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Being a designer in a post-COVID world

Yes, COVID is around (still for a while) and times are uncertain. We don’t know what the world will hold for us when we arrive on the other side of this. There already are projections that a lot of existing business won’t be there when we return. The normal is not going to be the same normal. It’s going to be a new world. This probably means a cold hard boot. In the given scenario, how viable would a design job remain? Will it remain?

The answer is yes. We, as designers, we will prevail.

Forbes recently listed creative profession as one of the professions the will survive the COVID pandemic. That’s a sigh of relief. Meaning to say, no matter how worse the situation gets, your skills will remain relevant. Perhaps the landscape will change, but you will still be required.

What am I doing these days?

I’ve been at home for the last eight weeks since we first heard about COVID. I have been quite busy. There are a ton of things we have been taking care of inside the company. From helping start-ups validate quick proof-of-concepts to supporting existing customers explore new directions in design, we’ve been, as a design team quite productive during the lock-down and this uncertainty.

But is it viable?

Creativity is here to stay. Even at trying times, designers and creatives have come forward with innovations and solutions to benefit the world. Be it designing functional products or digital experiences, designers have been busy (and successful). Unlike a lot of manufacturing jobs, digital design is reliant on fewer overheads and external variables. Since you do not have a defined market to “ship” your goods to every time, you can get creative here. A lot of the “raw materials” that you need are soft, conceptual things and your line of assembly is basically a computer that you already own and you deliver to the web like you’ve been doing forever — so I believe that design jobs will remain mostly unaffected. Even if you’re working from home, it’s perfectly possible that you will be working normally.

Work from home. But work on what?

I have written a previous blog about the virtues of remote working during COVID. Yes, a lot of companies are doing it and it’s fine. The world has finally come to an understanding that yes, a physical workplace is not mandatory to get things done. Okay, good. We all agree that working from home is flexible, productive and all that. But a deeper question is — will there be enough jobs to perform in a post COVID world? Will there be enough clients who would want their work done? We have read about business closures and businesses not having enough money to fund design gigs. If that’s true, that might paint a grim picture for designers. What are you going to design when there are no customers willing to buy your design?

That’s a possible risk. Yes, where will you get work from if companies do not want to spend? Data shows something else. Even at these times, websites like Fiverr and 99Designs are quite loaded with service requests from customers. A quick search showed me that the number of gigs hasn’t changed much since I last checked. This just probably means that there is enough work out there — so I am optimistic that there will be customers who would want to buy your design.

What about Nepal?

This is going to depend on the readiness and ability of Nepalese businesses to pursue the path of digital transformation. A lot of Nepalese organizations are shut because it’s just not possible for them to go digital.

Take any street-side mom-n-pops store that cannot compete with online giants to procure and deliver stuff online. Or imagine a printing press business that doesn’t have anything to print because people are not meeting in person and exchanging these printed materials. Real-estate, one of the most dependable industries in Nepal is in a shutdown because physical transaction is at heart of it. I am worried that many businesses at home will get hit because of their nature, but I am also very optimistic of new ideas and innovation are replacing this.

Mohan dai is a store close by our home. It’s a little kirana store that has been around for two decades now. Right now, the man has discovered the power of Viber messaging. You simply send him a list of stuff you need in Viber and he brings them to you. You pay him cash, or the man also accepts FonePay. Genius! This was purely out of readiness and willingness to transform digitally. If all businesses continue to transform this way, the future isn’t too bad.

But that doesn’t answer question about design.

Well it doesn’t. But it also does. As a designer, you must become an advocate to steer this change. It’s up to a designer to guide their customers to take this path of digital transformation. Design can drive this transformation, and I really urge designers to take the drivers seat for this. It it not possible until there is someone who can help these businesses understand what it takes, and how to take that leap forward. There are a bunch of proven methods how small businesses can achieve this scalability.

A designer’s work is not just doing what the customer asks them to. This is a misconception that must be eliminated on both sides. A designer should truly guide the customer to survive and thrive against unpredictability. Most failures are often caused by inaction or inability, but design truly is a tool that can change that.

Listen to your designer. Please.

So how do you know what action to take or if you’re capable? Look from the user’s eyes. Do you know why there are SO, SO many online groceries springing up after COVID? Because users have recognized that the single most important thing to get through this is food. That’s why suddenly you see so much of investment being made to make sure food gets to the consumers first and fast. This happened purely out of demand — businesses recognizing the need to fulfill user’s requirement. I want a new pair of AirPods, yes, but that can wait.

Right now, those businesses will succeed that put users first, and let designers make the decisions. So please, listen to your designer. They’re the ones who can save you and your business!

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