Empire State of Covid-19

Design as a Necessary Innovation: 
How NYC transformed itself during the pandemic through the application of good design

As I spent Fall in Manhattan this year, the city that never sleeps had a reformed way of going about its usual hustle. The pandemic altered the ways in which people moved around the city and businesses scrambled to pivot their strategies in order to bounce back from their downfall. The design has always played an important role in allowing human beings to engage with society and navigate through spaces - be it physical or digital.

Here’s a look into 4 broad areas where design provided deceptively simple, yet thoughtful solutions:

You’ve Got Mail (Communication):

When in a crisis, easy and efficient communication is key. Organizations took to social media, signages, and other messaging mediums to spread awareness as well as engage with people through offering support and entertainment to help stay strong and keep smiling. New York City’s public transit system uses posters with simple graphics and witty messages to remind people to keep their masks on and maintain social distancing. StuyTown, the residential community that I lived in, has a ‘Good Neighbors’ initiative that highlights best practices for residents.

Make Way For Noddy (Navigation):

With social distancing being an important measure to help reduce the spread of the virus, design-oriented changes needed to be brought in within spaces. To reduce crowding within stores, queues started outside stores with signages being used to maintain one-way traffic within aisles. Creative floor stickers on pavements indicated safe distances while also offering an additional brand engagement opportunity as I queued up outside my favorite cafés for take-outs.

The Show Must Go On (Operation):

Now that indoor dining has been curtailed inside restaurants (numerically-speaking), outdoor seating has become a blank canvas for innovative setups to be installed. Retail clothing stores revised policies to allow exchanges and returns as trials were banned within stores. Excessive cross-medium communication helped these brands retain their consumers, besides, of course, the excessive discounts.

Ok Boomer No More (Digitalization):

Covid-19 has pushed organizations to undergo not just digital transformation, but digital acceleration. Digital solutions have been made inclusive and approachable even to those who are otherwise technologically unfamiliar. Public spaces such as observation decks, landmark buildings, etc. ramped up their online presence for reservations, in addition to disseminating operational information.

Smart QR codes have been created for accessing restaurant menus through smartphones. A visit to the medical center for getting a test done had me signing up at a smart kiosk with a well-designed user experience. The MET has ditched physical paper maps and opted for interactive maps that are easily accessible through your smartphone.

As we examine this bouquet of solutions that are all attempting to literally save lives, we should still remind ourselves of a sobering fact. Intelligent Design, while being catered for the user, is not a crutch, or a silver bullet. It has to be backed up by other social frameworks in addition to individual choice for it to function as intended.

Dear Pandemic, you may have disrupted our lives. You may have disrupted the way we went about doing our things. But ‘we are in this together’. And together we shall design our way through the tunnel to finally see light at the end of it.