As we waved 2020 off from the safe space of family bubbles, one sentiment about the future of work and design settled into the new year; no industry could go back to “business as usual”. What does that mean for designers?
Whilst everyone tried to define the meaning of this for their industry and adjusted to new ways of working, design media and consultancies offered bold predictions about what to expect for our line of work. From foreseeing significant shrinkages in project lead times to lasting changes in consumer attitudes towards product ownership , we’ve seen pandemic-driven changes seep into design. We have asked our Senior Designers to reflect upon how work has been different for them lately and to share their best forecasts about the trends with staying power. Here is a summary of their thoughts.
We have become more dependent on online communications during the pandemic, but we have also become more careful about what we share through our homeworking apps and devices. The same trend applies to designing smart devices and recently, we have seen more requests from clients for data traceability and privacy embedded in the app design. Since consumers believe that it is up to product manufacturers to protect their rights, IoT-connected designs that incorporate “privacy by design” are becoming the norm. As we design against the latest privacy concerns brought on by life in the cloud, we are guided by two principles: giving end users default knowledge about what information about them is shared and control over how and with whom it is shared.
2. Design power
It’s been argued that there are few more powerful motivators than face-to-face meetings. Add to that the dependency on specialised design software, workshop gear and industrial 3-D printers, and it’s easy to see why designers need their office space. However, having seen how Design Reality’s team members have been exceeding productivity targets during the pandemic lockdowns, we now know that flexible work hours and working from home are possible for our profession. Looking into the post-pandemic future of our work, it’s hard to justify another late office meeting when we can have it mid-day against a tidy Teams background.
3. Design for the environment
The pandemic coincided with the global “green” movement, which highlighted the pollution issue presented by the use of disposable respirators. Besides enquiries for reusable respirator designs, we have observed a concern for the environment increasingly reflected in requests for product design. In response to the growing conscientiousness of consumer choices, design is more focused on the environmental impact of new products across their whole lifecycle. Brand perceptions, as well as working relationships, are more frequently informed by a company’s Corporate Social Responsibility programme. Anticipating more questions from customers about how we source materials and approve suppliers, we are looking to embed more sustainable practices in our design process.
4. Local sourcing
We have witnessed supply chains falter and break irreparably in the past year, due to political and economic changes, and the unprecedented demand for certain products. Consequently, there is a growing preference for local suppliers and partners, as opposed to our first port of call being the Far East. Local manufacturing and material sourcing have been strongly subsidised by the government in the past year, so we can expect more local services and entrepreneurship. Redrawing a smaller, but denser supply chain map across the UK is in order, and we are ready to navigate it.
5. Clean air as a commodity
The huge number of respiratory protection products being designed to allow people to breathe in dirty air at the point of inhalation shows one opportunity that the COVID-19 health crisis and increasingly polluted air have created. However, many creators have proven unprepared for the strict testing and performance criteria that new respirators must meet. Without regulatory approval, respiratory innovations undermine consumers’ trust by failing to protect them. Instead of commodifying respiratory safety on the back of COVID-19, we should unite design efforts across industries to ensure that air is clean in the first place. In the meantime, we can continue helping customers to launch products designed to pass regulatory hurdles.
6. Everlasting designs
With the EU promise that in 2021 the Right to Repair Bill will reach more industries than the automotive, there is a clear shift towards designing high quality products that last indefinitely, or that can be repaired or updated when required. Arguments have been made against repairability as exposing devices to potential security breaches or compromising trade-offs. However, including repairability within the design from the conceptual phase would account for these concerns and prevent planned obsolescence. And that is a trade-off we’re willing to make.
7. Designing for life behind glass
Disinfecting surfaces, wearing masks and hand-washing have become ingrained into our way of life, so cleaning products will continue to sell on par with clean products. We have seen requests to use more ‘hygienic’ product materials, to make medical and industrial equipment easier to clean. Inversely, reduced human contact means fewer products that promote direct physical interaction.
8. Design as art
The pandemic has made our society stop and rethink what’s important, slowing down aimless consumerism. Instead, we want to believe that the trend to utilise less the disposable and vacuous and more the life-enhancing and fulfilling element of design is here to stay. Moreover, once we have gotten over the hump of the coronavirus outbreak, we believe we will see a resurgence of creativity in the arts, with a desire to express human emotions, thoughts and connections through the medium of music, art, and design.