The Swift Evolution and IT Impact of Interaction Design During COVID-19
- March 17, 2021
Pandemic-included quarantines and restrictions across the globe have increased our dependence on technology to live our lives. This dependency has exposed flaws in the current state of interactive design, causing a shockwave around the technology tools we regularly use. This realization has pushed designers and technology owners to hustle to find solutions that normalized touch-free interactions, supported social distancing, reduced friction, and welcomed artificial intelligence.
Designers were compelled to ask questions, such as: How can we make POS payments unnecessary? How can our devices help us follow social distancing guidelines? And how can we learn from the best practices in design thinking from different industries and translate it as solutions into others?
These are the main areas where experience design has quickly evolved in the past year and can continue to change:
Online shopping skyrocketed during the pandemic. Most retailers have failed to keep up with customers’ needs for high-demand items, and the high traffic has maxed out website infrastructures. Customers who tried to buy the new PS5 and Xbox consoles this fall, for example, had terrible user experiences at most online retailers. The launch-sales were disastrous, as scalpers saw an opportunity to make a profit by scooping up these consoles with AI bots, taking units out of customers’ carts before they could click on “Place Order,” and completely crashing retail sites. This activity halted all purchases site-wide until the website was relaunched.
One experience-design answer would be to create queues for “hot items.” When ordering, customers would be routed to an order queue page with a displayed progress bar and a purchase limit per customer. This solution could also be used for items that shoppers panic-buy, similar to what we experienced with the Great Toilet Paper Shortage of 2020. With online shopping on the increase more than ever during the pandemic, retail companies need to ensure their sites can handle high traffic and provide experiences that encourage return business.
Mobile apps and Big Data
Due to the slow presentation of symptoms, most people don’t realize they have contracted COVID-19 until after putting others at risk. An AI-powered COVID-19 symptom tracker app for mobile devices could be an excellent option to help prevent the virus’s spread. Smartwatches and phones could “listen” to breathing and coughs, measure body temperature and heart rates, and compare the data with large sets of other data to provide a potential diagnosis. The app could also show users the nearest COVID-19 testing site and provide appropriate next steps.
For social distancing, apps could use spatial awareness technology to alert people if they’re getting too close to someone or spending too much time near others. And because we all know how hard it is to stop certain habits, smartwatches could use haptic feedback to alert the wearer if they’re about to touch their face. Reminders to wash your hands could also be triggered by certain events or set on a timer.
Contactless terminals and user interfaces (UIs) would help transform the state of interaction design while helping reduce the spread of COVID-19 and other contagious illnesses. Ideally, contactless UIs would be possible for everything from ATMs to vending machines, using radar-powered motion sensors. And computer vision, sensor fusion, and deep learning systems could enable checkout-free shopping experiences.
Tech giants like Apple Inc. and Google have been promoting contactless payments for years. There’s been a surge in adoption triggered by concerns over cleanliness and social distancing during the pandemic. In 2020’s first quarter, Mastercard saw global contactless payment use increased 40% from a year ago. Most consumers surveyed said contactless payment is faster, more convenient, and a cleaner way to pay than cash.
Touch surfaces and tactile interfaces we regularly interact with also pose health and hygiene problems, especially in hospitals. And in certain industries and climates, operating touch surfaces while wearing gloves simply doesn’t work well. The electronic devices we regularly interact with, like smartphones that use touch surfaces, could be replaced by proximity sensors using infrared transmitters or organic conductive and semiconductor materials.
Designing a new future
It’s 2021, and although a vaccine is slowly making the rounds, designers must continue to approach UX design in terms of pandemic protocols. And UX designers can improve user experiences and interaction design in many more areas using human-centered design tools. Applying the “How Might We” method, designers can continue to define problem statements and points-of-view to guide design thinking activities and better understand their specific users’ needs. “How might we create even easier ways to pay for goods and services? How might we allow more people to stay home while having access to what they need?”
We can also utilize “The 5 Whys,” a design method Toyota created in the 1930s, which refers to asking five times why a failure has occurred to get to the root cause of any issue. Turning to the design thinking process (defining the problem, ideating solutions, prototyping, testing, implementing, and reiterating), designers can help usher in the next generation of interactions and experiences using what we’ve learned from this global pandemic. Consider how design can be incorporated into your work to facilitate interactions between technology tools and end-users more safely.