The purpose of strategic innovation is to decode new behaviors and transform them into opportunities. When the pandemic started, businesses and companies around the world frantically attempted to understand how the world and people’s behaviors would change. At Questtonó, we wanted to investigate a part of life that was already transforming before our eyes: the home.
From massive social isolation to the enormous amount of time we are now spending at home, there have been many changes in the experience of “living” and many of these behaviors will live on in the post-COVID-19 world. We produced the research report Futurability: Living as an investigation into how the home is transforming from a designer’s perspective to help our clients and team identify new opportunities for services, products, and experiences within the home. While the report was developed in Portuguese, we’ve summarized the key takeaways below.
How are people living within their homes given our new pandemic reality, and how will this transform the future of living? We identified 3 megatrends that breakdown the shifting landscape of what a home can be.
1 – HOUSE NATION
When the home became our only safe space away from an “infected” world, it became a kind of protected kingdom from which we interact with the rest of the world. As in any kingdom, our doorway became a moat around our personal castles with strict control protocols for entry. Many have become stricter about protecting our space from external threats.
Like a modern nation, we’ve established new business relationships from our homes to maintain a trade that allows us to gain income without the need to leave. Companies that had never had employees work from home were suddenly forced to adapt overnight to entirely remote work.
Online food delivery skyrocketed, but we also started to produce certain items for our survival with more autonomy. We watched YouTube tutorials to learn how to cut our own hair, began taking care of nitpicky sourdough starters, and sewed masks for ourselves and others. There was an undeniable drive for people to create their sense of self-sufficiency in a time of major uncertainty.
What to look for:
The new home entryway: The pandemic has enforced a series of new rituals that we now carry out before entering the home. The entryway has become a decontamination zone for hands, feet, and anything from the outside world you’re bringing in. There are opportunities for new types of furniture, equipment, and technologies that can make these rituals more simple and safe.
Self-sufficiency: Urban life tends to be very hectic and, as a consequence, we’ve relied heavily on various services to maintain our lifestyle. However, in an extreme situation of social isolation, we see how vulnerable this way of life makes us. Many have taken up learning new skills to make up for the lack of support services and supplies;
Commercial relations: The pandemic generated radical changes in consumer behavior, accelerating the growth of e-commerce worldwide. Countless small businesses needed to bring their services to the digital universe if they wanted a chance at survival. Through services like Shopify and Square, more small businesses are being empowered to work remotely and serve customers from their homes. We also see the immense value of an online presence as a way for brands to engage with their customers beyond e-commerce alone to create immersive and engaging content.
2 – PROGRAMMABLE SPACES
For a long time, our domestic life was filled with private and personal activities such as sleeping, cooking, and resting. The space in our home was subdivided based on these demands into rooms with distinct purposes, however our new reality of social isolation demands multi-functional spaces.
While our houses continue to decrease in size in large cities, the activities we carry out within them have diversified, bringing us new challenges. We can compare our homes to embedded systems – a piece of hardware that was designed to work in a unique and specific way. In this sense, we can begin to start thinking of our home as a programmable system that can run different software to meet different demands.
What to look for:
Exercising: Exercise is an activity that many people do not only for the physical benefits, but the mental benefits. Now, confined to our homes, people are investing in workout equipment and working out at home. Zoom classes full of people working out in their living rooms have become commonplace as people seek connections they previously found in group classes. We will see more companies like Tonal finding a balance between home decor and fitness equipment to accommodate multi-use living spaces.
Socializing: The physical distance generated by social isolation is, undoubtedly a cause for distress with many feeling what has been coined, “Zoom Fatigue”. Several experiences of virtual socialization have emerged aimed at facilitating immersive and warm interactions, but this is incredibly challenging. Facebook Horizon, Animal Crossing, and even Minecraft music festivals have introduced new formats for virtual interaction, and there still is a long way to go in terms of developing high-value experiences within this space.
Indoor nature: Many city-dwellers who couldn’t afford to escape to greener pastures during the pandemic are hungry for nature. It is often an unnoticed but critical aspect of our mental well-being. Many people are increasing their plant collections, saying that it makes them feel happier. Additionally, many people are building their own gardens and vertical farms to grow vegetables – a trend aligned with House Nation – Self-Sufficiency.
Working: Overnight, many people had to adapt their homes to offices. With that, some common problems arose, such as ergonomics, internet connection, and lack of privacy, however, it’s important to note that this didn’t impact the productivity of most companies. Many people have reported working longer hours now that the line between work and home no longer exists. New products and services are helping working professionals improve the home office experience as well as helping people “turn off” at the end of the day, such as Pomodoro’s time app to input your working hours and also other accessories like laptop stands to help with posture, white noise machines to help you focus and soundproofing tape to stick to your door.
3 – SWITCH MODE
The post-COVID-19 house gained one more room: the screen. When we log on to have social interactions, be it business or personal, the house is no longer ours; it belongs to the world. What was once private becomes public, completely changing what we understand as a domestic space. People are beginning to become aware of the toll constant screen use is, especially now that it has become our primary portal into the outside world.
Knowing when to stop or start work, for example, becomes something less defined when there is no physical transition between work and home.
Certain rooms in the house, which previously served the needs of domestic life, also needed to become meeting rooms, film sets, and prototyping workshops. In this phenomenon of hyper exposure and hyperconnection, people are seeking activities that help us unplug and disconnect from our digital selves.
What to look for:
Work on/off: Work has invaded our intimate environment, making the distinction between professional and personal life more difficult. It is necessary to build new ways to create this distinction to live healthy lives. In many ways, working from home offers more flexibility to be with family, workout, cook, and make our own schedules, but this also requires a great deal of discipline. We are beginning to truly think of our home as a flexible environment that can be modified according to the demands of personal and professional life that transition throughout the day functionally and comfortably.
Public vs. Private: A few months ago, it was not at all common for coworkers to know what each other’s homes look like or children and pets making surprise appearances in video conferences, but we’re continuing to normalize this type of intimacy. On one hand, this brought transparency and informality. On the other hand, it demonstrates the weakness of our homes ability to deal with constant public exposure. Audio and visual interference in the home continues to be a challenge professionals are working to overcome.
Unplugged: As impossible as it may seem, we need to be able to unplug from time to time, especially now that we are constantly interacting through screens. Our home needs to be more than a window to the virtual world: it must be a space of possibilities for people to exist physically. Many initiatives contribute to this kind of “detoxification”, encouraging hobbies and manual work. Self-care is more important than ever with the kitchen and bathroom becoming prime areas for personal rituals.
The future of living is happening now
Living is a complex system of interactions that involve many sectors, activities, and experiences.
We hope our vision of the Future of Living can inspire new reflections on the acute moment we are living in and reveal new habits, opportunities, services, and even entire economies through the lens of systemic design.
This article was adapted from Questtonó’s latest report, “The Future of Living”, published in August 2020. You can download the study here (only in Portuguese).