The advent of a completely unknown virus has left people all over the world at a standstill, with the economy stagnant with no way of predicting what will happen months or weeks, let alone years, down the road. The current situation has come to be called “The Great Pause” in the West.
There are probably many people who are bewildered by the unprecedented situation and anxious about their future work and life. On the other hand, the positive aspects of the pause in people’s economic activity, such as improved environmental problems and a noticeable decrease in traffic congestion and accidents, have been noted. It seems to suggest that the world after the pandemic will be very different depending on how we think through this period of suspension.
I believe that corporations have the greatest power in shaping the world in a new way. What kind of actions should companies take now, and how should they communicate their messages to society? The current situation, in which the world is standing still, should be seen as an opportunity to propose new values and ways of thinking to society and should be processed seriously.
In the U.S., companies have been moving quickly to think about what they can offer to society. These movements involving consumers are very instructive from an experience design perspective. This article examines the experience design of U.S. companies in response to the coronavirus crisis and how they should act as a company at this historic turning point.
Companies respond quickly to the corona crisis
In the U.S., there is a very pronounced trend to think about how we can contribute to the global crisis as a company and take immediate action. These moves are called “COVID-19 corporate responses”.
What stands out among them is the financial and material support. For example, Mastercard, Wellcome, and the Bill & Melinda Foundation co-founded an accelerator on March 10, 2020, to help startups get their COVID-19 situation under control, and Coca-Cola provided resources and logistics to support the nonprofit that created Face Shield.
Many readers may have seen the news that companies like Alibaba and Trip.com have donated large numbers of masks to Japan, the United States, Europe, and other countries in response to the shortage of masks in each country.
Food companies and restaurants, including PepsiCo and Chipotle, were also notable in the U.S., offering free meals to health care workers and the destitute on the front lines of the virus, while companies offering office tools such as Zoom and Workplace were also offering free services for a limited time to support companies that have suddenly started working from home.
COVID-19 corporate responses in design that engages consumers
As mentioned above, while corporate activities that directly provide free corporate funds and goods are prominent, other companies practice corporate activities in response to the coronavirus crisis in a different way. They offer a design that allows us, the consumer, to help each other in this rare crisis and make wise decisions in our lives.
With the need to create a new way of social life in a world of pandemics, these companies are reminding consumers that society exists in connection with others and themselves, and positively suggesting ways to act in this new society.
1. Small business support fundraising（MealPal, ClassPass）
Shelter-in-place orders to prevent the spread of the coronavirus were introduced in most cities, requiring non-essential businesses to close their stores.
Even in San Francisco, restaurants and cafes only allow home delivery and takeaways, and eat-in spaces have closed down. This has been going on for more than two months, and many have even laid off their employees (as of April 28th, 2020).
In response to this situation, MealPal and ClassPass have begun to provide mechanisms that allow consumers to support small businesses that need help.
MealPal is a subscription service that partners with restaurants across the city to provide cheap lunches for people working in the office district. The user selects the next day’s lunch and pickup time from the app, and when it’s time, they go to the restaurant to pick up their lunch.
Restaurants that join the MealPal platform can get the word out about their restaurants. In addition, the lunch menu for MealPal can be limited to a few items, and since the number of orders is known in advance, restaurants can run their business efficiently and minimize food loss. Users can get their lunches at a lower price than usual and are happy to receive them without having to wait in the store.
But now that the spread of the coronavirus is a concern, nearly all office workers are now working from home. Even here in San Francisco, the number of users who can use MealPal has dropped off drastically. It is not uncommon for restaurants themselves to be temporarily closed. In a situation where even the company’s own business was on the line, MealPal started a system to raise money for its merchants.
Right now, when users launch the app, not only do they book a lunch at a restaurant that still serves lunch, but there’s also an option to put that amount of money toward raising money for a partner restaurant instead of ordering lunch today. The company also suggests that many users will consider suspending their service under such circumstances, but for those who can afford it, the entire cost of a month’s subscription could be used to raise money.
MealPal Service (App Store)
With a business model similar to MealPal’s, ClassPass can be described as a gym version of MealPal, where a ClassPass subscription allows you to use multiple exercise gyms for dance, yoga, boxing, and more. Users can book and drop in a variety of classes on demand. They don’t have to pay a membership fee and can partake in multiple exercises at a variety of gyms.
ClassPass’s coronavirus response was very speedy. San Francisco issued a home evacuation order on March 14, 2020, but ClassPass automatically suspended all subscriptions for users residing in the area on March 15, 2020, a day later. Currently, ClassPass is offering online streaming classes on the platform for participating gyms.
The company is also adding a “support feature” to each exercise gym’s ClassPass profile page. Through this feature, users can easily donate to their favorite gyms by setting amounts in the $5-$500 range. At one point they set up a special web page encouraging an online petition drive urging people who work in exercise gyms to subsidize them.
Even in the U.S., where the culture of giving is more prevalent than in other countries such as Japan, this is not something that everyone can do in this uncertain time.
However, a call for donations from the apps that users open on a daily basis makes them think of the smiles of the restaurant employees who usually hand them lunch or the gym staff who help them to work out.
In this way, users realize that the community that has been displaced by the coronavirus is, in fact, the community they belong to, and they choose to make a donation. I think the design of such an experience is hidden in the “support features” of MealPal and ClassPass.
In this way, the two companies are encouraging people to think about the meaning of supporting small businesses at a time when even their own lives are uncertain, and they are fostering a sense of value in a society that they can support, and in which they can coexist as a community.
2. Call for “Stay Home”（Netflix, Uber/UberEats）
The next company is one that is trying to contribute to society by raising awareness of the “Stay Home” movement, which aims to reduce the peak of coronavirus infection and prevent medical collapse.
Netflix, a video delivery service, is already well established everywhere in the world. They took out spoiler ads on the streets for the most popular reality show of the moment. This is an excellent way to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus by making consumers who go out want to go home and watch Netflix. My co-worker, who is a fan of the reality show, also raved, “It’s so exquisite that it doesn’t give away too many spoilers, and for those who normally watch the show, it’s hard not to care about what happens next.
Incidentally, Netflix is subscription-based, so the increase in viewing time per existing user, rather than new user acquisitions, doesn’t necessarily mean more profit.
Also, Uber, a car-dispatch matching platform, advertised, “A company that moves people is asking you not to move.
Retrieved from Uber’s website
Now, when you open the app to order an Uber, “Is that really a necessary outing? and a confirmation message will be displayed, prompting you to avoid going out unless it is an emergency. The company also provides its drivers with in-house cleaning kits and pays them a 14-day absence allowance if they become infected with the virus.
In addition, UberEats, which supports restaurant delivery, is now offering a free delivery fee, boosting “Stay Home” by lowering the financial usage hurdle. To support social distance practice, they responded by quickly introducing a “leave at the door” option.
These companies are taking immediate action by thinking about how their services can position themselves in a society in the midst of a coronavirus pandemic, and what actions they should take in this context. It is noteworthy that they have decided to do their work for the good of society, even if the move does not directly benefit them, or even reduces their profits.
3. You are not alone — community-building movement — (Instagram, Coffee Meets Bagel）
The implementation of social distancing has forced many people to stay in their homes, and many of them have almost lost face-to-face contact with friends and acquaintances. Because of this, many people may be feeling intense loneliness and stress. In this situation, there are companies that design new opportunities for people to connect and communicate with each other, even from the comfort of their own homes.
I think that Instagram, which has users all over the world, is one of them. They support the often lonely “stay home” time of the coronavirus era by creating a “Stay Home” stamp, encouraging users to share how they spend their time at home with each other, and it looks like the stamp is available in many languages around the world, including German, Spanish, Japanese and English.
Users seem to share the notion that it is possible to use their time in a meaningful way at home, or conversely, they seem to design their experiences in such a way that they feel a sense of camaraderie: They are not the only ones who feel lonely at home.
Stay home stump
There are countless industries that have been hit hard by this situation, and the online dating industry is one of them. Although they say “online” dating, many users use the service on the assumption that they will meet face-to-face after a “match” online. Due to the stay-home order, many users seem to have temporarily suspended their activities because they don’t know when they will actually meet face to face.
In response to this situation, Coffee Meets Bagel (CMB) has tried to help people meet (virtually) even during home evacuation orders. One of the features of CMB is that the message function with a matched person is closed after seven days (which encourages them to actually meet face to face), but they made the function “unlimited” first. They are encouraging people to communicate slowly until the lockdown is over and their safety is assured.
The company also features content on its website and Instagram page, including “fun virtual dating ideas” and “love ideas that should be put into practice in the age of Corona. . When I opened the app after the shelter-in-place order was issued, a virtual dating recommendation popped up, and a page of ideas and links to them flew by.
virtual date ideas (CMB Instagram)
In addition, “Coffee Talk,” a CMB community virtual meet-up, is held twice a week in each region. The idea is to gather users who live in the same area on an online call and have them chat with each other in a casual way. By providing such an opportunity to meet new people, they seem to give users a chance to get in touch with the outside world.
I attended out of curiosity; there were more than 80 people from the San Francisco Bay Area area attending, and we were divided into online conference rooms of about seven to eight people along the way. In a divided room, we were encouraged to chat about themes such as, “What’s your favorite coronavirus meme? What new habits have emerged since coronavirus began?
It was a bit of a hurdle to suddenly chat with complete strangers online, but the jokes and ideas I heard from the participants that I could enjoy at home made me feel that I was not alone, and made me feel positive.
Also, while I used to attend meetups on my way home from work, I was able to refresh myself by attending Coffee Talk and regaining a sense of my pre-coronavirus life. Even though it’s a casual meetup, it’s still a dating app company. Finally, while the MC talked for about five minutes, there was a glimpse of the speed-dating aspect of the event, where people could send private chat messages to anyone they were interested in.
Image of Coffee Talk (CMB blog)
These seemingly very minor corporate actions, such as extending the chat feature release period, suggesting dating ideas, and creating new stamps, are just a few examples. In reality, however, it could be considered to be designed to encourage the community to spontaneously create a new way of thinking about quality time by letting them share their feelings and time virtually with other people in a life that tends to be stressful with little contact with the outside world.
4. Prevent infodemics（Medium, Note, Google, Facebook, etc.）
Behind the spread of coronavirus is an infodemic that is simultaneously wreaking havoc on the public. Infodemics are a kind of confusion in which correct and uncertain information is mixed together, amplified, and diffused in a way that inflames people’s fears and anxieties, and makes it difficult to find information that can be trusted.
From here, we will focus on the issue of infodemics and introduce the activities of companies that call for users to get the right information and make the right decision before making an active decision.
First of all, blog sites such as Medium, where anyone can post content related to the coronavirus, will display a message at the beginning of the post saying, “This is something related to the coronavirus, but please check the facts for yourself. I think it’s designed to remind users not to take any information on faith, but to judge the right information.
Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Reddit, Twitter
In addition, the US tech giants — Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Reddit, and Twitter — have announced that they will be partnering to deal with this infodemic crisis. They are also working with the government to collect and disseminate accurate information and have their services remove any content that may encourage infodemics.
For example, they have set up a coronavirus information center on the Internet that collects accurate information from the government: Google has a window to the information center that appears at the top of the search results when it detects a search term related to the coronavirus. Facebook has done the same, with a bar linking to the information center appearing at the top of the screen when the app is opened.
When you launch the Google Map application, a window linked to the information center appears at the top of the screen, encouraging you to get the latest information before you go out. In addition, the latest information on the services of restaurants, etc., which are changing their business forms as the virus infection spreads, seems to have been updated, including the UI.
These companies, taking advantage of their position in the information industry, where there are many points of contact with people, are not only providing accurate information, but also emphasizing the importance of taking action based on one’s own judgment of information that should be trusted, and making users think.
What do we want to propose as a company as the world changes?
Up to this point, I have explained the case study of “COVID-19 Corporate Response” with a focus on American companies, the message from the companies that it represents, and the experience design that they are trying to provide. At a time when the world is experiencing unprecedented disasters, the social responsibility of corporations is being called into question.
In this time of turmoil, it is necessary for each of us to think seriously about how we can contribute to solving the confusion as a company and about the message we want to convey to people, taking immediate action. It is also said that the effects of the coronavirus will not only be long-lasting but will also significantly change the way we live and value ourselves afterward.
That’s why I want to think seriously about the kind of world we want to live in after the pandemic, rather than simply trying to get back to the way things were. It is important to think not only about what is directly returned to the company as a profit but also about what can be done by the company itself for the sake of positive social change. And now there is a great opportunity to work to make it a reality.
The companies profiled in this article immediately thought about what they could offer and acted on it in the chaos immediately following the start of the coronavirus crisis. Through the experience design of their services, they are proposing to users a new way of life in which each person can make the right decision and support each other even if they can’t see each other in person, just because we live in such a world. As things change, their message and the experience design that conveys it will emerge as well.