Opening up society for 17 million Dutch inhabitants

The global spread of the COVID-19 pandemic shook modern society like never before. While everyone was trying to grope and cope with this new unpredictable reality, governments had to take action to restore normality. Fast. To fight this crippling crisis at the national level, the Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport assembled a multi-disciplinary team to build a solution to reopen society safely for 17 million inhabitants. We combined forces with solution architects, legal experts, privacy experts, service and UX designers, copywriters and front-end and back-end developers to design and implement a covid certificate solution that was inclusive, privacy-friendly and transparent while dealing with an unpredictable crisis context. Our efforts translated into the CoronaCheck and Scanner apps, tools to create digital certificates and paper proof to access public spaces, events and travel during the new global reality.

Client

Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport

Challenge

Build a solution for the entire Netherlands to open up society safely

Impact

User and privacy-friendly, inclusive and transparent solutions to open up society safely for 17 million inhabitants during a pandemic

From explorative pilot to nationwide App

As the design and user research lead, our mission started as an explorative pilot to allow safe entrance at Fieldlab (pilot) events when recently tested negative on the coronavirus. However, as the pandemic progressed, the challenge at hand was adapting and following its lead. From designing a concept that turned a test result into a QR code to access specific events, we eventually rolled out the apps nationwide to grant access to crowded venues such as restaurants, theatres and bars based on a test, recovery or vaccination certificates. The team’s ultimate challenge was building a flexible solution for the entire Netherlands to make the pandemic livable. 

Throughout the project, we designed and developed multiple covid certificate solutions. Next to the apps (both available for iOS and Android), we created additional resources to ensure the usage of CoronaCheck by each and every dutch inhabitant:

 

CoronaCheck app 

Eventually, four major app versions were released, with incremental changes in between. Where the first release only contained a QR based on a negative test usable in the Netherlands, the CoronaCheck app evolved around national and international policy and grew in functionality. The CoronaCheck app allows the user to create and use a covid certificate on the mobile phone. The team added the possibility of adding vaccination and recovery certificates and the ability to travel outside the Netherlands.

Where other countries comply with international or EU regulations, the Netherlands chose to have an additional, more privacy-friendly QR type for national use. Containing as little (sensitive) data as possible, the app only provides initials of users’ name and surname, day and month of birth, and the indication that the user has a valid certificate (not whether it is by test or vaccination). 

 

CoronaCheck scanner app

Event organisers and locations use the scanner app to check visitors’ covid certificates. The app allows the scanner to check whether the certificate is valid and belongs to the visitor. Only with the necessary personal details (Initials + date of birth) the visitor is not traceable by their data set. Still, the scanner can check whether the certificate belongs to that specific person.

We conducted extensive quantitative research to design the most efficient way to check the necessary data with the ID card of the visitor.

 

CoronaCheck website – creating a paper proof

Additionally, we added a web portal, allowing users to print their QR codes on paper. This component was relevant to include inhabitants that do not own a smartphone. Besides that specific target group, having a paper proof in the pocket gave many users a safer feeling than relying on a smartphone app, especially when travelling. 

 

Non-digital route – requesting a proof through the helpdesk

As the scope kept growing and the QR-code system was incorporated into daily life, the need for more support for the elderly and less digital-savvy people increased proportionally. But what if you do not own a mobile phone or a printer? Or making a digital certificate is too tricky for you? We set up a new solution besides the digital identification method where inhabitants could request paper covid certificates through a phone call with the helpdesk and send it to their home address.

 

Additional support 

Next to the channels above, the team was also involved in the set-up of supporting channels and materials. From helpdesk scripts to support less digital-savvy users in libraries and from supporting explanatory videos to ensuring all government communication was in line and tailored to each other.

 

In the past 1.5 years, the CoronaCheck app has been downloaded over 16 million times, and Dutch inhabitants created beyond 250 million Covid certificates.

The impact of the project is significant. From introduction at Fieldlab events (trials) to today, the CoronaCheck-app has been a vital part of reopening society in the COVID-19 pandemic. Designing a well-functioning, accessible, and privacy- and security friendly app was vital to the acceptance of the CoronaCheck-app.

Ministerie van VWS

Our DNA

Due to the erratic nature of the pandemic, this was not an average design project. Its scope involves an entire country and its diverse population, with a great set of stakeholders to manage and requirements to meet. Privacy and security should be guaranteed at the highest level, whilst the solution should be usable by every dutch inhabitant and developed in the shortest amount of time. 

We combined Service and UX design to ensure we understood the (unfamiliar) needs of the population and address those rightfully when developing the covid certificate solutions.

Our multidisciplinary team adopted a flexible design and agile way of working, always prepared for the rapidly changing demands. By co-creating solutions and designs with stakeholders, validating with users and maintaining a holistic view across all touchpoints, the team iterated their way to user-friendly solutions that met technical requirements within the given deadlines. This was vital due to the unpredictable character of the context, which regularly caused a pivot from the current sprint topic to a more emergent subject. The different expertise within the team broke the necessary silos, ensuring urgent and fast development. The high demand required the team to start development in the very first week, which meant no extensive research stage before beginning to design and no time to iterate a design before developing. Instead, the team adopted an approach in
which design tools and methods were woven into the project.

Throughout the process, the team adopted four core values as part of our DNA to give direction to the efforts:

Designing for a new reality

The Netherlands widely used the QR code system for regular local activities such as visiting a café or museum and internationally when travelling abroad. CoronaCheck significantly impacted the daily lives of all inhabitants, opening doors that would otherwise have been closed for a longer period. On the other hand, the latest technological and medical advances on the disease allowed countries to relieve social restrictions and, therefore, the mandatory use of certificates. Moreover, the CoronaCheck is nowadays still used while travelling to some countries. Additionally, our (design) choices have inspired internationally, as the app was praised and used as an example by other countries.

Designing in times of crisis is a complex challenge but a very rewarding one. Looking back, you see the value and power Service Design can bring to a governmental implementation project with such a large scope and significant impact. We hope to have contributed to making life in such an unexpected global emergency moment more bearable for all and created a flexible, user-friendly solution for a new reality. 

The brainpower behind this project

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Emilie van Spronsen

Ons wonderkind voor uitstekende digitale diensten dankzij haar achtergrond in Interaction Design en onbeperkte nieuwsgierigheid.

Jette Stuyt

Jette is always motivated to realize the big ideas in her head. She loves it when a plan comes together. Beauty can be found in everything, whether it’s a designer chair or a potato masher. Jette is just like the user behaviour she observes: There’s always more than meets the eye!
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