Karol Tylke, Information and Interface Design
The design industry is not the first thing that comes to my mind when asked about the impact of the ongoing pandemic, even as a person who is a part of it. The first thoughts would obviously oscillate around the frontline of the outbreak - the numerous deaths around the world, and the healthcare crisis. Then one might mention all the shops and restaurants that have been closed, which impacts every single business focused either on the sales of any goods or services. While sales must take a big chunk of the design industry’s yearly market share, they definitely do not define the fate of creative work.
People in hospitality and resale are one of the first victims of the spike of unemployment brought upon by the virus, this has also spread to other industries; that fate has also technically reached me, as while I still receive most of my salary thanks to the government programme, I’ve been put on furlough which means I am definitely going to get the most out of my internship. That leads me to believe that virtually any business is going to feel the effect of the pandemic in some way.
Before being put on furlough, I have had a brief period of working from home, which has globally been quite a phenomenon. Millions of people jumped on the train of using teleconference software to conduct their daily meetings. While companies producing this software certainly don’t mind the traffic, that has also been a challenge for them in some way; hackers took full advantage of the surge in Zoom’s popularity and targeted the platform numerously over the last couple of months. (1) Following my own observations I feel like humanity has managed to cope with this problem quite well; the very social media that were deemed to threaten our in-real-life relationships saved us in the end. The teleconferencing situation could be a proof of concept that while the coronavirus outbreak certainly is very bad and concerning news, it might serve as a valuable lesson; you don’t necessarily have to take that private jet to Palo Alto to discuss the latest merger, just call them on Zoom. If executed right, encouragement of using teleconferences more could help us maintain the current reduction of traffic that in turn could keep the pollution levels closer to where they are now than 5 months ago. (2)
While conducting research for my Self Initiated Project which oscillates around air pollution, I found out that the levels of pollutants in the air have dropped significantly following the drop in the population’s mobility. (3) The estimations suggest that a 2 months’ improvement in air quality like that could save around 50000 lives in China only. While this doesn’t glorify the pandemic, it provides an interesting insight into how it can affect different areas of life. I would really like to investigate other similar patterns, as data like this has the potential to be used in future projects. I would certainly research the supply chains of the tech world from this angle, as we might be facing the first disruption of this size in the expected product cycles of popular gadgets in years. (4) The expected delays of the iPhone 12 launch are a prominent example.
It’s quite scary how the world has become essentially dependent on the production of goods like the iPhone, with hundreds of businesses who provide parts for it, and hundreds of thousands of people they employ. (5) (6) Coronavirus will cause a delay across many segments of a standard supply chain, meaning that customers will get their new devices later, but alongside, companies that depend entirely on producing components that go into these devices will go out of business. It is perhaps time to see how we have ended up in this vortex of consumerism, and what steps should we take to either turn it around or prepare it better for the next crisis like this.
In the design world, coronavirus response has become a trend in itself, with hashtags like #stayathome appearing very often with #graphicdesign under awareness spreading posters and animations. Creatives have certainly found this to be an interesting and urgent topic with initiatives like Stay Sane, Stay Safe which aims to share meaningful messages to our heroes in the hospitals. Personally, I’ve been using the increase of free time caused by furlough to catch up with my side projects, and while I have been enjoying it so far, I do hope I will come back to work soon, as gaining experience is what matters the most during this year.