The Rise of Quarantine UX
With much of the U.S. going into its third week of lockdown, the economy has already changed. Ten million people have already filed for unemployment, as every restaurant that isn’t a fast-ood chain and every physical retail store that doesn’t sell groceries is in jeopardy. Some have argued this outcome was inevitable—that mom-and-pop restaurants would fail as we’d eventually Instacart everything—and that this crisis just transported us to that future overnight. Because after all, our biggest companies have only been getting bigger, while consumers demand ever-more convenience. Wasn’t the internet poised to wipe out retail all along? Of that inevitability, I’m not so sure. But under quarantine, many services of convenience have become essential. Several struggling products are now hits. And our homes are being reshaped into workplaces. It all falls into a new umbrella we’re calling quarantine UX. It is clear that much of the last decade of smash-hit UX has been more or less abandoned in the wake of COVID-19. The in-store experience design championed by Starbucks, the touch interfaces at in-store checkouts, and even the shared platforms behind Uber and Airbnb have all become liabilities. Starbucks cafes have closed everything except the drive-through. People are being warned to sterilize their iPhones, let alone use public screens. And Uber is down 70% in some cities, shuttering group rides alongside Lyft, while Airbnb has pledged $250 million to hosts to cover cancelations as it attempts to wait out the storm. For at least a little while, the definition of a successful user experience is changing. Here’s what we know so far. Conveniences can’t keep up when they’re actually essential Through Amazon Prime Now and Target’s Shipt delivery, the gig economy has matured over the past few years and gone corporate, offering the promise that you can get just about anything delivered at any moment. These were luxuries upon luxury though—what happens when Prime two-day shipping isn’t fast enough anymore. It’s a UX of impatience, a means to avoid walking the aisles at the store. Or it was. [Photo: Robi_J/iStock] Now, as people prudently avoid going out in public, these delivery services are so booked up that time slots are rarely open. Prime is booked its max of two days out and it’s hard to get a spot. Even Walmart’s contact-less pickup option is currently reserved a week out in many areas. And when appointments do open, the supply lines fall short. Items are pulled from your cart. It isn’t just hand sanitizer that’s out of stock; it’s staples like Cheerios, canned tomatoes, and fresh produce. What happens then? People go without, or they double down on another type of delivery, as people sign up for CSAs in what may be record numbers. Whole Foods Grocery delivery. [Photo: marekuliasz/iStock] Meanwhile, the big-box stores and grocers are hiring even as some Amazon and Instacart employees have attempted to strike, citing unsafe work conditions. It seems that we’re seeing the cracks in this digital facade of convenience that was based upon human labor all along. Delivery is undeniably the UX of the moment, but it is looking increasingly unsustainable as it scales. We may be able to overlook the ethics of paying someone to put themselves at risk just to bring us avocados, but when there aren’t any avocados left in stock, let alone anyone willing or able to deliver them, what’s left then? » Read More
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