April 22, 2020

How UX Design Can Help Fight Climate Change

"You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make." Jane Goodall

Can design choices made by user experience and user interface designers reduce the impact their products and services have on the environment? The answer is yes. There are three main areas in which designers can focus on to help reduce their users' carbon emissions:

  1. Design for efficiency.
  2. Promote environmentally-friendly actions.
  3. Be mindful of a product's lifestyle.

Design for efficiency.

Almost 4.54 billion people were active internet users as of January 2020, encompassing 59% of the global population with China, India, and the United States ahead all other countries in terms of internet users. Power stations, most still using fossil fuels to power them, provide the electricity for data centers and mobile networks.  Nearly 3.7% of total global carbon emissions come from internet usage.

A few things that designers can do: use darker colors in designs, optimize the performance of apps and websites (intuitive navigation and search functionality, lower resolution graphics, fewer graphics, reduce code bloat), and remove push notifications. These small changes can add up to be savings in electricity. Even designing emails to contain fewer graphics can have an impact on power usage!

Promote environmentally-friendly actions.

Designers can include environmentally-friendly actions in the apps and websites they design (also called nudges).

  • Creating an app for ordering food?
    Include a simple way for users to opt-out of plastic cutlery and paper napkins!
  • Designing an e-commerce site that sells stationery and other paper goods?
    Partner up with an organization to plant trees for every purchase!
  • Designing a large e-commerce site that sells all sorts of products (perhaps an alternative to Amazon)?
    Allow shoppers to bundle products to reduce shipments!

Do you have any ideas for other environmentally-friendly "nudges" that could be included in your favorite mobile app or online service? Please share in the comments!

Be mindful of a product's lifecycle.

Are you designing something that is destined for the landfill? Bernard Yu of Green America asked UX designers to think more holistically about the entire lifecycle of the products we create, not just their effect on users.

“Where in our UX process do we not only figure out how the products we’re designing are made ethically, but even whether or not we are trying to solve the right problem? … Where do we step back and say it’s not the product that’s broken, it’s the entire premise?” Bernard Yu

Shopify suggests three basic questions to consider when designing new products:

  • What are we making?
  • By using it, will people be helping or hurting the environment?
  • If it isn’t helping the environment, can we give the users a way to do what they want in greener, or less harmful, way?

These questions are a good place for UX designers to contemplate before starting their next project. If you have a product are there ways that you could improve its environmental impact? Leave some of your ideas in the comments below. If you're not sure, shoot me an email and we can talk about options for your website or mobile app.

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