In the past few weeks we have been subjected to a slew of content that attempts to make sense of these times. What are the changes that will potentially emerge – or are already emerging – from the conditions imposed by the pandemic? The constant fear of falling prey to the virus, the prolonged lockdowns, the imposed isolation, the mass migrations and the spectre of unemployment – how will these impact us? There is no way to accurately predict this and yet we must make attempts to imagine it.

My designer’s love for sense-making (also a professional hazard), pushes me to imagine how our evolving reality could impact the business and craft of design. Two months into the lockdown, physically distanced but more (virtually) socially connected than ever, I am beginning to feel that the world post-Covid, will present far more fine-grained and diverse realities than we are comfortably presuming right now.

The best place to start our quest for answers is our own audience – the end-user in whose world we hope to situate our design solutions.  How will they change and what are the personas that will emerge on the other side of the pandemic? Critical to this speculation, is thinking about what causes this change, so that we may begin to also imagine its trajectory in the future.

The danger of course, is that our collective eagerness for sense-making may lead us to hasty, sweeping conclusions.  We need to be particularly vigilant about letting generic, warm and fuzzy ideas cloud our judgement about the motivation and desires of our users.

In this piece, I have sought to imagine the behavioural changes that could potentially manifest themselves in the time to come.  The starting point for many of  these personas have been those that we have encountered across a very varied spectrum of professional experiences. In equal measure, they factor in observations from personal relationships and conversations. These personas, therefore, are not entirely new, not entirely familiar either.  One thing is for sure. We will never know how our users’ world has evolved until we begin to imagine it. This piece does exactly that. Any resemblance to people known, is purely coincidental, or not.

1. Rayan: The born-again science lover

Rayan found himself gradually gravitating to a way of life that aligned with all that was natural and steeped in the wisdom of nature. It gave him gentle recourse and gradual renewal. Until the pandemic. Confronted by the swift terror of the virus, Rayan decided nature may not fight the fight of men’s making with absolute force and urgency. Since then, he has turned to the visible word of science. From wellness to grooming, nutrition to leisure – he now seeks absolute numbers and tested facts to navigate choices. He reads the back label before the front, prefers lab-made to hand-made. Better science than sorry, he says.

2. Nina: The frugal hedonist

Nina has had it all; she revels in pleasures higher than and beyond sustenance. Her pleasures have been of excess – the more the better. The lockdown shook Nina’s extravagance partly through curtailed access and partly through the sobering reality of those fighting for actual survival. But old habits die hard. Nina must find pleasure to live. She calls herself a frugal hedonist now – championing the elevation of the bare minimum. It’s not basic, it is elemental elegance, Watson.

3. Manu: The anxious planner

Manu has always been a moderately cautious person. He planned for the future, optimistically and optimally. But triggered by his un-preparedness for the lockdown, he now plans everything for the worst possible scenario. Living in the moment is so 2019, he says. Manu buys everything in bulk and is swayed only by spectacularly long expiry dates and instant money-back schemes. Obsessively and frequently, Manu takes stock of his provisions and plans, only to feel insufficiently prepared almost immediately. He is working on Plan D.

4.Bala: The defeated dreamer

Bala’s dreams were bigger than the village she was born in. Starry-eyed and determined, husband in tow, she moved to the big city. Life moved one small step-up at a time – from a tarpaulin roof to a tin sheet, from a pressure cooker to a mobile phone. It always seemed things were bound to get better. The lockdown shook Bala’s optimism, overnight. There were no reserves, no plan B and no comfort of kindness. Charity meted out in measured and abrupt doses, was well intentioned sometimes, but barely comforting and never reassuring. The city owed them nothing, and they had no claims or agency in its going-ons.

Bala has set out again. She’s  going back to her village, with the certainty of hardship, but the reassurance of a familiar earth and people. The city can clean up after itself, she says, walking down Pragati Marg.

5. Gulshan: The stoic worker

Gulshan grew up hearing the stories of two generations before him – stories of how they made their way through histories of political and economic turmoil, epidemics, feuds and fallacies. Through days grim and good, Gulshan’s forebearers, as stories go, were steady and calm in their resolve to survive. Windfalls and obstacles, Gulshan was told, was how time moved.

Through the pandemic and its aftermath, Gulshan stayed stoic – neither pining for the past not planning a different future. Gulshan stayed in the present, the day to day –keeping it moving, running, afloat. It’s not my time or anything, says Gulshan, it’s just time and this too shall pass. Gulshan carries on, not business as usual, but he expects nothing less or more. 

6. Paro: The YOLO champion

Paro was born a planner. Planning gave her comfort, a permanent sense of motivation, working step by step towards her goals. She regarded life as so precious that she couldn’t bear to let any of it simply pass her by, without a plan that made the most of it. And so they came to be – meticulously ‘worked-towards’ employment, relationships and vacations.

The pandemic came without a user manual which threw Paro off her known game. It occurred to Paro that permanence and predictability of life, that formed the bedrock of her planning, may be an imprecise science. Paro still holds life in great regard, but she’s let go of the obsessive planning. She invests herself, her time and money – only if the opportunity offers easy exit, when she changes her mind. You live only once, says she, who cares if it isn’t true love?

7. Rana: The reformed self-relier

Rana believed in delegation. The elaborate machinery of his personal, social and professional life ran through a choreographed web of assigned people and tasks. It allowed Rana to live the fullest life and aim (by his managerial prowess) for nothing but the ideal. The lockdown left Rana to his own devices. It was a time of each to his own. By choice or restricted mobility, Rana’s support system ceased to operate with its orderly efficiency. It took Rana a while to find his feet, on his own. Now Rana is back up, albeit with less than ideal targets. You can only depend on yourself, he says, and do what you humanly can. He’s invested heavily in automated devices and services, and swears by an intricately tagged calendar of alarms, reminders and admonishes.

8. Joy: The seeker of human connection

Joy always considered herself an introvert. Living on her own suited her. It’s not that she minded other people, but found comfort and  pleasure in her quietude. The lockdown was a time of the great quiet, even more so, in Joy’s perpetual solitary state. “I began to miss the thrill,” says Joy, “The thrill of my quiet versus the hustle-bustle of life elsewhere.” As the world emerged from the pandemic, it distanced itself – first physically and then socially into safe silos. Joy now craves the serendipity of chance human encounters, the haphazardness of bustle. Sometimes, even if it is just for a millisecond, she brushes past people in queues.

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