Can UX Help You Succeed in Times of COVID-19?

The pandemic is not a permanent state. This too shall pass. People will go back to movie theatres when it’s not dangerous to be in close proximity of strangers, but Over the Top (OTT) platforms (Netflix, Prime, et al) will continue to be mainstream because they are convenient and inexpensive.  As hard as it may be to imagine, we will stop hoarding toilet paper and sanitizer, but the prolific use of mobile apps to order groceries or replace paper menus will continue to grow. Students will go back to classrooms, but we are now aware of the options that virtual education has opened and the impact it can have on providing access to a broader audience.

A crisis always compels us to rethink our ways and methods and propels humanity into a new world of possibilities. History is proof of this. The post-Global Financial Crisis (GFC) world witnessed the meteoric rise of unprecedented business models in the likes of Uber, WhatsApp, AirBnb, Twitter among others.

With the ever-changing face of human behaviour fueled by unforeseen circumstances, the underlying principle that has been at work to deliver these changes has been user-centric DESIGN. We can basically agree that the world is governed by design and everything we see designs. We have seen through the ages that the heroes of success invariably come with a brilliant design and indisputable user experience. How could Facebook send the likes of Orkut packing? What made Apple become the leader among a multitude of well-entrenched device makers?

When the competition is weak or user experience is lacking, any new and improved product experience or features will thrive. Technology can deliver the capability but if the experience is cumbersome or not intuitive it will open the door to disruption. For example, Uber, Netflix, or AirBnB didn’t invent new technology but what they did do is to layer a much better user experience onto existing technology. The results speak for themself. The biggest differentiator that kicked in to make or break a company’s competitive positioning is User Experience.

We saw a nice illustration of this in the popular television series ‘Silicon Valley’ where a super-advanced compression app had very few takers because no one bothered to think from the user’s perspective! Bottom line – a brilliantly done user experience design is basically the job half done.

This pandemic has forced us, mortals, to interact with technology more than ever. And most of it will remain even after we are past the crisis. We will see a unique blend of our old ways and the reaction to the crisis, giving birth to a new normal. The cornerstones of this new normal will be defined by the ability of companies to create the best user experiences. Of course, security, privacy, ethics will have an equally important role to play. People will still fall for the most convenient, most appealing, most enriching and most inclusive options in the market. Netflix, Hulu, Prime will all fight the race to cater to these needs of their consumers and maybe a new disruptor will displace their dominance.

Any product, app or experience is usually judged by a user on a few parameters that we can broadly classify in 3 areas:

Convenience –Must be easy to access, easy to use, available anytime, anywhere. Shouldn’t be too heavy or complex to navigate. There are several other factors that create convenience. Point is, if it isn’t convenient, no one will bother to take an extra effort.

Inclusivity– Every product is aimed to teach, help, entertain, or inform. But the audience is never homogenous. Stitching inclusivity early into the strategy to suit the needs of various audiences is extremely important for the breadth of success. For example, education platforms for the deaf and blind. Grocery apps for the dyslexic. Designing for the color blind.

Aesthetic – visual appeal will never go out of style. This is precisely why there is a whole science behind the use of fonts, colors, shapes and patterns. UX teams are usually trained on the various schools of design and apply techniques most suitable to the concept and audience. The fashion industry is a testament to the role of beauty. People tend to choose a bit of discomfort just to look good. It would be unwise to not tap into this part of the user’s brain while creating something new.

UX and Design as a practice should help the business understand and strategize around these aspects. That being said, companies should also include UX right at the planning stage and not wait to be briefed later. Looking at the demands from this pandemic, those who nail the user experience are not only bound to win the user’s “share of mind”, they will also score higher on trust, because we trust those who understand and make our lives easier.

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