How sustainable UX strategy can improve the digital serivces?
I have recently been working on a presentation about sustainability in user experience design. It’s a subject that I have been interested in, and learning about it convinced me how critical it is for the tech industry.
Sustainability concerns me, so I’m sharing with you what, from my point of view, is significant to this subject. I don’t aim to cover all product design and development issues related to environment and ecology. I’ll focus on the UX side of things because I’m passionate about usability and delivering exceptional digital services.
What is sustainable UX?
The most quoted definition comes from a paper Our Common Future, published back in 1987 for the United Nations by Brundtland Commission:
“Sustainability meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Sustainable UX is an approach where we look at the long term implications of our design decisions. I defined four key areas where sustainability can make a positive impact on the design of a product or service delivery process:
- meet the needs of the users;
- focus on durability and efficiency;
- follow inclusive design principles to reach a wider audience;
- maintain a clear structure and purpose.
I think it’s time to take the challenge and work towards better, universal and transparent digital services.
When we think about the users’ needs, we need to know what is the primary focus of our digital service and what problem it is trying to solve.
Content strategy should be one of the top priorities in sustainable UX. The quicker people can find what they were looking for, the fewer pages they have to load, hence the less energy the hosting needs to serve us the site. Findability not only affects the environment and leaves a carbon footprint, but also influences how users are satisfied, or not, with our service.
Extending the point of usability, I am an advocate of understanding all user types of a product service, from visitors and customers, through website and content managers, and finishing on the development and delivery team. If we understand the needs of all user models, we minimise the support and maintenance time required on the project in the future. User research is essential to create a user-centred digital service.
Sustainable UX also understands web standards because it supports making the digital experience available on any device.
The variety of ways of accessing an online service ranges, so designers and developers should work towards the best user experience using different equipment. The mobile-first strategy requires to prioritise the needs of those who use devices with smaller screens, loading fewer resources and serving content relevant to the user’s context. This approach leads us to the progressive enhancement which enriches the digital service with more features as the device’s screen and internet speed grow.
A mobile-first strategy is excellent for website optimisation and keeping the page size, page speed and response time low. These parameters indicate how much energy is required to serve our content, including images and videos. Asking yourself and your team a question of what can we all do to improve the service’s performance, helps us also focus on the essential features.
Sustainable means accessible
Digital inclusion is vital if we want to make a digital experience universal. When we consider a broad spectrum of users, we start offering genuinely sustainable solutions.
“Through using universal design practices and following those design guidelines, we can practice sustainable design and accessibility in one effort.” - Ken-Laurin Kramer, 2012
When we create services for all, rather than for a specific and narrow audience, we not only remove digital barriers but also work towards an inclusive digital experience that values human beings - not particular people.
Probably each of us got caught once in some dark pattern in a digital service. Lack of clarity or misleading messages cause disappointments in user experience. I dare to say they are also not durable. Users should be clear about the purpose of the service and the information they have to provide.
The offboarding or disposal of digital waste experience should be equally important as onboarding in the product or service life cycle. It should aim to be free from waste and frustrated users.
How does sustainable UX impact the industry?
Media coverage on climate crisis impacts people awareness on carbon emissions and carbon footprint. Users conscious about these issues demand green choices and better modern solutions from the tech sector.
What can we do to deliver better services?
We should build awareness and communicate the long-term impact of individual decisions on digital services. Sustainability should be part of each project’s scope. It’s not only great for the environment but can also save time and money spend on design and development when we consider all aspects from the start.
“Just because our work is often intangible, it’s not without environmental consequences.” - James Christie
Photo credits in order of appearance:
- Small plants in pots - photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash
- Dark green leaves - photo by Sylvie Tittel on Unsplash
- Diverse team - photo from the Our Community at Work on Jopwell Collection
- The text seen through a glass lens - photo by Ewan Robertson on Unsplash
- Factory fumes - photo by Thomas Millot on Unsplash
A list of digital and printed material available on the subject:
- Designing for sustainability, Tim Frick
- Sustainable UX online conference
- Sustainable Web Design
- Sustainable Web Design, James Christie on A List Apart
- Sustainable UX: How Designers Can Help Make a Positive Impact on the Environment, James Christie on Shopify Blog
- Save the planet through sustainable web design, Creative Bloq