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The Design Legacy of Covid? It’s All Around You. – The New York Times

Some objects and practices born in lockdown will probably stick around for decades — for better or worse.

Credit...Photo illustration by Derek Brahney
Credit…Photo illustration by Derek Brahney

If you had to devise a single object to capture the twitchy fear and uncertainty that defined the early stage of the pandemic, you could do worse than the “no-touch door opener.” Available for delivery from Amazon for just a few bucks, this key-size piece of metal, curved into multiple prongs, looks like an artifact of some lost civilization. It purports to help you operate elevator buttons and open latches and poke your phone without touching any of them. This item was, at best, a silly response to what turned out to be an airborne virus. And yet at the same time it reflects something fundamental to the human experience: the urge to tinker and design and adapt in the face of crises large and small.

Some of those responses prove fleeting; others endure. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, American airports bristled with armed soldiers. That went away, but the security procedures surrounding air travel were permanently transformed; it’s hard to explain to someone under 25 just how comparatively breezy movement through an airport used to be. Today, every time you toss your shoes into a plastic bin before boarding a plane — or submit to a biometric identification procedure to avoid that process — you are living in the designed legacy of a past crisis.

It’s fascinating to consider what the physical legacies of the pandemic might be. The most obvious example — the face mask, in its profusion of options and styles — was far from obvious at first. In April 2020, the chairman of Uniqlo’s parent company declared with confidence that the Tokyo-based retailer “will not sell masks.” In hindsight, that was an astonishing assertion, given that the cloth face mask would become the unavoidable icon of the era. After health authorities belatedly advised its widespread use, there were not enough to go around, and practically every apparel maker, from Gap to Louis Vuitton to countless independent sellers on Etsy, began selling face masks. This transition from exotic item to familiar one seemed to happen overnight.

One prime example, it turns out, is the line of masks Uniqlo wound up making. Citing customer demand, the company changed course in June 2020, selling a mask using a proprietary fabric that it previously used for, among other things, underwear. Its “AIRism” mesh material promised to be lighter and more breathable than cotton, enclosing a filter within layers comfortable to the skin. The mask was an immediate hit in Japan and rolled out worldwide, soon trendy enough to make Vogue and GQ and Hypebeast. By this past summer, the company signaled that masks would remain part of its permanent mix. “We believe there will continue to be a need for masks,” Uniqlo’s U.S. chief marketing officer told The Times in August, “and we have decided to offer the product year-round.” The mask’s surprising status as a divisive ideological symbol has obscured a more significant development: It has become a mainstream, quotidian object.

While the mask might seem, for better or worse, a kind of icon of the pandemic, this era is still redesigning our world. There may never be the kind of definitive end to Covid-19 that we all crave, no decisive before-and-after moment. But for nearly two years now, we’ve been gradually but steadily redesigning the world in response to this crisis. And whenever things get back to normal — whatever that looks like — our world will be full of these changes that, blatant or stealthy, will alter the texture of our lives.

Credit...Photo illustration by Derek Brahney
Credit…Photo illustration by Derek Brahney

Read on >>>> Source: The Design Legacy of Covid? It’s All Around You. – The New York Times

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