6 min read

UX in the post-digital era: what has changed?

According to the BBC News network, about 2.6 billion people have had or are undergoing some form of quarantine due to COVID-19. In other words, a third of the world’s population will suffer from the effects of social isolation.

As a result, it is possible to notice a series of behavioral changes – most of which are linked to the dramatic increase in the consumption of digital products and services. It is necessary to rethink the scope of the digital experience to build a fluid and valuable experience, including the level of digital maturity of new customers.

Of course, no one better to do it than user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) professionals.

The pandemic added new variables to the equation. We need to understand this new context and rethink the value that UX can bring to users, considering the new demands and urgencies.Rea

UX during the pandemic: what’s different?

When we have an experience, we manifest a positive, neutral, or negative inclination by the time we reach the end of the journey, even if we still haven’t reached our desired destination.

UX studies and shapes these processes to build fluid journeys. The goal is for the user to carry out the actions they want with the minimum number of interruptions (friction).

Take, for example, a slightly less obvious experience – one that doesn’t happen on a screen: An Audible Response Unit (ARU), which you encounter when you ring a call center. Here are some points of contact and possible types of interactions:

  • What options are given to you
  • How quickly do they appear to solve your problem
  • The hierarchy – if you really need to go through the first set of questions to understand the second
  • The number of menus (and sub-menus)
  • The action that occurs when selecting each of the options

All of this is UX.

But going back to the current context, with the population collected, our lives started to happen almost entirely inside our home. This caused a reframing of these spaces and our routines have been shaped around a single place.

What was an environment of relaxation and rest, is now also the office. As well as the virtual bar for remote happy hours. Not to mention your children’s new school… In many cases, even the gym. 

In this context, digital interfaces serve to match and replace experiences that used to take place in person – recreating them, building completely new experiences.

Therefore, screens are like “windows”, which allow us to contact the outside world.

So, what do we want to bring to the user? What kind of feelings do we want them to have while interacting with our products? What are these customers’ new demands?

Good UX needs to be accessible: the digital ABCs

To exemplify the changes that interface designers must look at in order to make experiences more adherent to different types of audiences – including users who are not digitally savvy – we’ll quote Jakob Nielsen.

Nielsen is one of the world’s leading UX and usability experts, and mentions the elderly as an important part of this new phase of usability.

Suddenly, the elderly began to have only digital means to perform their daily tasks, ranging from stocking the house to banking transactions. Eventually, even working remotely for the first time.

Before the pandemic, these people could turn to relatives, neighbors, or computer experts to help them with their digital ABCs or even toss the smartphone out and solve everything by hand the streets. But with restricted circulation and staunch isolation as a risk group, they are on their own in the mission of digitizing themselves.

At the same time, there exists the importance and challenge of a good UX: making the digital experience as fluid as possible for different audiences.

Have you ever thought about how easy it is to use a food delivery application, for example? But what about your parents or grandparents? Do they have that same ease of use?

For Nielsen, platforms need to be dramatically simplified if we are to reduce this type of digital gap and empower more people.

There are 5 changes that can help a lot with accessibility:

  1. Bigger buttons
  2. buttons whos design mimics their function
  3. illustrated step-by-step instructions
  4. decrease the total number of options
  5. less information, more efficient communication

PS: it is important to remember that building interfaces with high contrast help not only the elderly but also people with impaired vision. 

Reconfiguring needs: new forms of consumption

After a few months at home, you can already sense the change in the consumption of digital products and services. According to a Hollywood Reporter survey:

  • video game consumption increased by 75%.
  • demand for Duolingo, the language app, increased by 200%.
  • the demand for Netflix grew 52%, causing the service to have to decrease the quality of transmission in order to meet simultaneous demands.

This exemplifies the reconfiguration of consumers’ needs – which will later give rise to a reflection on consumption priorities.

The pandemic as a social experiment that has shaken up our context, making old approaches obsolete.

According to Elke Van Hoof, professor of psychology and health at the University of Vrije in Belgium, the pandemic will be a major laboratory for behavioral changes. A specialist in stress and trauma, the researcher touches on a sensitive issue: psychological factors must be considered when designing interfaces. 

Do you remember the Maslow Pyramid, a pyramid-shaped diagram that represents human needs? The pyramid is formed at its base by the most basic needs and at the top by social interaction and self-actualization.

It plays an important role in this explanation. The diagram below represents this hierarchy of needs:

  1. Self-Actualization – creativity, talent, personal development
  2. Esteem – recognition, status, self-esteem
  3. Social – love, friendship, family, community
  4. Security – safety for your family, self, property
  5. Physiology – food, water, shelter, sleep

Notice: with a virus on the loose and no vaccine in sight, suddenly a lot of people who were focused on Self-Actualization are now more preoccupied with Security for them and their families.

What does this imply? Much of the data we had about the nature of interactions may have become obsolete in the blink of an eye. Let’s take a look at an example:

You are an interface designer who will review an app’s experience during quarantine. What would you do?

a) Use a more direct and simple approach, after all, the user is experiencing a stressful context and needs practicality to solve tasks.

b) A warmer approach, as there is a lack of connectivity, users prefer to use their free time to explore the interface, seeking more immersion.

There is no right answer. Both are possible paths. Our tip: Design Thinking, and its valuable immersion phase, can help you make that decision. 

User experience = user safety

The UX discipline goes beyond designing beautiful interfaces. It is about improving people’s lives and helping them achieve their goals.

And during a pandemic, the main objective is to keep the user safe.

Currently, apps like Seamless and Uber Eats are suggests a type of contactless delivery to keep deliverymen and users healthy, they are taking the time of adding an extra step in their process – something originally not recommended, but that builds a safe, trustworthy, and conscientious experience.

Another example are applications that use informational interfaces to spread awareness among their users – not necessarily business-related. These were mainly targeted at spreading recommendations regarding Covid-19.

This type of action can be considered a nudge, a kind of scafolding that reinforces a type of standard behavior without prohibiting other choices.

These nudges are generally viewed with suspicion by the general public. The difference is that promoting safer behaviors is almost universally well-received. It also helps in aligning out focus not only in a user-centric fashion but a human-centric one.

The role of UX in the resurgence of products and services

During the next 12 months, we must gradually return to normal conditions with regard to the retraction of social isolation norms. However, some habits acquired during the pandemic must be part of the “new normal” modus operandi.

With so many changes in behavioral patterns and consumption in such a short time – and in such complex contexts – it’s clear to see that in the post-pandemic world, user-centrism will be an increasingly decisive factor. It will play a key role in interpreting new consumer priorities.

There are currents of thought that point to a boom in technology investment in companies as a way to take advantage of the exponential characteristic of technology to protect against the possibility of a new crisis in the future.

Thus, the areas of UX and UI must live closely with emerging technologies, such as IoT and Virtual Reality – since intelligent objects and immersive distance learning experiences may soon become accessible on a larger scale.

This change will bring about major changes at all stages of the user’s journey. Users will no longer be limited to their phone or computer screen. These are new points of contact, new opportunities to be discovered. A world of new possibilities!

Another trend is that UX research is increasingly driven by data insights. The recent regulation of Open Banking is an indication that open APIs may have been given a green light in other sectors, facilitating the flow of information between companies, which generates inputs to develop more adherent products and services.

The way we work will change. Behaviors will change. Your product’s KPIs will change. The only thing that doesn’t change is the essence of a good experience and the principles of design: information architecture, composition, balance, visual hierarchy, research, legibility, navigation, and feedback, among others.

And if the essence remains, the role of UX will once again be ensured as the protagonist of business in the post-digital era.