What the New Normal Really Means for UX Designers

The UX community is well positioned to adapt to the challenges of the COVID-19 era.

Written by Bansi Mehta
Published on Aug. 10, 2020
What the New Normal Really Means for UX Designers
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The COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it a novel set of challenges for governments, businesses, and individuals. In a matter of weeks, it upended the way our world operates. Public facilities, office spaces, in-person interactions, and more have either been rendered irrelevant, or have had to rejig their manner of functioning.

As governments, businesses, and other sectors across the globe continue to struggle with the COVID-19 pandemic, how will that possibly impact the UX design community?


New Design Opportunities

Increased Use of Voice Interface Touchscreens in Public Kiosks

The coronavirus has only exacerbated the fear of touching surfaces like kiosks and self-checkout counters. As an alternative, voice interface technology can be expected to become more mainstream. A clear advantage of voice user interfaces (VUIs) is that they don’t necessitate the presence of physical screens, which reduces the risk of contamination via surfaces. As designers, developers, and manufacturers continue to make smart speakers and digital assistants better and prevalent, VUIs are expected to surge.

For designers, this means that they would have to make efforts to decode the user’s underlying expectations of voice interfaces as well as gain a grasp over the principles that govern human communication. Since VUIs are radically different from graphical user interfaces, the same design guidelines do not apply. This essentially means that designers have to take it upon themselves to learn the complex nuances of human communication to create VUIs that are truly useful.


Smart Household Appliances Become the Norm

Zero UI experiences, with their sleek and effortless functioning, have already made it into homes with devices like Amazon Echo, Microsoft Kinect, and Google Nest. Now, with the increased fear of contaminated surfaces, we may witness more intelligent household appliances, such as no-contact faucets.

Consequently, designers will have to work on creating smart products that improve the well-being of users at home. They will have to find out the users’ needs and give them a solution within the overall design, collaborating with other professionals, such as architects and electricians, to ensure feasibility of the appliances they design.


Universal Design Takes the Spotlight

Universal design refers to an all-inclusive approach as opposed to designing for the majority of use cases. While a well-designed product or service is usable by people of all ages and technical expertise, a universal design has to work for users with varying physical abilities. With the global shift to working remotely, the time is ripe for design to become more inclusive and accessible.

In order to create truly universal products, designers have to design for people with ocular, movement, and neurological disorders. Be it voice commands, using desktop video magnifiers, or employing a different adaptive technology, designers have to consider their needs and how their experiences can be improved.


Long-Term Workflow Adjustments

As UX designers, we often find ourselves working in or with groups, whether for research, ideation, or testing. Design thrives on in-person collaboration. And, as UX designers, we expect to be part of a product or service team, to attend brainstorming sessions, ideation workshops, and in-person stakeholder meetings.

Sadly, the pandemic has turned all of that haywire.

Turns out, both the newer and experienced designers will have to continue to adapt to working remotely, as efficiently.


Maximize the Tools at Your Disposal

Fortunately, there are plenty of handy tools that can be put to the right use by UX designers:

  • Most of us are already making use of Basecamp, Trello, Jira, and similar tools for project management.
  • Mural and Miro come in handy for ideating and brainstorming with your team remotely.
  • For prototyping and wireframing, there’s UXPin, Figma, and InVision Freehand.
  • Remote user testing tools like UserTesting and Maze can be made use of now that in-person user testing still seems too far off.

While the availability of tools might not be too troubling, it’s the ease and the comfort designers experience while using these that may be an issue.

During the pandemic, designers may have suddenly been asked to work remotely without the right infrastructure, or projects and teams may have been curtailed or modified in a flash. Designers, like all other professionals, have to take these upheavals in their stride, and also make the right mental adjustments to their manner of working. These tools are only there to supplement work processes as we all get accustomed to the new normal.


Spruce Up Your Communication Skills

There isn’t a better time for designers to sharpen their communication skills. Those designers who prefer to let their work do the talking especially have to make efforts in this area. Designers will have to work on making walkthrough videos explaining their work efficiently, or helping developers understand the designs clearly.

Having the line of communication open throughout the design process will help both designers and developers remain on the same page. Using tools like Slack or Trello can come in handy to share thoughts, ideas, designs, and keep the dialogue open. Understanding the intricacies of user behavior and motivation may not come under a developer’s area of expertise, but it would help if they do take an effort to know what goes into the design process, as it can only help in improving the end result.

Related: Top Remote Design & UX Jobs


A Chance to Build the Right Future

UX designers, as other professionals, have this period of global uncertainty to overcome. That said, hopefully the world collectively rises from this pandemic to become more human, more sensitive, and more empathetic — attributes that the design community has been propagating, at least theoretically.

As we move beyond these days, users will continue to interact with companies, products, and services, albeit their needs and behavior are sure to be altered.

Therein lies the area of opportunity for UX designers to help build the right future in terms of better services and access for users. This could be in the form of apps and tools that help people manage remote working, take control of their physical and mental health, or communicate with their loved ones without forgoing their privacy, or lowering their productivity.

Here are a few scenarios to consider:

  • Businesses in lesser-developed countries, smaller home-grown businesses, or businesses that have shunned connective tech tools will incline toward creating a virtual presence to stay alive and relevant in the post-COVID-19 economy. This will result in a surge in demand for creating apps or tools for delivery of essentials, groceries, salon services, and the like.
  • The competition to provide a seamless user experience in the post-pandemic months will intensify. What defines “usability” and “seamlessness” is sure to change as well. Who knows better how to drive the discussions on usability as per the new normal? UX designers, of course.
  • Several enterprises, healthcare companies, banks, and government services have been slow to bring their UX up-to-date. These sectors are bearing the brunt of the suddenly increased dependence on technology. The post-pandemic world is sure to see these sectors taking an active step toward maximizing the UX of their services through technology.

Despite recent setbacks, there will always be a persistent need to design better, in a more sustainable manner. Designers can ensure that their contributions are not just limited to designing better products and applications, but better services and operations across industries to accommodate the new normal.

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