Ananya Pathak
Design Digest

"Conversations are moving from graphic, packaging, UX to a design mindset": Tresa Paul, DY Works

In our series 'Design Digest', we explore what the world looks like from the desk of brands' design heads, as they face new challenges.

Here's what Tresa Paul, CEO and managing director of DY Works, a leading design thinking firm, has to say:

How has the ongoing (COVID) crisis changed the challenges facing the design teams? What has been the biggest change?

My first task as a leader at DY was to enable the company to work from home (WFH). As a part of the transition, our ways of collaborating and creating have seen a 180-degree shift. From being a close-knit, post-it, charts and boards bunch, we have almost overnight gone fully remote in our approach to solving problems.

Barring a few hiccups, the transition has been smooth, though we do miss the face-to-face interactions with clients and our teams, and the occasional water cooler chats. The positive in all of this is the possibility of working from anywhere with clients and talent from across the country, or even the world..

As far as design is concerned, what better thriving ground than uncertainty? Design conversations are moving from graphic, packaging, UX to a design mindset...

How has the client brief changed? How are they looking to leverage design to gain customer trust, especially at a time when the overall consumer sentiment is quite low? What role does design have in helping a consumer trust a brand?

I wouldn’t say the briefs have changed much. If anything, there’s deliberation and discernment on briefs, which is understandable. There is urgent focus on going digital, pivoting to need-based offerings, and holding onto wants for later. Design has become important during this time because of the wide role it plays across the brand ecosystem.

Design is incredibly important in building trust. Trust is built through consistent delivery, attention to detail and empathy, among other things. Design helps by simplifying and clarifying a brand’s intent and offerings in a way that builds resonance with the user/consumer.

We are talking with clients about designing culture, their employer brand, packaging solutions in a low-touch environment, digital forward business model and other areas, with design thinking at the heart of our approach.

How has the visual tone of communication changed since the pandemic started? Are brands turning to a new set of colours/visual markers of hygiene (such as foamy hands)?

During the early phase of the pandemic, we saw designers around the world being called to work with their respective governments to design COVID-specific programs to guide and inform the public. The Corona microbe, the social distancing icon, the mask became regular symbols of the pandemic. Even colour coding of districts to separate hotspots from safe zones became a regular feature to determine where to go and what zones to avoid.

Consumers are re-evaluating their choices and habits during this pandemic. They are seeking assurance from experts, authorities and brands alike. Brand messaging and language that spotlights safety, place of origin and transparency would help inspire trust and adoption during these times. Visual language and semiotics play a more meaningful role in informing behaviours and outcomes that are beneficial to the customer and public at large.

The pandemic has accelerated habit formation in a few sectors, especially personal hygiene. How can product design and the visual language of communication help accelerate habit adoption in consumers?

“What you design, designs you. - anon.

Who would have thought that sanitisers, vegetable washes and surface disinfectant sprays would become a part of our cleaning arsenal much like the broom and cleaning liquid. Sanitiser dispensers with foot pedals reinforce safety and low-touch interaction. Products and services sharply designed for the low-touch environment are fuelling adoption and behaviour shifts, as much as the pandemic is informing the design of newer products and services.

Robotic vacuums went out of stock a few months into the pandemic in India. So, products and features that score high on convenience, safety, and hygiene would be better adopted, and become top sellers during this time.

Everyone is dividing time and reality into pre and post-COVID. For a design executive and leader, what does the post-COVID world look like, in terms of work, skill sets and related demands?

Many changes that we are seeing are not new and have been around for a while. The difference is that COVID has managed to accelerate it further. WFH, digital first, conscious consumption, zero/reduced travel and other such trends/behaviours have become forced experiments due to the pandemic. Time will tell how these will evolve, and which ones are here to stay and in what form.

Personally, I can’t wait to get back to an office environment, or some hybrid version of it. I certainly can’t imagine spending hours travelling to and from work now that I have experienced WFH. So, I assume agile working would be the norm in the post-COVID return to work scenario.

As for design, it’s only going to thrive because there are problems to be solved and answers to be found.