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Arts & Culture

COVID-19 and the digital movement

In recent months, many of us have moved online for everything from work, to school, to shopping and ordering dinner. Companies around the world have scrambled to adapt not only their business models, but their digital presences in order to keep up with an increasingly online society.

Assistant Professor in Visual Communication at the University of Canberra, Ben Ennis-Butler, is an expert in digital interfaces and says that this period of time could change the way businesses operate forever.

He says the biggest changes he’s seen are in the way restaurants and cafes have moved their typically offline offerings onto websites and social media.

“These businesses had to change the way they worked incredibly quickly,” Ben says.

“They’ve had to use skills they may have had no experience with before – like in website creation – and they’ve had to adapt quickly to this change in circumstances.”

“I’ve noticed a real willingness from many sectors to try and see what happens, what works, what doesn’t work, as well as the implementation of concepts that maybe didn’t exist in a traditional workforce previously.”

Along with a move online, a complete overhaul of business models has occurred. Restaurants and cafes that have previously relied on the ambience or atmosphere of their establishments are suddenly without those assets.

“It’s about these places making changes and thinking of a different way to sell their product. For many, this means utilising the online tools available to them,” Ben explains.

While many food establishments have made adaptations to their online presence – allowing for online ordering, delivery, and other services like making grocery hampers available – many of the websites created to accommodate the new offerings have left a bit to be desired.

“At the moment it’s a bit of a free-for-all and there’s a real need for web designers and people who can create those sites, or even just understand the technology behind them, in order to be able to communicate information correctly,” Ben says.

“That clear communication is probably missing in a lot of cases because while it’s easy to build a basic website using tools like Wix or Squarespace, it may not necessarily achieve the purpose of what the customer wants or the user needs.”

“People are trying their best and they’re mostly doing a good job, but it does become evident when a designer hasn’t been involved – the information isn’t communicated as efficiently as it could be.”

Another area where Ben has seen an incredibly quick uptake in the use of technology is in schools. He has witnessed teachers move quickly to encompass the use of video technology and online classrooms to ensure no students are left behind.

“It might seem easy for schools to make those changes, and it might be for those teaching high school students online because the students know how to use a computer,” he said.

“When you think about younger, early childhood and primary school-aged students – many teachers have had to move mountains to teach them in this completely new environment, and I find it really interesting.”

For those children who may be hands-on learners, many art galleries around the world have moved their collections online and are creating initiatives that encourage users to get involved for a community feel.

“Here in Canberra, the National Gallery of Australia has been doing some really interesting things on social media,” Ben says.

“They had an awesome idea that encouraged Canberrans to recreate works that are held in the national collection using items from home. That’s a really interesting concept, because they’ve moved beyond just presenting their collection online, and are thinking about engagement and how people can consume content in a totally different context.”

When it comes to navigating website builds and updates, Ben has a few pieces of advice for businesses looking to cement their online presences.

“There are really two ways a business can create an online presence,” he said.

“The first way is a simple, quick and easy website where the business can just put their name online, as well as some basic contact details like an email address and phone number.”

“Secondly, you can take the leap and upgrade the website and be able to sell and promote products, utilise users’ locations to target advertising, and give relevant information about the closest store.”

“I think the whole pandemic has changed the way business-owners and companies see the online world. They can now see how long it takes to produce an effective website and the skills that are needed to do a good job in an online society.”

Words by Elly Mackay.

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