8 min read
Coronavirus: The Hidden Value of Design and Code in a Crisis
June 3rd, 2020
As designers and coders amidst a global pandemic, it’s easy to feel powerless to help in a time like this. Just as it’s easy for businesses and brands to underestimate the worth of design and tech services while the rest of the world battles to bring the pandemic under control. While we may not be on the front line, designers and coders have been stepping up to provide behind the scenes support to keep communications and services running smoothly as we all battle this crisis together.
The role of the designer in a pandemic
Those first few weeks of lockdown were a truly frightening time for most businesses, with many forced to temporarily close and find ways of conserving funds. For those fortunate enough to be able to continue trading, it was a matter of adapting and evolving, and – most importantly – looking for ways to help others as best they could. The design and tech industry was called upon to do exactly this, and it certainly stepped up to the challenge.
Design is communication, and good communication suddenly became the single most important factor in dealing with this unfamiliar and world-altering crisis. The government and the NHS in particular needed to get messages out to the public as quickly as possible, and in ways that would be easy to understand and impossible to forget.
From health messaging and slogans to awareness campaigns, visual social media campaigns and posters, designers worked around the clock to generate communications that would help the public both understand and control the virus, while helping the healthcare system cope with the rising levels of patients.
Image: UK Government
With the high street shut, e-commerce suddenly became the only source of non-essential retail for the UK, but things had to change here as well. With workforces reduced and delivery times impacted, the e-commerce industry needed help to communicate the new circumstances with their customers. Google was quick to draw up a new set of UX best practices for uncertain times , and designers and coders set to work helping online retail brands ensure their customers had all the information they needed.
Image: Google – UX Best Practices for Uncertain Times
From information banners and visual resources to FAQ landing pages, new promotional images and enhanced checkout processes, there was a great deal of work to be done to ensure that the world’s e-commerce industry was there to fill the void left by the forced closure of the high street.
The role of coders and software engineers also became incredibly important during that first week of lockdown in particular. The government was under pressure to provide financial assistance to those businesses forced to close their doors completely, out of which the all-important furlough scheme was developed. The biggest hurdle for this, of course, was the development of the furlough application system itself – an unprecedented project that needed to be designed, coded, tested and launched on perhaps the shortest deadline ever dealt with by the industry in relation to the project scale.
Image: UK Government
They delivered, and the furlough scheme has since provided a lifeline to thousands of businesses across the UK that would otherwise have certainly had to close their doors indefinitely. Not all heroes wear capes.
While the immediate practicalities of the pandemic were dealt with by those skilled designers and coders called upon to help, the rest of the industry was also busy seeking ways to help people get through the upside-down circumstances they suddenly found themselves in. Though physical health was the initial priority, looking after our mental health during this time of sudden and enforced isolation also became a key focus.
Designers and illustrators began creating visual resources that covered everything from useful advice and animations to self-care packages and mood-boosting prints – all with the aim of helping people to look after themselves, look after each other and keep smiling.
The motion design and illustration industries have also collaborated with charities and even celebrities to help the public cope with all aspects of lockdown life, from how to deal with isolation to how to cope with crowded family life and childcare now the schools are closed.
The Families Under Pressure campaign is an amazing example of this, created by the Maudsley Charity in collaboration with King’s College London, the NHS and creative production studio, Toad. Famous names including Olivia Colman, Danny Dyer and Rob Brydon stepped in to provide the narration to a series of short and beautifully illustrated animations, each one giving advice on coping with various aspects of family life during the lockdown.
Danielle Molyneux of Studio Dotto, also based in Manchester, created a beautifully designed enamel badge thanking Keyworkers. The badges quickly sold out raising over £350 for the NHS Together Covid-19 Appeal. We managed to get our hands on one of the last remaining ones!
And what about us?
During the pandemic, I was still running Design By Day. During the early days of the virus, the studio may have been closed, but the Design By Day team kept busy offering our services and helping out anywhere we could in that crazy new landscape. After spotting a social media appeal for pots and pans for residents of Stockport Women’s Centre, we stepped in to offer a helping hand. While we couldn’t help with the pots and pans, we were able to offer something that we felt would really help the centre cope with the current situation – a complete welcome pack providing essential COVID-19 information for new residents. What started out as a chance encounter on social media turned out to be an incredible meaningful project for the team, and a truly invaluable resource for the centre in a time of unexpected need.
Also keeping us busy was a free website design project we’ve offered to take on for an amazing local lady creating a campaign called ‘Thank the NHS’. Any campaign to assist our amazing health service got a great big thumbs up from us, so we were eager to help in any way we can. The campaign invited companies and organisations to donate activities and experiences to NHS workers as a thank you for all their hard work. The campaign is already off to a flying start, with Everton Football Club having donated 2 hospitality tickets to a game next season!
Whether it’s local donations or nationwide campaigns, website development or illustrated self-help messaging, the role of designers and coders became more important than ever since the arrival of Covid-19, and we were grateful for the small part we could play.