Coronavirus News Africa

From digital doubles to ‘liquid people’: 7 trends Covid-19 will entrench in the next 3 years



  • There is a realigning of fundamentals in terms of how individuals and companies see their roles; how artificial intelligence is used, and what that means for design.
  • Prepare for the “never normal” likely to be the case over the next three years, says serial entrepreneur Mark Curtis.
  • The coronavirus pandemic will enhance seven key trends. 

Forget about the “new normal” brought about by the outbreak and rapid spreading of the coronavirus pandemic, prepare for the “never normal” likely to be the case over the next three years, says serial entrepreneur Mark Curtis.

He is the co-founder of international design and innovation consultancy Fjord. The 2020 Fjord Trends report was compiled from insights gained at its 35 studios across the world, including in Johannesburg.

“Although the trends we identified for 2020 were finalised before the rapid spreading of the coronavirus pandemic shifted everything, we saw that, not only are they still very relevant, but many have actually been immensely accelerated by the pandemic,” Curtis said during a webinar on Thursday.

One of what he calls “meta themes” standing out is a realigning of fundamentals in terms of how individuals and companies see their roles; how artificial intelligence is used, and what that means for design.

7 trends

Many faces of growth

“We see clear evidence that employees are asking their employers to do things differently. They want corporate transformation with a purpose, showing what the company stands for,” says Curtis.

The survey found that 64% of customers want to transact with companies who are making a difference, for example to the environment.

“Furthermore, do not underestimate the ‘pester power’ of children in determining what their parents do,” he adds.

“People are beginning to ask whether it is ‘really only all about endless growth’. They also do not hesitate to call out companies publicly for not standing up for issues they deem important.”

It is still about making a profit, but also about having a purpose beyond that.

“The pandemic has brought a focus on the need to measure how proper value is delivered, including to society,” says Curtis.

Money changers

The second trend is rethinking what money is all about. At a micro level this is seen in the rise of challengers to traditional big banks and the way they are designed.

“High quality banking apps from these ‘challengers’ are changing the way we are dealing with our money every day. People are going cashless all over the world. As new digital currencies come into being our view of money changes,” says Curtis.

“The main change with Covid-19 pandemic has been cash. ATMs started to look like a poor way to distribute money as cash looked ‘dangerous’ due to bank notes containing bacteria, and potentially a virus.”

Walking barcodes

“The big leap currently is where our bodies become our signature. The technology for it is already there, causing a lot of controversy. For example, a lot of people are highly concerned about facial recognition and what it can do,” says Curtis.

It can be “the smoothest way” to unlock access to your devices. For example, in the UK there is a company that uses facial recognition to scan how a patient is responding to what a doctor tells him – to see if the patient understands.

“This is an active debate currently as the trend is not only massively accelerated by the pandemic, but we think it will persist even after the pandemic. We think this trend is here to stay,” says Curtis.

“There could be a major movement against this, but I think the cat is basically out of the bag. The critical thing, however, is that we cannot make data mistakes. If your face ID is hacked, for instance, you ‘cannot just change your face that easily’.”

It would, however, be important for companies or institutions to signal to people how and when these kinds of technologies are being used, in his view.

Liquid people

This trend is about a change starting in the way people think about what they consume – just as employees are rethinking what they and their companies do.

“Consumption is not dead, but the pandemic has probably caused the end of mindless consumption. People are being more thoughtful of what they do and what they buy. Having to remain at home for months and having to move into the digital space, showed consumers they have many options,” says Curtis.

“We see indications that people believe these new conscious consumption habits will continue even after lockdown and across generations, not just among the youth.”

Artificial intelligence

“We are seeing a shift in people’s mindset towards AI as a tool which employees can use. The move is from Ai used for automation to one of creating value when it complements what employees are doing,” he explains.

“The main question here is to think about how you can use AI as part of whole way you go about your business strategy and not just to improve the supply chain, for example. It is about understanding how well AI will be working with humans not apart from humans. This is not a race towards the machine but a race with the machine.

Digital doubles

Your digital double creates a central point for all the date about you and helps you to manage aspects of your life like health, money and education.

People are already using online “avatars” and, in the view of Curtis, the pandemic has simply accelerated the pace of adoption due to so many more people having had to go online due to lockdowns.

“We are beginning to create tools to have us represented as synthetic versions of ourselves. Increasingly there will be places where we can create digital doubles of ourselves, which can interact with other people or services to find the things we want,” says Curtis.

“If people understand how important and valuable data they create all the time, they would want a place to centralise it. And why not have this central ‘place’ look and talk just like you – your virtual twin. Banks could, for instance, step in to say they can be the place to centralise people’s data.”

Life-centred design

The pandemic has brought out a new narrative, one of asking what designing is for, wanting a broader thinking going into what designing something is for and the wider consequences of what one does.

Sustainability is now even more important. There is also a bigger focus on inequality and how the creation of that works.

“Basically, it is about the desirability, feasibility and viability of design,” says Curtis.



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