Using UX Strategy to Create Sustainable Design Solutions

Just because our work is often intangible, it’s not without environmental consequences. The internet is a major polluter, and every site or service we produce does some level of harm.

Scary fact, but we now have overwhelming evidence that we have about a decade to combat climate change caused by human activity before irreversible damage is caused. It is the biggest crisis of our generation.

However, most people assume this crisis is an environmental one associated with traditional products and services. Yet, it’s the internet – a virtual space, housing digital content and services – that’s now prominent cause to blame.

According to the report ‘Clicking Clean’ by Greenpeace, “If the internet were a country, it would be the 6th largest user of electricity behind China, the US, Japan, India and Russia.”

That’s because every tweet sent, image posted, and Facebook status update uses energy. These actions create data, data which is stored in data banks, the majority of which are run by non-renewable energy sources.

Every human being on this planet is obligated to do our best to leave this planet in better shape than we found it. Designers don’t get to opt out.

Mike Monteiro, A Designer’s Code of Ethics

When you consider the enormous influence of the internet, and the billions of everyday users, the price suddenly becomes tangible. The Internet has a very real environmental impact.

What Can UX Designers Do?

So how can we, as UX professionals, contribute to global sustainability.

“Design and user experience are where the seeds of web sustainability are sown. Products and services that provide a streamlined yet enjoyable experience- putting the right things in front of users at precisely the moment needed and nothing more- are more efficient and more sustainable. UX designers are in a unique position to create tools with sustainability at their heart by streamlining user workflows, minimising information overload, and removing potential distractions that keep users from accomplishing tasks they set out to do.”

Designing For Sustainability, Tim Frick

There are so many ways to implement it in designing a digital experience.

Remind of 3 Rs: recycling, reusing, reducing

The environmental sustainability aspect is often based on 3 Rs (recycling, reusing, and reducing). Recycling is using old products in new ways. Reusing refers to using items more than once. Reducing means minimising the amount of waste we create and lower energy consumption.

As, designers we need to consider the entire life cycle of the products and services we’re creating. We can create an onboarding user experience with 3 Rs in mind. What if you incorporate animations or illustrations reminding users about recycling, reusing, and reducing into several app screens? Can the user accomplish their goal in the least number of steps possible? There are endless ways to implement it.

Popularise social diversity and equity

The environment is the primary but not the only consideration within sustainability. It’s also important to consider human welfare. Social diversity and equity are components of social sustainability. They are equally important as the environmental and economic dimensions of the sustainable future. Inclusive design is also a must and ensures we’re creating empathy-driven and user-oriented products.

Usability comes as the first and foremost priority, which can be enhanced with factors like readability and navigation. If the content on the website is light, guides the user expertly, and helps them recognise value, the overall experience expands into an accessible dimension. 

The website’s cleanliness also matters. Less clutter and speedy loading mean lower carbon emission. If the content is presented with great clarity and directions, it builds a connection between sustainability and user experience. 

Optimise performance 

Sometimes, websites designed with a user-focused approach have performance issues that have adverse impacts on the user experience. By optimizing the site, you not only reduce data consumption and emissions but also engage the users with satisfaction. 

So, what type of content needs optimization? Text, images, and videos make up your website’s content, and optimization of these means improving your website’s performance and data usage. By using clear, concise text, high-quality images and videos, your website cuts down on the page loading time without losing the overall quality. 

Promote environmental & social values in web design

We can also motivate our clients to incorporate environmentally and socially “conscious” design elements into their brand’s websites and mobile apps. If the company hasn’t considered sustainability as one of its corporate values before, it’s probably the right moment to inspire your client for it.

From here, it’s about teaching your users about green consumerism. Remember, users are generally unaware of how a clean and eco-friendly website looks like, while they might be concerned about the environment in the other way. 

At this point, it’s our responsibility to drop hints about a sustainable design along with motivating them to achieve green goals in a better way.

Creating a content strategy that educates the customers choices on sustainability, using in-app notifications or hidden tooltips to highlight ethical products on sites.

There is a wide variety of UI / UX design practices that we can use for a “green purpose.”

Mobiles and energy consumption 

Mobile has overtaken desktop and laptop as the most popular way for people to access the internet, so websites should be built with mobile first in mind. This forces designers to consider content and interactions to meet essential goals before adding any additional features.

Follow the principle of progressive enhancement, which says that if something offers a great experience on a smaller device using fewer resources, the experience can be enhanced for users on more powerful devices rather than the other way around. This uses less data and therefore energy and makes the product more accessible.

Ensuring that these ideas are built into our designs will not only lead to improved performance and usability with faster loading webpages, and clear navigation, cornerstones of our role as UX Designers, but will also lead to improved accessibility and decreased environmental impact. We, as UX designers, have a chance to make a lasting impact through our work. We need to make sure that we use this impact to build a sustainable future, accessible to all.

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