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February, 2024

The Future is Green: UX Design for Sustainability

Introduction

The field of UX has been advancing rapidly over the past several years due to the introduction of enhanced technologies and innovative ideas. In the midst of such advancements, it is crucial to understand the long-term implications and gain perspective on the bigger picture, and this is where Green UX or sustainable UX plays an important role. 

Environmental Impact

Before we dive deep into the topic, let us try to understand the current scenario and get some context.

Global warming has been increasing, and we can see its impact in our daily lives. But how does the internet and the digital world contribute to this phenomenon?

According to statistics, if the Internet were a country, it would be the 7th largest polluter. It produces nearly 1.6 billion annual metric tonnes of greenhouse gases, significantly contributing to the greenhouse effect and the consequent changes in our environment. Furthermore, the data centres that support the internet, which are being used by numerous devices every day, contribute another 2% to carbon emissions, increasing the impact of the internet in our environment. Now, imagine billions of people browsing through billions of pages on the internet and the resulting amount of carbon dioxide produced from this activity. 

Given these jarring numbers and facts, how can we as experienced designers work towards reducing the environment’s suffrage through our designs and ideas? This is where Green UX or Sustainable UX comes in.

Sustainable Web Manifesto

A sustainable web manifesto is a movement led by designers, to encourage and educate people about the importance of designing for sustainability.

(https://www.sustainablewebmanifesto.com/).

The manifesto employs a people and planet-first approach and helps articulate how digital products and services can help enable this change. It respects the principles which call for an internet that is:

  • Clean-The services we provide and services we use will be powered by renewable energy.
  • Efficient-The products and services we provide will use the least amount of energy and material resources possible.
  • Open-The products and services we provide will be accessible, allow for the open exchange of information, and allow users to control their data.
  • Honest-The products and services we provide will not mislead or exploit users through our design or content.
  • Regenerative-The products and services we provide will support an economy that nourishes people and the planet.
  • Resilient-The products and services we provide will function in the times and places where people need them most.

What should we do?

In order to design for sustainability, it is important for us to identify the steps in the design process that can be changed to make a more sustainable end product.

The following suggestions are provided on how to include sustainability in our designs:

Optimise user journey

  • Make sure that every component on the page assists the user in achieving their goal. Therefore, the task should be accomplished in the minimum steps possible.
  • The amount of time people spend on a digital product is equal to the amount of data they have to load.
  • If something is not used — get rid of it as it surely affects the loading speed in a negative way, even if you do not see it.

For example, the website for the Aliter Network is a low carbon website and has a clean, effective design with all the elements specified up front.

Efficient Visual Aids

  • Remove unnecessary visuals to reduce load time and dependency, as the more visual elements you have on your page, the more effort it requires to load. Eg:-Auto-play videos, Large Images. This can be replaced with adaptive images & videos.
  • Compress your content to enhance scannability and reduce load time, which will increase the performance of your website as well. 
  • Optimised videos and images: To reduce server load, use lower resolution images and videos with the option to request a higher quality.
  • Remove unnecessary visuals to reduce load time and dependency, as the more visual elements you have on your page, the more effort it requires to load. Eg:-Auto-play videos, Large Images. This can be replaced with adaptive images & videos.
  • Compress your content to enhance scannability and reduce load time, which will increase the performance of your website as well. 
  • Optimised videos and images: To reduce server load, use lower resolution images and videos with the option to request a higher quality.

Mobile first approach

  • When you design for small screens, you focus your design process on highlighting the core features around what works with less real estate.
  • The principle of progressive enhancement, which says that if something offers a great experience on a smaller device with fewer resources, the experience can then be enhanced for users with more powerful devices and using larger screens. 
  • This consumes less energy and data, making the product more accessible.

Low Energy Colours

  • Choose sustainable colours that require less energy, and yet provide a good user experience.
  • Mindfully introduce dark mode as it can be beneficial only for certain use cases and also keep accessibility in mind.
  • As you might expect, darker colours require less energy and brighter colours require more energy.

Volkswagen has committed to decarbonize all aspects of its business, and when planning the Canadian launch of the ID4 electric vehicle, Type 1 asked if the website could both support the company’s vision and be low carbon. This leads to a 50% cleaner website compared to the earlier version.

Encourage eco friendly behaviour

  • Minify your code by removing unnecessary design or white spaces.
  • Use cache to load user information and browsing styles faster and produce less demand on server as well as reducing number of steps to achieve a task.
  • Increase exposure to eco-friendly options by creating awareness through your design and remind users about recycling, reusing, and reducing in several app screens.

Similarly, Google’s aim is to run on carbon-free energy by 2030, which includes their data centres, devices, and services, as well as their workplace.

They are adding features to products to help users make sustainable choices. For example, in Google Maps, while looking for hotels and flights, you can find eco-certified properties as well as flights with CO2 emissions.

On the other hand, designing an engaging sustainable website can be difficult, therefore, to understand it better, there are websites of various design agencies that have sustainable content and approaches, as shown below.

These websites had also contributed to the sustainable web manifesto, to be a part of the solution along with their specific sustainability factors.

Manoverboard

Manoverboard  is a design agency that uses a sustainable approach in both their website as well as their design solutions .Their work and principles include:

  • Easy to navigate, audience-centric websites ‌where the user can immediately understand what to accomplish.
  • Fast-loading content with a low carbon footprint
  • Authentic and honest services with creative brands that endure.
  • Design that meets clear accessibility and sustainability standards.
  • Years of user experience expertise, which includes design development, branding, identity and ‌website care along with the audit.

This design agency also meets the highest standards of social and environmental impact. As a result, it is certified as a B corporation and donates 1% of its revenues.

(Source-https://manoverboard.com/)

Wholegrain digital

The managing director of Wholegrain Digital, Tom Greenwood leads the sustainable web manifesto and ‌has written a book on sustainable web design. This agency promises that their website as well as the website they build are 67% less polluting than the industry average.

Their mission is to create critical low-carbon websites, and they include all of the necessary certifications to be recognised as a sustainable agency.
(Source-https://www.wholegraindigital.com/)

Benefits of green ux for businesses

So, how can we as a company benefit from Green UX?

  • It can minimise your carbon footprint

Sustainability can not only help you lower your carbon impact but also increase your financial security. Utilising sustainable techniques will help you use fewer resources in the construction and hosting of your website.

  • It’s beneficial to the environment

Sustainability is beneficial to both your company and the environment. By lowering ‌emissions and resource usage, you can benefit the environment by designing and developing a sustainable website.

  • It can enhance consumer experience

You can improve the usability and accessibility of your website by implementing sustainability measures. This will enhance the user experience and motivate users to return to your website in the future.

  • It can assist in optimising business workflow

Your business workflow can be optimised with the aid of sustainable web design. Utilising sustainable practices will help your website run more efficiently and load pages faster. This will enhance your general effectiveness and optimise your business workflow.

  • It separates you from your competitors.

Consumers are placing more and more value on sustainability in the modern corporate environment. You may differentiate yourself from the competition and convince your clients that you care about the environment by adding sustainable techniques into your website design.

  • It benefits business.

Users are becoming more aware of environmental issues, which can help you grow your business by attracting new clients. This is due to the fact that sustainability is frequently viewed as a positive quality and can support the development of credibility and trust with your target audience.

Consumers’ perception regarding sustainability

According to a corporate social responsibility study conducted in the USA, it was noticed that:

  • 63% want corporations to drive social and environmental change in the absence of government action.
  • 87% of consumers will make a purchase because a company advocated for an issue they care about.
  • 76%  expect companies to take action against climate change.
  • 73% would stop purchasing from a company that doesn’t care about climate change.

Summary

We have a long way to go before we can fully embrace sustainability at every level of the organisation and differentiate ourselves in the market. Sustainability needs to be practised with transparency at each vertical and needs to align with our vision and motto.

You are now in the lead. For our users and the Earth,  let’s design something that is extremely “Green and Sustainable”.

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