not, thoughtful, empathetic design can help fix that. It may seem starry-eyed to think that design, especially of everyday things, can heal the world. But most of us product designers got into it because we wanted to make something beneficial for users and believed we could. There is no reason that benefit can't be healing, and the disrupted, ubiquitously traumatized post-pandemic user is ground zero for this. We're by no means saying every product has the potential to have a profound, life-changing impact on the healing journey today's user is on. But, most can certainly, in some small way, tip the balance closer towards a happier, safer, or calmer user. A designer's instinct is, after all, to identify problems and solve them. To do this, we must first come to terms with what happened to users and who they are now.
"It is estimated that for every death, nine people are affected by bereavement." ~www.cam.ac.uk
For those nine people, "bereavement" is not "Oh, hey, did you hear that Jerry died" kind of sad. It is in the bathtub, in your clothes, sobbing with the lights off--for months--type of sad. It's grief, and it is so powerful that it actually physically rewires the brain of those who experience it and will continue to do so for years to come. Multiplied out, the number of dead and grieving people is staggering and tells us large swaths of potential users are in a state of serious pain right now, whether they show it or not. It isn't hard to understand the depth of loss like this or empathize with it. Before and outside of Covid, many of us lost loved ones and have been that proverbial person in the bathtub: sad and lonely and forever changed from losing someone we love. But, the thing about the pandemic is it took away more than just people. Even those of us who didn't lose someone close lost scores of other very meaningful things. Jobs, savings, relationships, friends, habits, routines--these tangible losses are readily apparent. But there were just as many intangibles lost, too: security, faith, and trust were all shaken. As a result, by and large, we are a society more anxious, more depressed, and more traumatized since perhaps World War 2--and some (The World Health Organization) would postulate more.
Imagine reworking all user the personas for products you've designed in the past to include the fallouts of COVID. Judy, 35, lives in a brownstone in Brooklyn, mother died alone in a hospital bed while she was pregnant with her first child. Joe, 62, lives in a ranch home in Des Moines, lost his job of 20 years, and couldn't make his car payment for the first time in his life. Would these new personas change the way your team designed past products? Probably. There really isn't a road map on designing and developing for a generation struck numb by a phenomenon bigger than a war that killed 40,000,000 to 50,000,000 people. But there are ideas out there on how to design user experiences that ease the burden on issues post-pandemic users struggle with the most: things like trust, mental health, grief, and connectivity. The question for product designers then becomes--how might I synthesize and magnify previous design thinking on these issues into my designs of a seemingly everyday thing? It's quite a challenge but not impossible.
Part two of this blog will outline the typical post-Covid user. We'll explore ideas and approaches to designing things like trust, mental health, happiness, and connectivity into products. Finally, we'll notice how some changes can start in the research phase and even go as far as organizational makeup. Until then, we hope to hear about your thoughts and experiences here or on LinkedIn.