What do you picture when you hear the term ‘sustainability’?
When people think about sustainability, they may imagine a green and pleasant world where the environment is protected and our resources are used efficiently. They might picture recycling programs, solar panels and biodegradable cutlery. But as UX designers do we consider our work as contributing to sustainability?
It is estimated that there are around 30 billion internet-connected devices worldwide. While we often don’t consider our internet use to be linked to climate change or sustainability, these devices contribute to a significant amount of energy consumption and pollution. By 2025, it is suggested that the IT industry could be using 20% of all electricity and emitting up to 5.5% of the world’s carbon.
Sustainability and UX design may seem like two distinct concepts, but they are closely connected due to the reliance of our technology on electricity and data. As designers, we aim to create products that people will find valuable and engaging. We want the products we designed to have longevity and provide users with the solutions they need, resulting in a product they can return to repeatedly. The good news about creating ‘green UX’ is that sustainability doesn’t need to be treated as a separate or additional consideration; if executed properly, good UX will have sustainability woven into it.
Let’s discuss how…
All good UX begins with understanding the needs and expectations of users. Designing in a user-centric way is essential if you want to create products that meet the user’s needs, rather than designing in a way that adds unnecessary features or in a way that looks visually pleasing but has poor functionality.
Creating a design that meets user needs will result in a product that users will want to use. This will ensure that your product is sustainable and long-lasting, as users won’t become frustrated with it or abandon it after using it for a short period.
Another critical aspect of creating ‘green UX’ is to design inclusively. This means thinking about the diversity of the user group and designing accordingly to ensure that your product is accessible and usable for a range of users and technologies.
For our UX to be both inclusive and sustainable, we must ensure that any accessibility features we add are features that are of genuine benefit to users rather than additional features being added as a tick box exercise. Not only is this unhelpful for the users, but it also increases the data your website or product will need to use.
For example, an image-heavy website uses a lot of data and can reduce the speed at which a site can load. One way we can design in a way that is inclusive and kind to the environment is by reducing the number of images on a page. We should consider whether the images we use are needed and if they contribute to a good user experience. By selecting only the best imagery and prioritising quality over quantity, we ensure that our designs are not using unnecessary data. Choosing only the best imagery will also help us create alt text that benefits users and contributes to a good user experience rather than overwhelming our users with unnecessary alt text that adds little to the user experience.
One crucial consideration is usability. When designing for sustainability, we must ensure that our products are easy to use and intuitive for our users. This not only ensures that users will actually be able to use our products, but it also helps reduce environmental impact by minimising the number of resources wasted on unnecessary design features. For example, by reducing ‘touch points’ on our designs and minimising the number of unnecessary features and clutter, we can create products that are simpler to use as well as them being less demanding when it comes to data.
So, we can see now how sustainable design and good UX practices such as user-centric design, inclusive design, and usability are closely intertwined. By considering the needs of our users, designing inclusively to ensure that everyone can use our products, and prioritising quality over quantity when it comes to imagery, we can create products with both sustainability and good UX in mind. With these principles in mind, we can help develop products that are both green and user-friendly and view sustainability as being part of the design process rather than a separate feature.