Rethinking experiences: UX and human factors research can help companies develop safe, contactless designs

June 16, 2020

Up until this point, customers have been rewarded with a tactile-focused, sensory-filled experience with…almost everything. From the touchscreens on their phones to test driving a new car, humans have developed a tactile relationship with technology and design. The problem with creating a tactile-enriched environment, is that we are now entering a world with a reluctance for touch through fear of COVID-19 contamination and spread. People are afraid to touch door handles, self-service kiosks, cash, and almost anything else that may have been in contact with another human being. So, what do we do with this fear? We adapt…essentially leading to an entirely different experience for the customer. Luckily, this is where UX and human factors research thrives – in early formative research.

Almost all industries will need to provide some form of contactless options for customers, because, unfortunately, this pandemic is not going away soon. Until there is a mass-produced vaccine available, this hesitation around touch will linger. Tactile communication and interaction with products and devices will need to be reassessed, which means we’re going to need to examine designs; from the design of offices, retail, transportation, consumer products, and medical devices – all typically created with tactile communication and interaction in mind.

The positive news is that the technology to create a contactless product or device already exists. Voice recognition, voice assistants, facial recognition, and Bluetooth can all help create hands-free communication and interaction. Some companies realize this and are making changes to weave these technologies in now. Some examples include using QR codes to download a restaurant’s menu in house or office doors using motion sensors and facial recognition to open. Even iris recognition will be launched in certain medical facilities and airports in the Middle East region.

With the current pandemic climate calling for contactless options, rapid development without simultaneous research poses a threat to users. Technologies designed without the input of data-driven research are commonly developed and woven in without users’ needs or expectations in mind. This creates increased stress and cognitive workload for the user which can be problematic during an already stressful global pandemic.

Early formative research provides design direction with the integration of users’ feedback and experiences. Early research has the flexibility of testing multiple iterations to gain insights, which can be challenging the later a product is in its development cycle. Designing for a contactless system and using existing technologies, such as voice activation or facial recognition, can be challenging and even intimidating; however, early formative research helps ensure development is designed towards the user’s needs and expectations.

It’s clear that our world is changing in front of us. Research-driven design is a way to help people adapt safely and conveniently to this new world. Within a year, contactless designs will be the new norm. To prepare for this new norm, companies should start their development and early formative research now to allow designers and researchers necessary time for proper methodology approach, accurate study set up, scientific analysis, and creative implementation of data-driven iterations and refrain from rushed development. Starting early in formative research will allow research to team up with design and provide early direction and data-driven design recommendations. With early research, contactless systems can be designed to make users’ lives easier in a new pandemic world.