I had a moment at an elevator the other day. As the doors opened there was a woman already inside. I said I’ll wait for the next one. She asked if I was sure, but before I could answer the doors shut and she was gone. I pressed the button, covered in a layer of clear packing tape, and in less than a minute hopped into the now empty elevator.
Under normal circumstances, this wouldn’t even register, yet weeks later I still think about that moment and the tension of such a seemingly insignificant interaction. Did I overreact? Did I offend this woman, who seemed fine with the idea of sharing an elevator with me? Did waiting even matter if I was just stepping into the same space she had occupied just moments before?
As the country prepares to take its first steps out of quarantine, we are facing a monumental task of figuring out how we, collectively, re-enter a world reshaped by Covid-19. Every aspect of our society and culture has changed, from what is essential to how we work, all the way down to the social norms that dictate our use of personal space and how we interact with one another from opposite sides of the proverbial elevator doors.
As George Packer of the Atlantic wrote, this new reality “…should force a question that most Americans have never had to ask: Do we trust our leaders and one another enough to summon a collective response to a mortal threat?” This question, and the answer we collectively decide upon, will ultimately define the next stage of the crisis and determine whether we move down the path of divisiveness, suspicion and self-preservation or rise to the challenge of solidarity, cooperation and respect.
To tip the scales toward a positive outcome, it will be imperative that we find ways to engender trust and ease the impending tensions of social interaction as we once again come face to face, citizens and strangers in a new America. To do so, we need a better way to indicate to one another what our new rules of engagement are, how we want to be interacted with and what level of exposure we are comfortable with when it comes to our return to the public sphere.
“We need a new standard, a way to mobilize together and broadcast to one another, from our new baseline of 6 feet away, where your personal space ends and mine begins. ”
The Power of Design to Create Community
In this pivotal moment for the country, we need to leverage our power as creatives, whether it’s in our job title or our spirit, to help provide comfort and clarity about how to move forward. Short of a vaccine or effective treatment for the virus, the answer we need in the immediate is how to feel confident in our ability to walk down the street or grocery store aisle as we re-enter society en masse.
“How can we create a symbol that helps promote solidarity and enable greater mobility as we begin to reopen our society?”
To bring us together and help guide us through this period of adaptation we’ve designed a simple color code system, the #covidcolorcode, that can be worn or displayed to allow people to quickly communicate to one another, from a safe distance, their desired level of personal space. A visual indicator that can say “We’re in this together” but “I’m not ready to share an elevator” or “I need as much space as possible”.
To implement this system, and ease the fear and uncertainty of stepping outside our quarantine bubbles for the first time, we need your help. All of you. From the professional designer to the person making masks at home, we need a collective effort to explore how this simple system can be used and made accessible to all in order to realize its potential for making interactions more comfortable.
Whether it is designing ways for it to be worn (masks, shirts, pins, buttons, ribbons), displayed around your environments (flags, doors, yard signs, posters, stickers) or incorporated into your digital footprints (profile picture treatments, banners, badges, posts), we need your ingenuity and originality to turn this idea into a movement.
Brands and businesses, we need you too. To join us in imagining how the Covid Color Code can be used in your offices and stores, offered to your employees and your customers to establish these new standards of social interaction. We need your participation as leaders in your industries and your communities to inspire adoption of this system and make it a rallying point for how we can work together in creating a comfortable, safe post-quarantine environment.
One thing that is for certain is that no amount of effort, no amount of testing or tracking, is going to allow for a safe transition back to a shared existence without a baseline of trust, respect and support from all citizens. What we propose is not a silver bullet, but a starting point in this critical conversation. A small first step toward making us all feel better about leaving home. Of easing tensions and not letting worst case scenarios drive our thinking and actions.
What we hope to create is a movement we can all unite behind – the shared desire to take control of our future with covid-19. To make this the last time we have to shelter-in-place and cut off the social connections that we’ve come to find so critical in exile.
In an age where consensus is hard to find, perhaps we can all finally rally behind the idea that we do not want to go through this again, regardless of your feelings about the virus and its dangers. And, in that small agreement, find a sliver of common ground to begin our rebuilding efforts on.