The design legacy of Covid? It’s all around you.


But maybe not everywhere. Particularly at the high end, the printed menu is one of a restaurant’s most notable design platforms. “The best restaurants will soon return to real menus, because having this object in hand is part of that hospitality experience,” says Warren Ashworth, architect and hotel design expert. More value-oriented restaurants and chains will likely stay with the QR option which saves costs and time. Thus, the way we react to the presence of a QR code may change accordingly. But we’ll know what it is – and it’ll be hard to explain that these interfaces were an over-excited curiosity with little practical value.

More importantly, the standardization of the QR code as an information design surface has implications that transcend the restaurant and hospitality industry, as designers find new ways to deploy it. Viewed broadly, QR is “a low-cost gateway” to information that can be constantly updated and fine-tuned, says Sandy Speicher, CEO of design firm IDEO. Foot Locker retailers in Macy’s have started using the codes as part of a contactless payment option; small businesses such as barber shops use them for appointment recordings or to facilitate tips to barbers through Venmo. The familiarity and acceptance spread in part by the restaurant’s (and customers’) adaptation served as a sort of proof of concept for the form – a decade later. “The fact that it expands so ubiquitously, so fast, is remarkable,” says Speicher.

“Sometimes these emergencies become opportunities to create new baselines,” says Paola Antonelli, Senior Curator of Architecture and Design at MoMA. It is not always an intentional or conscious process, and the results can be disturbing. The ways in which the aftermath of 9/11 helped reset basic expectations of privacy and surveillance serve as an example of a warning. But, Antonelli says, the pandemic may have set new, positive standards. This reflects another side effect of the pandemic era design: rapid experimentation, born out of desperation.

There is an argument to be made that the pandemic has proven that research and innovation processes in science and beyond need a refresh. Admittedly, it was remarkable, Antonelli points out, how quickly city governments have moved to accommodate experiences like new cycle paths and allow restaurants to build outdoor spaces. Not everyone is a fan of these new structures, and it seems very likely that some sort of regulatory standards will emerge. But given the intense economic pressure to make Something To help the restaurant industry and its workers, the new spaces have come together at a speed that would have been “unthinkable” two years ago, says Ellen Fisher, vice president of academic affairs and dean of the New York School of Interior Design.

And Fisher thinks the effects will last: “I think it really expanded the vocabulary of restaurant design, what the limits are. In a sense, she argues, this brought the restaurant back to its earlier roots as a community and gathering center, “almost like a modern version of the square – like in Venice, the cafe’s extension to the square. . I don’t think it’s ever going to go away.

A place where this particular “design emergency”, as Antonelli calls it, has been most visible is the workplace of white-collar workers. There has been a lot of feverish speculation about how offices could now be redesigned and redesigned to accommodate a “hybrid” model, with some of the employees choosing to continue working from home a few days a week. Perhaps desks will be configured differently, ending the reign of the widely hated open desktop system; perhaps there will be even stranger developments. A company called Poppy markets a device that can monitor the air for traces of pathogens.

But so far, it’s the other side of the work-home dyad that has been more definitely redesigned. White collar work has taken over the home, bringing office life into the domestic sphere in unprecedented ways. It is now common for office workers to reconsider part of their home as a de facto studio. At the start of the pandemic era, it was understandable that you walked into a digital meeting looking a little ragged on your couch, or even chose not to watch your video. The fact that everyone was in the same position made such laxity possible; but once people are back in the office and your colleagues connected to video are getting sharper, well groomed, and smartly lit, the math will be different.


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