Distancing, delivery, dissemination - design panelists share responses to the coronavirus pandemic

In a panel aptly titled ‘May The 4th Be With You,’ eight panelists will be sharing advice today on how to prepare for the era of the pandemic in the near-term, medium-term, and long-term.

This evening, from 5-6 pm, the team behind the DesignUp conferences will be hosting an insightful online panel, fittingly called ‘May The 4th Be With You.’ YourStory is the media partner for the event (click here for free registration). 

Eight experts from disciplines such as design will be featured in a rapid round of lightning-sharp presentations (inspired by the lightsaber fights of the Star Wars movie series). They will offer a peek into the “near future and futures far-far-away.”

See Part I of our panel preview for insights on how pandemics through the ages have led to the redesign of infrastructure, and new responses sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic. See also our three-part coverage of the earlier panel, ‘DesignUp Circuit: The pandemic’s impact on design as a business.’

Opening eyes – as well as minds and hearts

“It's important to note that the coronavirus has just exposed what was already there — systematic inequality, greed and corruption, and smokescreens,” explains Alysha Naples, Chief Experience Officer at Tin Drum (London), in a chat with YourStory.

“Some people were already aware of this, some were not, but I think the pandemic has opened a lot of people's eyes, and I hope also their minds and hearts,” she adds.

“I think there is a tremendous opportunity for humanity in this crisis. It is giving us time to pause and reflect in order to be much more conscious about how we're living and what we're putting into the world,” Alysha emphasises.

Solutions for space and safety

“The current pandemic brings the question of designing for infectious diseases back to the forefront and raises important questions for the future. Designers, whether digital, urban planners, architects are being creative and agile,” explains Shaheena Attarwala, UX Director at ZoomCar.

These design initiatives also focus on those who are old, vulnerable, marginalised, have pre-existing conditions or have low incomes. “Who thought we would be designing contact tracing apps, fashionable masks, home tester kits, and stand-alone ICU chambers today,” Shaheena exclaims.

Since there is no COVID-19 vaccine as yet, one of the most effective solutions is to go back to the physical: social distancing, quarantine, and isolation. “Space isn’t just about quarantine; it’s also a design problem,” she observes.

She points to neighbourhoods all around us for evidence of how humans have responded to infectious disease by redesigning their physical spaces. “The redefined future of our space and system designs will shape our lifestyle,” Shaheena predicts.

Now based in Amsterdam, Alysha observes that shops have used tape or chalk to mark appropriate distances for waiting outside the shop or in the queue to checkout. “I like simple solutions like this that make it easier for people to comply with policy while taking the subjectivity or guesswork out of it,” she explains. She says it is wonderful to see so many people being ready, willing, and able to help.

Service design

A number of outstanding design solutions in India have emerged in response to the coronavirus challenges, explains Dharmesh Ba, Head of Research at Setu/D91 Labs in Bengaluru. As examples, he points to Mygate's pass issuance system for essentials and Zomato's rider temperature display on the app.

Other notable responses are Swiggy's launch of DIY food kits, and OYO's contribution to converting hotels into quarantine centres. “My personal favourite has been Javed Habib teaching how to perform a haircut on Instagram,” Dharmesh jokes.

Design for communication

The current pandemic shines the spotlight on precise guidelines for designing communication about health practices. “Public health issues should not be treated as matters of opinion or debate. Policies like social distancing only work if everybody participates, and mass compliance requires clear and consistent communication of WHAT you can do and WHY it matters,” Alysha emphasises.

Many social networks have provided accurate and updated information. “But the echo chambers within still exist, and tons of misinformation has been shared,” she cautions. “When some of the misleading information is coming from ‘official’ sources, like the President of the United States, it's easy to understand why so many people are confused about what to do,” Alyssa laments.

“Designers have directly addressed this cognitive disorientation with direct and clear communication,” she adds. For example, the graphics and videos that explained flattening the curve and social distancing have been effective in conveying a message that is, in many ways, quite complicated.

“A shared understanding of what can be done and why it's important has brought focus and solidarity to many of us in isolation and quarantine,” Alysha observes.

Knowledge and insights

All the speakers shared lists of useful books and news sources to stay updated on the crisis. Many newspapers and magazines have provided free online access to content on the pandemic, such as The Washington Post, The Atlantic, and The Guardian; there are also academic sites and journals in this regard, Alysha says, citing the resources of Maastrich University as an example.

“Support newspapers and journalism when you can — a free press is more important than ever in these times of rampant misinformation,” she emphasises.

She shares what’s on her book reading list these days as well, such as non-fiction: Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants (by Robin Wall Kimmerer), Reflections of My Nonexistence (Rebecca Solnit), and In Praise of Shadows (Junichiro Tanizaki).

For fiction, her pick consists of A Long Petal of the Sea (by Isabel Allende), The Water Dancer (Ta-Nehisi Coates), and Nervous Conditions (Tsitsi Dangarembga). For spirituality, her books include The First and Last Freedom (by Jiddu Krishnamurti), The Awakening Body (Reginald Ray), and The Joy Of Living: Unlocking the Secret and Science of Happiness (Yongey Rinpoche and Eric Swanson).

Recommendations for aspiring designers and students

These are particularly challenging times for students who are about to graduate, or young designers at the start of their long journey. “These are difficult times but always think of the advantages you bring,” advises Jay Dutta, SVP UX Design at MakeMyTrip, and Founder-Curator, DesignUp Festival.

“Obviously, previous experience isn't an advantage for most students. But you have a great competitive advantage if you have grit, willingness to work hard, learn fast and being able to work faster or better across the physical divide via digital tools and platforms,” Jay explains.

New designers may also come at a lower price point than the more experienced senior folks. “At a time when everyone is cutting costs, budgets, and headcounts, this may just get you a foot in the door. It's not about underpricing yourself - but just that the starting salaries are often more competitive,” he clarifies.

Many such issues and more will be discussed at the DesignUp panel this evening. “Prepare for some opinions, wild guesses, controversies, and misfires as our guests look at what the future holds in the next four weeks, months, years and more,” Jay enthuses.

“For this episode we will also have the furry Chewbacca Tmibadia-Consalves join us. He doesn't have a speaking slot but he's going to ‘have a say,’” Jay jokes.

See YourStory’s coverage of the annual DesignUp conference editions from 2019, 2018 and 2017, as well as our d-Zen (‘Design Zen’) section for more design resources. DesignUp has also published the report, Deconstruct: Understanding the State of Design-In-Tech.

DesignUp has launched a new platform called Port, with over a thousand registrations and over 600 downloads of the DesignUp Deconstruct report. The DesignUp conferences drew 1,350 attendees in 2019, 780 in 2018, and 550 in 2017. In the ‘new normal,’ most activities are now being held online, Jay sums up.