The best UX of 2021 was all about this one word

Most notably? Whilst we obtained vaccines (and boosters), COVID continued lurking, and in the previous couple of weeks with Omicron, it has surged once more. Instances are bleak. However I’m emboldened by the modifications I noticed in 2021, led by designers and scientists who discovered rapidly from this pandemic, and constructed a extra resilient world for it.

The biggest innovation I noticed in 2021 was inside UX, and particularly the evolving person expertise of hygiene. We’re studying that we will clear our private airways to breathe extra safely, and monitor our environments to identify COVID earlier than it spreads. The bigger world is awakening to comprehend that germs are actual, air high quality issues, and we’ve got the know-how to dwell safer lives than most of us do—with out sacrificing all consolation and social contact to get there, as we did firstly of the pandemic.

To see how far we’ve come so rapidly, simply rewind again to early 2020. As COVID struck, we knew little or no about the virus. Many specialists insisted it was unfold primarily by way of contact solely. We have been instructed to not purchase masks, lest we take them away from healthcare employees. The CDC wouldn’t acknowledge that COVID was airborne till Could of that yr.

So the primary wave of hygiene was centered on “flattening the curve” with hand-washing. (I can nonetheless admire the well-meaning, sharply designed info being packaged as a meme again then—even when it was finally unsuitable.) We counted and sang songs as we scrubbed, and skilled ourselves tips on how to successfully wash our arms.


The subsequent wave of UX introduced PPE—masks and face shields. That strategy has confirmed to work. It additionally introduced us plexiglass dividers throughout shops and places of work, together with the promise of incessantly sanitized surfaces. Once more, we have been unsuitable in our strategy right here. Because it seems, plexiglass can prevent air from circulating, creating particularly dangerous hot spots for the virus. And sanitizing surfaces doesn’t repair our points with air (although upgrading your HVAC system to the precise MERV filter can!). Sadly, the plexiglass strategy has caught with us as half of the rise of COVID theater. It’s a manner for enterprise homeowners and communities to fake they’re doing one thing helpful for public well being, apart from decreasing capability, upgrading HVAC techniques, or closing solely.

Regardless of this ongoing public well being posturing, 2021 has introduced new hope to the UX of hygiene—which begins by recognizing whenever you’re contaminated. Speedy check kits debuted this yr, giving individuals at residence the flexibility to swab their nostril and check themselves for COVID with respectable accuracy. Certain, as a society, we have been used to testing kits like this for being pregnant or blood sugar. Nonetheless, enable your self to pause for one second, and admire how exceptional it’s that firms like Abbott have developed a manner for anybody, with no scientific coaching, to self-test for the pandemic of our age. It is a virus that you simply would possibly in any other case unfold in case you have few or no signs.

[Photo: Sensory Cloud]

Not solely can we check if we’re contaminated; we’ve got new instruments to stop getting contaminated within the first place (apart from masks!). Take the Fend. It is a $13 nasal mister—born from the thoughts of a Harvard researcher, and delivered to market by the identical design agency that created Beats by Dre. The Fend sprays ocean-like salty air at a very particular vapor size, which permits it to succeed in by way of your nostril into your trachea. Several studies show that it seems to stop airborne infections by boosting your physique’s pure immunity: particularly its skill to lure viruses in mucus earlier than they fly deep into your lungs. The UX? Simply two pumps and deep inhalations to spice up your immunity for hours at a time, from a tool that slips simply into your pocket. It couldn’t be easier. The trickier matter for Fend is the pitch itself. How do you introduce the idea of nasal hygiene? How do you talk that one thing so seemingly superficial can forestall an infection? Then once more, Fend bought out of its first run of 10,000 items in a matter of days.

[Image: courtesy Poppy]

One other startup that involves thoughts is Poppy. In a earlier life, its founders bought their analysis firm Meta (sure, Meta) to the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. Poppy is a straightforward piece of {hardware} that appears like a smoke detector. It takes steady samples of the air to identify COVID floating in an area. Samples are despatched to a lab every day for testing—the system makes use of leading edge microbial DNA evaluation to establish COVID or different airborne pathogens upon request. Whereas not fairly instantaneous, Poppy permits anybody managing an area to see if COVID is current, sending alerts by way of an easy-to-read dashboard. And throughout the subsequent yr, Poppy plans to enhance its {hardware}, so all testing may be executed on the system (decreasing prices and expediting outcomes).

What grabs me most about Poppy and Fend is that they don’t solely work for COVID instances. These units characterize a rethinking of hygiene as an ongoing downside going through society—although as an issue that may be lived with. Every platform may be simply as efficient in defending us in opposition to seasonal flus, and no matter pandemic comes subsequent. These are concepts born in 2021 that I believe will really feel utterly mainstream by 2030.

[Photo: Razer]

And the way may I speak about the UX of hygiene with out citing Razer? Razer is a PC gaming peripherals firm that makes glowing mice and keyboards. That’s their factor. However with COVID hitting, their industrial design staff took on the duty of constructing a excessive tech masks referred to as the Zephyr—a masks that made it each simpler to breathe and specific your self than a inventory N95 or different possibility.

Sure, lots of sudden firms made masks in 2020 and 2021, however most have been both made for inner functions, or have been simply one other material masks possibility produced by a vogue label. Razer centered on improvements: particularly followers that suck in air to make it extra snug to breathe (and, much less importantly, LED lights that may glow in any colour you want). This $100 masks feels extreme in so some ways. But it surely’s additionally unquestionably superior, a form of Hail Mary cross to battle the pandemic with know-how. The Zephyr is as symbolically empowering as it’s downright sensible in its implementation. Whether or not or not the Zephyr is one thing that you’d put on, its strategy is full of good concepts, specifically, that we should always all be sporting reusable masks that really feel extra breathable and mirror our personalities.


Sadly, it doesn’t seem like we’re going to be residing COVID-free any time quickly. However 2021 was not a very misplaced yr. We’re studying tips on how to forestall and reply to harmful, viral sickness. And sure, it’s an entire lot extra complicated—however not essentially any extra taxing—than simply washing your arms.