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Coronavirus could mark the beginning of ‘societally safe’ product design

Until what seemed like 10 minutes ago, the expression “going viral” had an entirely different meaning, and just as quickly, everyday life has been replaced with a solitary and virtual reality.

Before we knew what is was, Covid-19 had arrived and brought with it chaos and disruption.

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been considering many different post Covid-19 scenarios, and while doing so I’ve become quite studious about how this virus spread itself around the world via local transmission. What I find staggering is that the virus can survive for several days on the surface of common materials like cardboard, plastic, steel, fabric, and glass.

A friend of mine in Switzerland recently mentioned that he now looks differently at otherwise innocent household objects, like the video games console. He said, “It’s the four plastic controllers which are shared between me, my children, and friends. I guess those things are highly potent when it comes to potential viral transmission.”

It’s also been interesting to learn that coronavirus survives for less than four hours on copper. Consistent with the historical use of copper ions as effective disinfectants, this indicates that there is significant opportunity right now in the research and development of new materials and finishes for future products.

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I am convinced that, when this pandemic ends, we won’t see the back-to-normal closure we all hope for. Instead, we’ll see a complete change in consumer habits. As a consequence of this, we’ll see a whole new category of products emerge, built on a responsible understanding of material hypersensitivity, especially around hygiene, touch, and tactility.

I want to be bold and call out the term “societal safety,” as this needs elevating. Businesses should think of this as a new purpose principle, integrating societal-safety considerations into their product design processes, at an early stage, especially where the end products are intended to physically fit within and touch our daily lives.

Products designed to be touched frequently (I spend about five hours a day on my iPhone, for example) should be front of the queue for this kind of design rethinking. We must now seriously think of a new way of classifying products designed for “sensitive” interactions, where one’s face, ears, and mouths are a usage point, if not the primary usage point.

When planning their post-Covid-19 strategies, businesses and brands should seize this moment to invest in bold product development initiatives that satisfy these imminently emergent consumer and user demands.

The immediate call to action here is to urge designers and engineers to focus on the development of next-generation materials and innovative hygienic layers that can combat the transmission of Covid-19 today, but also to anticipate the emergence of other viruses tomorrow.

With consumers developing new hygienic reflexes, there is a rich window of opportunity to build a market for societally-safe products, immediately after the pandemic subsides.

We will witness a significant impact on purchase trends where consumers will start moving away from products that provide no safety net toward progressive products that do.

May this serve as foresight for all consumer-facing companies and brands! The time for action is now – the global marketplace, with all of your existing consumers and potential prospects are already waiting – and I will be your customer number one, at the front of the queue.

Albert Mufarrij is Digital Marketing Operations Manager for the Eastern Europe Region at Philip Morris International.

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