Design apprentice, Meghan Yip’s, thoughts on being a remote design student for 3 semesters.
Optimizing your graphic design workspace
Investing in a good graphic design work setup is entirely worth it. This doesn’t just go for remote design students – I think it’s something that can benefit anyone who spends most of their time on a computer. During in-person classes, I would often use my school’s studio space to finish projects and as a commuter student, I didn’t carry much other than my laptop and a drawing tablet. I never cared much for external laptop accessories until I got a mechanical keyboard during the pandemic, a common gateway item into the vast computer building world. Now I’m working faster and typing louder than I was before.
During lockdown, I also made the mistake of getting back into my anime and manga phase that I abandoned years ago. Needless to say, there are a lot of figurines and plushes and posters in my room that I didn’t have before March 2020.
The blight of being in your bedroom
It was a little too easy to take advantage of turning the camera off. I can admit to making my breakfast during lectures and taking a nap or shower during independent work time and breaks. Even though I took the time to perfect my work area, it was still my bedroom. There’s a guitar in the corner, an unfinished crochet project on the table next to me, a pile of laundry that needs to be folded, a bed…
What’s funny about being online for three semesters is many things that I used to consider an inconvenience are things I look forward to in the Fall, even my 45 minute and change commute from Malden to Boston. I want to print and reprint my projects in the studio five minutes before class and miss my crop marks with an X-ACTO knife, only for the printer to get jammed when there’s twenty other tasks in the queue.
When most of your print design projects are meant to be physical pieces, seeing your projects to completion only for them to live on a screen left so much to be desired. For three semesters of online design work during a pandemic, I was really proud of most of the stuff that I made.
Living in a shared cultural moment
I missed the general chaos of being in art school. MassArt is eccentric, loud, and plain bizarre. There was always something happening that made you turn your head and pause.
Community wasn’t completely lost. The major group chat we created saved a lot of us from the monotony of online learning, along with social media platforms like Instagram. One of my favorite online memories is an anonymous student posting to a MassArt confessions page about how pretentious and shallow the student body is, and all of us collectively dogpiling on said remote design student. Amazing.
For over a year now, we have had to adapt to changes to the world around us caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and here we’ve highlighted some design adaptations for COVID safety.
Spaces we visit every day have been transformed to adjust to the ever-changing flow of day-to-day life. Businesses have had to exercise their creativity to keep their customers safe, whether that means putting up signage explaining their COVID protocol, creating new contactless business models, or creating entirely new environments for customers and employees. There has also been a demand for UI/UX designers to assist in adapting businesses to the online world, either by improving current apps or creating entirely new ones.
Here is a glimpse at design-related changes and innovations that were created in response to the pandemic, some of which have become so commonplace that we see them as a new normal.
Nearly every business you step foot into will have some sort of COVID-related signage. Whether it’s a sign at the front door stating a mask requirement, a poster on sanitation and symptoms, or circles at your feet helping you keep a six-foot distance from the person in front of you, businesses have had to find a way to enforce safety guidelines. A site created by a UK university student has been archiving a variety of signage, both professionally done and some more DIY-style. In some more high-traffic areas, the stickers and paint have faded from all of the movement, likely because most of the signs were designed to be temporary.
Infographics are commonplace in public areas as well. Their purpose is to quickly and efficiently convey information to the public, with most utilizing pictures more than words as a way to be more accessible for speakers of all languages and young children. The graphics are meant to convey the most up-to-date information and preventative measures everyone can take to slow the spread.
We are now all familiar with “mask required” signs, which are posted on the front doors or windows of an establishment to inform customers of their protocol. The signs are typically in large, bold text with an image of a face mask to communicate the message to a more universal audience.
Stores towards the beginning of the pandemic, specifically grocery stores, would alter the flow of traffic through their store by only allowing customers to access aisles from one direction. Each aisle would alternate directions, and they needed the proper signage to communicate that. Signs were either placed in the form of stickers on the floor, similar to the six feet apart circles, or at eye level. Similar has been done at schools, where people were encouraged to walk on different sides of the hallway depending on which direction they were headed.
Given that those in the healthcare field are among some of the most high-risk job groups, creating a safer environment for both them and their patients proved to be essential. Non-emergency appointments were moved to a virtual environment, and those environments had to be created by graphic and UX designers via apps or websites. These apps and sites also have to be highly accessible, allowing for those who are disabled or unfamiliar with technology to navigate them easily without assistance. They also have to account for completely different expectations from patients versus what doctors want from the app. Doctors will want more detailed information with proper medical information, as well as the ability to manage multiple patients’ information at once, while patients will likely want a clear summary of information in simpler terms.
The typical structure of a virtual doctor’s visit consists of a waiting room landing page, the visit itself, and a written summary of the visit, either via email or on the site. The doctor and patient can be face-to-face for video calls, and many telemedicine sites and apps also offer a text-based feature for speedy communication. It’s not just for simple doctor’s visits, either. Physical therapy appointments can be directed via video, doctors can direct caretakers of the elderly or disabled, and visual studies such as those for sleep or seizures can be conducted virtually.
Among design adaptations for COVID safety, this is one that will likely last beyond COVID. Especially in more specialized fields that may not be available in rural areas, telehealth technology provides the opportunity for personalized care virtually for non-urgent matters and those that don’t require face-to-face appointments. While telemedicine services were in development before the pandemic, there was concern from some patients about making the transition, worrying about compromises in their care. With it becoming the standard, more people are becoming comfortable with the idea and making the switch, especially those who can’t travel hours at a time to and from specialized doctors.
Alongside the more specialized field of telemedicine, the idea of working from home has become more widely accepted in a broad variety of careers. Many office jobs have even elected to stick with the model long after the pandemic is over. Applications like Zoom have become the standard, followed by channel-based apps such as Slack or Discord.
These app designers have had to adapt the application for a wide variety of environments. From classrooms to offices to courtrooms, the app has to be highly versatile with a minimal learning curve. Different maps of user flow have to be explored, and everything down to button placement has to be considered. These apps, once used by a select few of companies and freelancers, now have to accommodate the general public with a varying degree of experience. In the beginning, with a huge spotlight being put on these apps, they had to add new features quickly and purposefully to both keep their user base and to be as useful as possible during such unprecedented times.
Certain industries may find these apps to be lacking in their current state though, which leads to the development of more similar applications by competitors, bringing more designers to the table to discuss what can make theirs the most effective.
One thing that learning from home has negatively impacted is the student’s engagement with the subject matter. Being bored during school isn’t something new, but being in your own bedroom staring at a video call for 6–8 hours a day doesn’t do many favors for productivity in most cases. In an effort to get students’ focus back, many schools are turning to virtual worlds. These video game-type environments allow for classmates to congregate in one environment, and a majority of student-age people are comfortable with technology so there isn’t much of a learning curve. It also helps those who feel self-conscious on camera by allowing for everyone to “see” each other without actually having to see their faces.
Some schools use pre-existing games, while others use more education-focused programs specifically developed for this purpose. One of the most popular choices of pre-existing games is Minecraft, an open-world building simulator with some optional coding involved that was already immensely popular among younger kids. Schools can recreate their own classrooms, or they can go on virtual “field trips” of worlds developed by real-world locations such as Washington D.C..
Colleges and high schools have even recreated graduation in cases where in-person graduation was not possible, with one popular instance being at UC Berkeley. A custom world was developed by Boston University students, playfully called “Quaranteen University,” and opened applications for any college to use the world for their own graduations.
Mojang—the developers of the game—had already begun adapting the game for educational purposes before the pandemic after seeing how useful it was in school environments, and took user feedback from those in the education field to optimize the game for learning. Adjustments were made such as an easier-to-use and more visually understandable interface for young children, and they structured the game around a more linear timeline so that students could stay on-task while still exercising their creativity. Teachers were also taken into consideration, acknowledging the fact that many of them have little to no video gaming experience, and game mechanics were taken down to their bare essentials. The goal of using these types of programs is to simulate the experience of in-person learning as close as possible and recreate their learning environment to fit students’ comfort zones.