Words by Paolo Aljibe and Reena Mesias
Illustrations by Therese Luna
Earlier this year, we at The Serious Review published In Praise of Space, an opinion piece that discussed how people have the power to shape a space, much like how spaces shape people. But with Covid-19 hitting everyone hard, we ask what this all means for the spaces we used to thrive together.
How do we plan now that public doors are opening once again?
The word “together” has become surreal—like a flashback scene of a bygone era or a distant memory. And yet whatever “together” is now, the word still has an energy that people crave—not only in an abstract way that we “go through this pandemic together” but also in one that asks how we can slowly bring back the sense of togetherness as physical stores begin to open, particularly here in Manila.
The endeavor to maintain a brand and its brick-and-mortar during a crisis when most people would rather stay at home requires a much-needed dynamic that satisfies a demand for security, a future opportunity, and a degree of intangibility that ultimately leads to people’s trust.
New Layers of Security
Security is basically a state of being free from a threat, and that threat is clear: COVID-19. For something that isn’t exactly tangible to the naked eye, security, which persists in the psyche, demands more than ever.
It helps for entrepreneurs to revisit Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which teaches us that, in anything, we have to satisfy safety first before we even get to the next step that is connection. And this concept has never been more important than now—a time of social distancing.
And for spaces to even facilitate connection before the pandemic, the assumption is you have already put security and hygienic practices in place — so no, there is no need to tear everything down and build something new. Security during this time could be as simple as amplifying whatever you have right now to make the experience better for everyone involved.
Keep it practical
It’s time to consider practicality among everything else. Avoid clutter and unnecessary decor and swap them for signs to guide your consumer and to possibly even lift their spirits up. Perhaps consider materials that are easier to disinfect as well, such as steel enamel or surfaces in which the virus survives shorter like copper, as Frame explored. Not only do you get to ensure that they’re clean, but looking at such materials also gives a sense of cleanliness to the eyes. While your consumer perceives hygiene, it also makes it easier for your staff.
Put sanitation in place
Standardize sanitation practices in your space by providing disinfectants in every possible touch point (pun intended) — entrances are of course imperative, but evaluate where else they should be disinfecting. A rule of thumb, anything that involves the hands should always have an alcohol dispenser nearby; payment stations, door handles, signing, etc. Your guests should be able to always clean their hands before and after doing something. You can never have enough alcohol in your space. Look into the possibility of investing on no-touch technology, or use your creativity and improvise using different tools.
Make it easy
Give your guests the peace of mind by being clear with how you use your space, especially if you’re putting new measures in place. Wayfinding signages are important more than ever, as people would want to ask less nowadays. Communicate do’s and don’ts to people by using proper legends and make sure that symbols aren’t ambiguous. For instance, X marks the spot for some, but for others, it means a spot to avoid. Be consistent with your imagery as to not defeat the purpose. A proper system in place also helps facilitate social distancing. Instead of bumping into each other and crowding unnecessarily, you can watch the flow of foot traffic and enforce social distancing measures as needed. Considering delivery? Make it easy for riders by designating an area for curbside pickups.
Humans are still part of spaces, too
More than just your guests, nourish your staff as well. Extend hygiene not only to those who visit your place, but also the people who keep it running during this time. Provide proper equipment such as face shields and gloves to minimize contact with objects. As stated by Black Sheep Restaurants in their COVID-19 handbook, which came in preparation for the pandemic, “Guests are very sensitive to hygiene and anything that even looks messy will translate to unclean in their minds.”
Degree of Intangibility
When we talk about space in branding, we don’t only speak of brick-and-mortars. We speak of the overall experience that someone is immersed in—tangible and intangible. And with businesses vying for people’s attention and everyone moving quickly to improving (some even just setting up) delivery and logistics to cater to the increasing reliance, one important question to consider is this: To what degree can a brand present and even enhance itself outside of its physical space? How do you bring a brand into someone else’s home?
Tailor your communications
One obvious way is through digital where your brand communications need not only reflect your brand but also need to be thoughtful and empathetic (unless, of course, your brand tone is far from those two, then that’s another discussion). For example, Oatly used humor to launch Oatly Department of Distraction Services for those bored during the lockdown.
Mobile for good
Apart from the increasing offerings of virtual appointments, emphasizing mobile technology like GCash is also on the rise. Lazada uses its strong e-commerce platform to launch its Lazada For Good campaign. Here, people can donate in cash or in-kind with options from Lazada’s list of retailers.
Invest in contactless payments
In line with e-commerce, an area being tested in ways we can never imagine, retailers also need to improve their measures on protecting the health of their employees and customers. Brands must keep up and update health protocols. One way is to offer contactless payments.
Perhaps some of the more interesting outcomes from this scenario are the unique opportunities that brands can maximize to provide even more value in this new environment. What better time than now to shift perspectives, and finally push through with plans to elevate the impact of space?
How do we protect ourselves from a virus that, according to the recent news, may potentially be airborne and mutating? Better ventilation, for one. In fact, there’s a demand for natural cross-ventilation in public spaces to increase fresh air supply, and it would be beneficial if they provide wider breathable areas with exposure to sunlight. These can be in the form of alfresco areas, balconies, or even at least have a semblance of it through taller and larger windows that allow light to come in. Having breathable spaces is ideal to practice social distancing without having to actually be distant.
This brings us to another urgent consideration that’s been so set aside, i.e. the importance of greener spaces. In general, people appreciate parks more now than any other destination outside of their homes.
Make space psychologically safe
Another opportunity, which is at the same time, responsibility is the consideration of vulnerable groups like minorities and the disabled. “A fundamental principle of Placeness is that they are for all people,” says Joel Luna, Founder and Principal of Joel Luna Planning and Design, former Chief Architect, VP and Head of Ayala Land, Inc.’s Innovation and Design Group. And the way to achieve so is to not only foster a physically safe place but also one that hopefully also caters to the emotional and psychological. Some small but valuable ways would be to translate and adapt information to languages and visuals suitable and understandable to them, offer multiple communication channels that will make it easier for them to reach your brand, provide proper training provided to a staff working with people who are less fortunate when it comes to acquiring knowledge not only about the business’s updates but generally about Covid-19 as well, and create spaces that are specific to the elderly and disabled.
These give businesses all the more reason to take proactive steps in providing environmentally and socially sensitive areas instead of just going “back to business” once the sense of normality returns.
Spaces were supposed to be the catalyst in creating connections during a time when socialising could be done in one tap. We looked at how brands designed spaces not just to differentiate, but to start a community through thoughtful design. But during the time of social distancing and staying at home policies, it begs the question: how do we pursue meaningful connections now that these spaces seem to be obsolete, more so a risk?
The answer lies in the facts that never changed — we still exist in spaces, and spaces still exist because of us.
Now, it’s more than rebuilding these spaces in accordance with how we live our lives — a truth we often overlooked as we lived life quickly pre-pandemic. As mentioned in the first writeup of In Praise of Space, not only should a space be designed purely for innovation nor aesthetics, but it should function in a way that makes us happy and secure, that makes us improve or sustain our quality of life—no matter the time. And whether within 4 walls or none, it’s important to be mindful of the ultimate experience that your brand provides. This involves a lot of attention to detail that, during these times, could mean going as far as looking out for consumers’ safety as well. A brand is about what you do, but it is also what you don’t do. To end, remember that the current situation is not a threat to existing spaces, but an opportunity to reevaluate our relationship with them.