Top tips: Design essentials for 2021

Top tips: Design essentials for 2021

After a shaky start to the 2020s, planning and preparation are no longer the watchwords for success and winning in the new reality is about agility, adaptability and rapid transformation. That’s according to Phil Gerrard, Associate Director at BCG Platinion, as he shares his design predictions moving into 2021.

 The 2020s are off to a rocky start – and if businesses began the decade looking to win it, now they just want to see it out. Planning and preparation are no longer watchwords for success, winning in the new reality is about agility, adaptability and rapid transformation.

Unsurprisingly, digital is core to success in this new reality – and, perhaps crucially, the intersection between humans and technology.

Our world has come to be ever more defined by technology, and pandemic – this year more than others and the COVID-19 pandemic cut off physical contact and left the world reliant on technology both professionally and personally.

Even as we enter 2021, the crises of the past year are far from over – and they continue to fundamentally reshape the way we live. And in the world of design this is critical; we have come to an inflection point, where change is essential.

Looking ahead, Phil Gerrard, Associate Director at BCG Platinion sets out three critical ways in the which technology design must change in 2021…

The widening inequality gaps mean we must design with accessibility in mind

Although technology has long been considered as ‘the great connector’, the challenges of this year have raised the stakes and exposed the fragilities of our ecosystems – the way we work, shop, learn, and look after our health have all come under the spotlight. The inequalities and gaps faced by disadvantaged groups are now obvious. And for designers, closing these gaps and building with accessibility at the heart is of the utmost importance.

The closure of the high-street, for example, has pushed the last of bricks-and-mortar consumers online and into an unfamiliar world. Adapted, simplified offerings are key to providing the accessible experiences that will enable all consumers – no matter how digitally literate – to use these services.

It is about empathetic design: communicating with intuitive and easily understood language to guide vulnerable users through the journey.

This demand is already be vocalised, with 40 per cent of UK consumers naming health and wellbeing as a key purchase criteria post-COVID-19.

Build bionic and understand that technology can never replace the human touch

Moving forward, successful companies will be those that blend human and technology capabilities –intertwining one with the other.

As our relationship with technology continues to be redefined – and more of us rely on digital solutions to collaborate, innovate and deliver great work.

However, despite the benefits delivered by digital solutions, there remains a distrust in the workplace: that automation will eventually allow the tools to replace the users.

Design in 2021, therefore, must look to remove this stigma and strengthening the relationship between human and automation. This means working closely with organisations to find use technology in a way that enhance the human experience. Chatbots provide an excellent example: when used to replace humans, they fail but when they are used to speed up customer interaction and deal with simple requests (before passing complex issues to human) they improve both the employee and consumer experience.

Embrace hybridisation and work towards consumer demand

Technology has evolved exponentially to the point that we now can control and access real-world information with the palm of our hand. And the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated this dependency. From important meetings to speaking with family and friends: in the socially distant world, technology is king. But as society returns to normal, new habits and expectations from our ‘new reality’ are likely to remain.

Despite an urge to return to some of our pre-pandemic habits, we can expect flexible working to become more prevalent, with many businesses offering a hybrid working model with workers moving fluidly between the office and home.

Designers can expect to be charged with building processes that enable the traditional collaboration to take place in new ways. Augmented Reality and other similar technologies will be key – AR has already seen a huge investment in recent years, expect more. It’s been predicted that the global AR and VR market size could grow by $125.19m in the next three years, highlighting the potential it has to bring humans closer with technology.

However, the workplace is not the only area braced for transformation – all of society will be ripe for change. We’ve already discussed retail but so too will healthcare change, with remote services and telepresence consultations moving from the domain of the privileged and becoming available for all.

We expect to see a hybridisation of technology and the real world in 2021, where the two begin to work in unison. Designers will need to ensure they have relevant market research and consumer insights to provide the best user experience possible.

Design with diversity – coding inclusive social impact to your product’s core

Beyond the pandemic, 2020 increased the urgency of the debate on diversity and inclusion. The Black Lives Matter movement has pushed the issue to the front of the business agenda and many organisations have taken time to reflect and understand on how they need to change.

In design, diversity is integral to creating a robust product or process. The more voices and experiences in the room, the better chance that nothing will be missed. Designers must avoid the echo chamber and remember that there is no such thing as a ‘normal’ user.

As well as gathering better data, diversity ensures it can be properly read. Trends, patterns or insights which may not apply to the ‘typical’ user group must not be ignored or discounted. In the anomalies and outliers’ designers should look for innovation.

Businesses now recognise that there is no use in talking about diversity while also taking little action. Research suggests that organisations with ethnically diverse leadership teams outperform their peers by 33% and businesses have begun to recognise ignoring it puts themselves at a disadvantage.

Our industry must take direct action in addressing this problem, including everything from a rethink of recruitment strategies, through to a larger grassroots strategy in building talent up from a young age. And through more diverse teams, businesses will begin to challenge and, ultimately, better their products.

By Phil Gerrard

Associate Director

BCG Platinion