How to Design for People When People are Freaking Out about a Pandemic

Callie Rojewski
May 4, 2020 · 4 min read

Whether you’re launching a new product or running an event, keeping your audience and their needs in mind is (and will always be) the key to success.⁣

Context is critical. And in 2020, as the world navigates the effects of COVID-19, context looks drastically different than it ever has before.⁣


  • There is more noise than ever online⁣
  • People are worried about loved ones & uncertainty⁣
  • They are disappointed about what can’t happen (proms, weddings, travel)⁣


  • People are spending more time online⁣
  • They’re looking for distraction and entertainment⁣
  • People are redefining careers and creating new routines⁣⁣

Here are 5 things you should to keep in mind when designing for people during a pandemic:

Approach with empathy. In a recent Fast Company article about the future of work, writers speaking about the gender bias noted that “we may have just unintentionally stumbled into the virtual reality training in empathy our world has needed.”

Think about it: because work/life balance has shifted, lines have blurred, and we are all sharing the experience. Every parent is now a stay-at-home parent, and every stay-at-home parent is now a teacher. People are forced to assume different roles and responsibilities and have empathy for one another.

This means it’s more critical than ever to approach the design process by placing yourself in someone else’s shoes, and in doing so, acknowledge how many new “hats” they are probably wearing. Recognize that people are processing a lot about others, and trying to redefine life as they know it themselves.

Consider emotional needs. With over 3.5 million cases of Corona Virus confirmed as of May, the expansive effect of the global health crisis has exposed cracks in an already struggling system. People are ill, unemployed, worried and/or know someone else who is facing similar challenges.

On top of processing changes happening socially and economically, the increase in isolation and stress has left people with a correlated amount of nightmares. A National Geographic article shares “according to an ongoing study the Lyon Neuroscience Research Center in France initiated in March, the coronavirus pandemic has caused a 35 percent increase in dream recall among participants, with respondents reporting 15 percent more negative dreams than usual.”

Read: we are living in emotionally trying times. People aren’t sleeping, and there’s a good chance their loved ones, their community, or they themselves are seriously affected by Corona Virus.

Validate their current state. Day-to-day routines are easier yet somehow more challenging at the same time. We spend our days in loungewear and pass the time by watching Netflix or baking bread. We’re forced to do what we’d typically do to relax because of an extremely unsettling reality. Slowing down and staying socially distant makes a serious impact and saves lives, but that could look like wearing the same clothes as the day before or looking up face shield fashion on the internet. Don’t pressure your audience — there is no right or wrong way to spend time during a pandemic. Do validate the weight people may be carrying on their shoulders and the transition they are experiencing in their new routines.

Differentiate from the noise. News channels are churning out story after story on the “what has happened” and the “what if.” The government is giving routine COVID-19 updates. Inbox notifications have increased 10x overnight with invitations to Zoom meetings. People are bombarded with company updates, some folding and some suspiciously operating “business as usual.”

It’s a lot. If we were burned out from living in the attention economy before, news of a global pandemic made the overwhelm much worse. Differentiate from the noise and save your audience time by aggregating content and opinions. Consider summarizing takeaways for recurring topics, and packaging them in a bite-sized, easily digestible way.

Delight and entertain. You don’t have to be a stand-up comedian or have a cheeky brand presence to surprise and delight your audience. As you design new content, events, products and solve problems, make it a practice to exceed expectations and embrace your sense of humor. Show up with authenticity and humanity, and know that chaos in the background of zoom calls or expressive gifs/memes in presentations can go a long way in affirming the shared experience we all face.

Evolve your design process to reflect the effects of the collective experience society is going through together.

Marketers, content creators, and entrepreneurs, how have you been designing differently since COVID-19?

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Join The Startup’s +724K followers.

Callie Rojewski

Written by

Brand & marketing strategist, specializing in customer advocacy. Topics of interest include: Startups, Tech, Creativity, and Personal Growth.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +724K followers.

Callie Rojewski

Written by

Brand & marketing strategist, specializing in customer advocacy. Topics of interest include: Startups, Tech, Creativity, and Personal Growth.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +724K followers.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store