Switch Empathy (On): UX Design in Times of Crisis
Aug 19, 2020 6:15:57 PM
The world has been altered immensely. It’s reality, for every individual, for every community. The outbreak of COVID-19 has consequently unfolded the pandemic that deeply impacted human lives across the planet. Even the smallest detail of our day-to-day livelihood was significantly transformed. Public transportation, outings to restaurants, bars, and events, family and work-related get-togethers and meetings, have all drastically taken a grinding halt. Instead, we have submitted to thousands of virtual video calls and birthdays, “from toothpaste to furniture”, online purchasing for essential living, as well as binge-watching and a great deal of take-away from being isolated.
This also stands for end users and companies alike, which are struggling with business continuity, changing regulations, delayed supply chains, 100% remote work models, and market/user bases mutations; the majority due to the behavioral revolution we mentioned before. Products and services consumption is in the middle of a crisis plot twist where angst and vulnerability are also core features. One may wonder, what about User Experience? Well, here is our answer; UX is more relevant than ever for coping with the crisis.
The fundamental basis of UX design has always been focused on human beings (users) and their needs. Seems apparent from the name itself, but at times researchers and designers lose sight on how good it sounds to “put yourself in the users’ shoes” without actually rationalizing the meaning. Well, there’s no perfect time like today to rethink this over-mentioned, under-used concept, empathy. It has gained more meaning than ever.
Designing human-centered new services and products or improving existing ones with actual people in mind, is essential to assist them and companies to adapt quickly and survive in this large-scale crisis. Just to name a few, here are some of the unique challenges across industries that bring endless design opportunities in this unprecedented situation:
Self-diagnosis and tracking
Contactless interactions - with emphasis on payments
E-learning educational systems
Unparalleled media consumption
In this sense, empathy is a two-way street. You need to fully understand, via research, what the users are experiencing, what they need and require, and at the same time, help them understand, via design, what’s happening and what they opt to do without feeling overwhelmed. Compassionate design is important to aid people to avoid acting by fear, stress, or confusion.
Let’s explain in more detail how to manage with empathy the context UX research and design demands.
First things first. To design useful and impactful products and services, everything starts with proper empathy-informed research. This is always the case, but we have to be extremely responsible for this initial stage during times of crisis. The context in which we are all immersed, changes so rapidly and drastically that old data, and by this we mean two weeks ago data, is no longer accurate. Let’s go through some important pillars when it comes to UX researching for contingency.
Listen with sensitivity. This may sound obvious, but it’s not. Take extra steps to stay connected to your stakeholders’ resources and necessities. Their tasks and goals have surely expanded or permitted growing or diminishing user bases, ramped-up security, and/or revised distribution processes.
Consider each industry’s particular situation. Every sector has its own challenges. The global pandemic, is a prime example, as it puts huge loads of stress on governments and/or healthcare systems. Video conferencing companies have unprecedented expansion opportunities while travel agencies are struggling to adapt and survive.
Don’t overlook inequalities. We are all in this together, but not in the same way. A crisis always hits harder on precarious or more exposed groups such as health professionals, laid-off workers, limited connected cities’ inhabitants, individuals with disabilities, and individuals who struggle with unsafe homes or poverty. An inclusion-centric approach is indispensable.
Keep trauma in mind. Consider this hiper-vulnerable economic, social, and psychological situation at all times. When collecting and sharing data, honesty, tactfulness, and in some cases trauma-informed interviewing, are substantial to have valid and empathic outcomes.
Let’s outstand in crisis design
After collecting your data through empathic research, now it’s time to deploy with the same spirit. There’s plenty of information about the main principles of good design, but it’s important to recognize that in times of crisis we have to prioritize some of them, dismiss others, and definitely create some anew. Here are the key principles bear in mind when flags are red:
Be clear and truthful. Use only facts from verified sources and give users comprehensible instructions.
Empower people. Enable users to support themselves by giving them tools that encourage beneficial behaviors. Make asking for help easier. Design services prioritizing the most at risk or in need.
Scale with care. Plan and ensure resources connect present and future demands while preparing for some unexpected fluctuations.
Foster a global-community approach. Keep an eye on adequate examples throughout. Be inspired by companies leveraging the remote work gap, shifting to a digital framework, or founding new markets and products to offer. Also, think about crisis design with a collaborative mind.
Act fast. Time is gold in crisis scenarios. Stay focused on the essentials and keep it simple. Reuse and do not waste time on already-solved problems. Prioritize tasks over technology. Sometimes graphics are more effective and straight to the point than an entirely new app or landing.
So, after exercising your empathetic UX research and designing a certain proportion of certainty into a chaotic environment, don’t forget to test and learn from the experience, as you should do every time you design a product or a service.
UX design is, by definition, focused on human lives and behaviors. That’s something we are compelled to emphasize and adjust during a historical turning-point, always important to keep in mind, come what may.
Tonic3Tonic3 is a multi-national digital agency providing UX, VR/AR, and Software Development services with delivery centers in Dallas, TX and Buenos Aires, Argentina. Clients include Citi, McDonald's, Disney, Accenture, BMW, Danone, Banamex, Johnson & Johnson, and Sofitel.