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What happened at our meetup focused on Sustainable UX – write up by Sandra Pallier

On Thursday 5 March 2020 we ran a meetup focused on Sustainable UX, in collaboration with our partners at IBMix.

One of our attendees, Sandra Pallier wrote this brilliant summary of what she learned during the meetup. We’ve also embedded the presentations from the evening so you can access these.

If you would like to view recordings of the talks, these are available online via our virtual meetup.

Anna van der Togt – Design in the Anthropocene

Anna van der Togt Sustainable UX

We live in the Anthropocene — a new epoch defined by how earth has been fundamentally changed by humans. For Anna — a service designer at Livework— this should change how we think about design.

We need to recognise that we’re not an independent species. We’re interdependent. We rely on this planet, its living conditions and finite resources. What would happen if we made these “non-human people” as Anna referred to them part of the design process? What if our stakeholders included rivers, bacteria, insects, animals? 🏞🦠🐝🦡

Design in the Anthropocene also means reframing prosperity. Prosperity should factor in security and being able to live a healthy, good life. Because infinite growth of wealth isn’t possible on a planet with finite resources.

Anna argued that rather than finding solutions to continue living like we have in the past, we should accept this new epoch and adapt to it. And that includes adapting our design process.

Tom Greenwood – Sustainable UX for everyone

Tom Greenwood Sustainable UX

If the internet was a country, it would be the 6th biggest polluter on the planet. It uses as much electricity as the entirety of the UK. In his talk Tom Greenwood — co-founder of the B-Corp Wholegrain Digital—gave a few bits of practical advice on how to make your website greener.

1.👥 Streamline user journeys
Put the information most users want from you upfront, keep your content focussed and look at your data. Where do users get stuck? Where do they bounce off? Improve and iterate to keep your user journeys as short as possible.

2. 🖼 Efficient images
Overall – use fewer images and opt for vector graphics / CSS graphics if possible. If you want to use images, keep the file size as small as possible. If your images shows up in 40x40px don’t upload a 1000×1000 px image. Blurring the edges, turning them black and white and converting them to WebP can help keep the file size down too.

3. 🎬 Less video
Ask yourself if video is the right format to convey your information before jumping in and creating a video. If you decide that video is right for you, keep it as short as possible and avoid autoplay as it increases the data transfer for every user, even users who don’t want to see it. No GIFs is also a good tip. Convert them to a video format instead. The file will be smaller = more efficient.

4. 🔤 System fonts ftw
System fonts —because they are installed on all devices—don’t need any extra online data transfer. If you still want to go for custom fonts, make sure to use as few weights as possible, remove the characters you don’t use from the set (e.g. if your website is only in English you may not need special characters from other languages) and convert your font file into WOFF2.

5. Go easy on the icing
Think about what extra bits and pieces you really need to convey what you want with your website. Do you need fancy parallax scrolling and a billion different animations? The fewer the animations, the lower the CPU usage, the lower the energy needed, the lower the impact. Easy.

6. 🖤 Use low energy colours
Most smartphones have OLED screens and the colours you use have an impact on the energy those phones need to show your content. Black designs are best, the use almost no energy. White is worst. Can you switch your website to a dark mode?

Want to figure out how your website is doing right now in terms of energy usage? Wholegrain Digital built this website carbon calculator.

Chris SherwinHumanity-centred design

Chris Sherwin Sustainable UX

Chris comes from a product design background and works in a design consulting role. He thinks that there are three ways in which design must change:

1. From designing for users, driven by consumer insights – to capturing stakeholder needs and insights:
Consumer driven design is all well and good but according to Chris consumers sometimes get it wrong. Especially when it comes to sustainability. He also highlighted that in traditional research sustainability needs are often poorly expressed. Focussing on the needs and insights of stakeholders (and we can include non-human people as Anna suggested) could lead to better outcomes for the planet.

2. From mapping the customer journey—to considering the full lifecycle or system
Circular design and design for disassembly are popular themes in traditional product design already but more design disciplines should figure out the full lifecycle. Where does the design come from? Where does it come into play? Where does it go?

3. From creating business value—to creating a shared value for all
The business value won’t save the world. We need to broaden our way of thinking to create a shared value for all in order to design sustainably.

From Chris’ point of view we need to advance from human-centred design to humanity-centred design. Because the future of our planet concerns us all.

Lucy Stewart – Design + Climate

Lucy Stewart Sustainable UX

Lucy is a service designer at Snook and one of the co-founders of the #designandclimate community. In her talk she tested a concept they came up with in one of their design and climate meet-ups. A new way of starting climate presentations. Rather than talking about the facts, she opened with the question: What do you love about living on earth? 🌍

She then shared her answer and her appreciation for fireflies and worry about the future was captured in a wonderful few slides which immediately, increasing at least, my desire to take care of our planet.

The #designandclimate community was born to hold ourselves accountable as designers. To change our practice. In the community they crowd-sourced the search for design tools that put planet over profit and talked about how to make presentations on the topic more impactful. And this is just the start. Changing our practice will take some time but there’s work to do and there’s enough work for all of us. Lucy wants to see us work together — in companies and with our competitors. Because it’s a big challenge we’re facing and doing this together will be much better than doing this alone.

Author: Sandra Pallier – An Interaction designer at Microsoft & co-organiser of ClimateAction.Tech

If you would like to view the recordings of these talks, check out our virtual meetup online

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