Thoughts on interaction design in a post-pandemic world

We are currently living through a catastrophic time for the world which most of us never anticipated. Despite the gloom and doom around us, we are adjusting with the new way of living every day, although there is a question that remains at the back of our heads, what happens next? There are a lot of ongoing conversations around this, one such conversation led us to examine the current situation and think about its impact on something we are so close to — Interaction Design.

It has been said that one of the most innovative eras of mankind was post the Great Depression and It is clear to us that the repercussions of this pandemic will be visible in the world for a long time. The new normal for the economy, the way businesses, and how our lives operate is going to be very different. But breaking this down, we believe these changes will have a profound impact on user needs. Consumer behaviors will see a substantial amount of change across the globe immediately as well in the far future. All of us are now practicing social distancing, the lessons learned from this should be embedded in the way we are going to interact with technology in our everyday lives.

Today, there are a lot more gadgets in this world than humans, some we carry around in our pockets and others surround us in social settings, make our lives function the way they do today. Hence, it is inevitable to design for more contact-free gadgets now. It’s a point where design and technology should shift it’s a fundamental focus from touch interfaces to more contactless flavors of interaction like voice and vision. The way we interact with our gadgets will go way beyond pressing buttons and touching screens. This can be called the era of contact-free interaction design.

The way we interact with our gadgets will go way beyond pressing buttons and touching screens. This can be called the era of contact-free interaction design.

Today when we walk to the elevator in our building, there are tons of posters that say don’t touch anything to avoid the coronavirus spread, but we still have to. We can easily spot people in elevators carrying napkins and using elbows to avoid touching the buttons with hands; this illustrates the need for a better design. Technology and design have always evolved to make things easier for consumers and so they will in the post-pandemic world. Sitting in quarantine, we feel safe, but the day we walk outside, we will not have the same sense of security, an accidental touch, or a push in public places may become intolerable to violent extremes due to the fear and anxiety this pandemic has made us felt. The role of Technology and Design in public health has become more crucial than ever.

The haunting coffee machine at work

As a consumer, it continues to haunt us, how dangerous will the outdoors be once we go back to our normal lives.

We all have seen the world filled with gadgets that talk in Iron man movies, yes, that might just come true. One thing is for sure, every social place like ATM’s, Banks, Elevators, Offices, Airports, Railways, Malls, Hospitals, etc which functions around various gadgets will need a change to make sure users are comfortable in interacting with them.

Voice technology can play a pivotal role in this evolution, considering it can easily enable contact-free design. Apps like Google Translate and Digital Assistants like Cortana, Siri, and Alexa have all been showing tremendous progress. However a difficult challenge lies ahead, India needs voice technology to mature more than ever now, it needs to scale up to be able to understand all twenty-two major languages Indians speak along with various accents to move towards a contact-free-voice-based world of gadgets.

The voice-enabled microwave by Amazon back then seemed too unreal for commercial usage, but It might become very natural to interact with gadgets like that shortly. Think about your favorite coffee machine at work, which endures all those taps and button presses from hundreds of coworkers of unknown health issues and hygiene standards? Though the idea of a talking coffee machine is not new, this may be the time to actually adopt it. Can you imagine a day when you just walk to your coffee machine and it tells you — You must be having a hectic day today It’s your second coffee of the day! but what should I brew for you? You then pick your coffee and it says — Enjoys your coffee! All this without touching it. The elevators will be no different, some might be chattier than others, who knows?

The contactless and friendly coffee machine at work

However, looking from a lens of reality, there are significant challenges ahead of us not just in technology maturity but also the fundamentals of Interaction Design. How does one make sure that the way we interact with our coffee-machine is not different in terms of experience with the way we interact with the elevator or a vending machine? As Don Norman mentions in the Design of Everyday Things “Any time you see signs or labels added to a device, it is an indication of bad design: a simple lock should not require instructions.

To make this a reality there is a need for consistent foundational principles for assistive interaction design so that our users do not feel alien to every new “contact-free” gadget they interact with. Google’s guide to conversation design, is a starting point, but can that be scaled from apps to gadgets?

Contact-free interaction design can become big shortly and evolve into its own set of guiding principles for tools like Voice, Vision, or any other assistive technology. All of them, of course, should have their own flavors to it with the same foundation.

Airports and railway stations, are highly concentrated in normal days and naturally the major hotspots for transmission of coronavirus. They must operate differently. Just measuring the temperature will not reduce the transmission. The ticket machines can be replaced with face — recognition capable machines which can detect users from booking system and provide the user with a boarding passes.

How about metro coins? On average, 1.5 million commuters take the metro daily only in Delhi and the metro coins are exchanged heavily. The metro booking and coin system can be upgraded to digital finally. Contactless digital coins will definitely be a win but Face recognition tech could help here as well.

The pandemic has shaken the foundational aspects of how our cities function. This is a turning point for urban planning for Indian cities.

The safety in using paper notes is questionable now, looking at how China is destroying their old cash to avoid the spread of coronavirus, but we know going cashless will be tough in India, We will not see them disappearing completely from the Indian market anytime soon. ATMs might function differently. Its time to step up and encourage the usage of digital currency instead.

As we patiently observe the changes in consumer behaviors, few innovations should be proactively done to safeguard our future. Though we still have many questions ahead of us to dwell upon —

  • Can digital currency be the next thing?
  • Will eCommerce get a boost?
  • How can contact-free technology help in the education sector?
  • Can face recognition evolve to reduce privacy risks and adapt to public gadgets?
  • Are Drones the answer to true contact-free deliveries?

All these answers will require solid contact-free interaction design principles and technology to rely on. Possibilities are enormous and it’s time for us to examine the changing situation. The post-pandemic world provides us with a vacuum to be filled with innovation. Whatever happens, the world will emerge stronger and better and we all should do our part in making this a better world to live in.

Co-Authored with Charu Choudha.

Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Catch Me On Social !!