What actually is green design?
No, green design is not some newfangled design trend that made a swift entry into this part of the world of creativity and took everyone by storm. It is, in fact, as plain as the sound of the name itself, and even more plain and simpler in its message. Environmental warriors, of course, wouldn’t take two seconds to guess what it’s all about.
In a seemingly dystopian world where everything depends on an overexploitation of technology, a growing number of people have come to the realization that if there’s one way to save the future, it is through sustainability. Even in design. Let me rephrase that. Especially through design!
Because all the apps, devices and websites that we believe make our lives easier are a result of usability-oriented design. Hence, the concept of green design that has emerged like a wave big enough to be taken seriously.
What does design have to do with sustainability and environmental preservation?
Glad you asked. The link between design and sustainability can be drawn through the factor of energy consumption, although design is just a small part of a titanic energy devouring machinery. And in the thick of it all sit data centers and data transmission networks.
According to a report by International Energy Agency (IEA), both data centers and data transmission networks each used up 1% of global energy in 2019. In case you’re curious how much is that in actual numbers, the 2018 statistics showed a consumption of 205 terawatt-hours (TWh) by data centers globally.
It’s not just the constant flow of data/information through the data centers that squeeze out energy, but the cooling systems that are needed to maintain the computer room environment as well. A breakup of the energy consumption in data centers show a 50% consumption by equipment and 25%-40% by HVAC systems.
As this massive network of data centers are powered by submarine communications cables, routers and switches, the energy that is getting used to run them consequently leads to carbon dioxide emissions to worrying proportions. Search engine giant Google leads the pack with an estimated 40% of the internet’s total carbon footprint.
Let that sink in slowly as you imagine a world your children and theirs in turn will grow up in. Here’s a live statistics of global Google searches every second just to give you and idea what’s really happening behind your computer screens.
Incidentally, this unquenchable internet consumption is something that influences the way apps and websites are being designed. This rings true especially for website design, because a poorly designed and unoptimized website takes longer to load, thereby consuming more energy.
Green UX or sustainable UX focuses on usability to build apps and websites that are light, simple and user-friendly as part of its sustainable design efforts.
On a side note, your YouTube streaming, Instagramming and Netflix binge watching largely contribute to carbon footprint. Of course, it could have been a lot worse had it not been for recent energy efficiency efforts being followed by a growing number of corporations. But, more on that later.
Understanding sustainability better
Let’s first take a moment to understand the concept of sustainability and what it means to people with environmental awareness, not including the woke generation that flaunt their ecological efforts but indulge in extravagant online shopping.
Sustainability, in today’s time, is seen as framework of research, community efforts, global initiatives and programs to fight for ecological balance and save earth’s natural resources from running dry due to overexploitation.
In other words, it is refers to bonhomie of humanity and the ecosystems to co-exist in a world that’s becoming increasingly hostile to survive in due to exploitation of resources. It’s a simple give and take equation, which most of us seem to ignore. We protect nature and nature nurtures a safe habitat for us to live in.
The 2005 World Summit held in NYC that was attended by representatives of 191 member nations was hailed as the “largest gathering of world leaders in history.” Its aim was to take strong measures in the fields of development, security, human rights and reform in the United Nations.
The Summit was historic in nature in that it adopted developmental goals based on the three pillars of sustainability - economic, social and environmental. Termed as interdependent dimensions that hold individual exclusivity, these three pillars have become the platform for many sustainability standards and certifications that were implemented over the years.
Challenges facing sustainability in the world of technology
The internet is a world on its own with a serious disadvantage - the inability to measure the exact demand of data centers around the world. Why? Because it is constantly changing courtesy the improvements in energy efficiency efforts.
An article carried by Climate Home News in 2017 predicted that the communications industry could use up 20% of the world’s energy by 2025. It also predicted that information and communications technology (ICT) could account for 3.5% of global carbon emissions by 2020, overtaking the aviation and shipping industry. This figure is believed to rise to 14% by 2040.
An update followed this peer-reviewed study and it observed that the ICT industry could consume 20% of global energy and account for 5.5% of global emissions by 2025. As grim as the prediction is, even grimmer is the fact that no matter how much improvement there will be in energy efficiency, the consumption will always far outrun that.
One of the biggest challenges in the path of energy efficiency is the apparent explosion of the Internet of Things (IoT), which spanning across consumer applications, organizational applications, industrial applications, infrastructure applications and even military applications.
In other words, the world just can’t do without them. Virtual assistants like Amazon Alexa, wearables, smart TVs, remote patient monitoring devices or basically any device with wireless technology have become deeply embedded in daily human lives.
According to Statista, the number of IoT connected devices globally in 2018 was 22 billion, which is predicted to go up to 50 billion by 2030. Continuous development and upgrades in these devices are the reasons behind the mushrooming production of these devices with internet connectivity all over the world. Here’s a summary of the global internet adoption and network performance as reported by Cisco.
Where’s the accountability?
With such an ever-increasing demand for energy consuming products, the question is - could it ever slow down or come to a natural end someday? Or rather, as I’d like to put it, is there some sort of accountability for the actions of callous tech companies that just produced and made money without any thought?
For all that it’s worth, several tech companies, including some leading names have started stepping up to the sustainability game in their own way in recent years. Here’s a list of the top 15 tech companies that now use green energy, paving the path for others to follow suit. So yes, accountability for mindless energy consumption has indeed set in.
As for those that still continue the carbon emission path, carbon tax - which surprisingly witnessed the Republicans and the Democrats agree on something - is seen as an effective policy in bringing them back to the fold. Click here to find out more on carbon tax and the impact it could have on carbon dioxide removal (CDR) in the near future.
Of course, the success of the CDR drive largely depends on the careful ratification of carbon tax rates that could either fail or succeed in achieving net zero goals. Several states in the US already have existing cap and trade policies while many more are considering taking that path, although the same cannot be said about takers for carbon tax proposals.
On a brighter note, holding companies accountable for carbon emissions has now become an easier goal thanks to a huge number of American shareholders - 137 million to be precise. Pushing big energy consuming companies towards fulfilling the promises they have pledged to and aligning with long-term environmental policies is something that these shareholders can and should strive for.
Role of UX and web designers in ensuring a green world
Web and UX designers hold a deciding position in contributing towards a clean and green future. Here’s how. It’s a well-known fact that the key to make social and economic impact rests in the hands of tech professionals, which incidentally also include designers.
Since the frontend is the area that draws the most energy in the world of the internet, the role of web and UX designers becomes even more significant in ensuring that energy consumption remains as low as possible. This can be achieved during the design stage itself by implementing a combination of energy efficiency and usability for the end result, which is sustainability.
From apps to websites to wearables, UX designers have their hands full designing products that make lives ‘easy’ for millenials and technocrats. Considering the number of connected devices in the world, a number that we’ve already apprised you with earlier, it becomes even more crucial that designers take their responsibility towards nature seriously.
The products that they will design will not only impact the lives of those that use them, but the environment as well. Minimalism, as represented by only necessary data along with light designs that don’t consume much energy should become the primary ingredients for user experience.
In a way, the designs should also be able to influence the users in the right way and make them think about their consumer behavior. That, I believe, would be the hallmark of a green UX design.
“Make things as simple as possible but no simpler.”
- Albert Einstein
Steps in which UX design can be sustainable and reduce carbon footprint
Even before you read about these steps, some of you might already have erupted into a subtly pessimistic head shake in a half-hearted surrender to what you feel will be an inevitable doom of more carbon emissions in the future. All I can say is, have faith. UX design, though traditionally an old territory, is quite a new domain when powered up by technology.
Yes, the goal of minimizing or even reducing carbon footprint is a tough challenge since almost everything runs on technology now. From apps that connect the whole world with the push of a button to devices that make quick work of otherwise lengthy tasks, we have become cushy to the idea of depending on them for everything. And each of these tools consume energy.
With that in mind, here are certain steps through which UX design can help achieve sustainability and cut carbon footprint.
1. Design optimization
Optimize, optimize, optimize! Nothing has been repeated so much as this golden tip for UX designers, no matter what they are creating. Optimizing your design quite literally translates to making it easy for the end users to access the app, website or interface of whatever you are designing.
When users find it easy to navigate through your product, most of your work is done. And to make that possible, it’s important that you apply the right design elements to maintain both minimalism and user friendliness. Clear and crisp graphics that create harmony between the UI and navigation are examples of those right elements.
2. Application & website performance optimization
One of the biggest mistakes that designers commit is designing products with a short-sighted vision. This gives way to performance issues that show up beyond their projection. Slow loading apps and web pages, and heavy graphics are the main reasons that they don’t perform well for users.
Optimizing your product for performance is the only way you can make sure that it doesn’t hit any roadblock in its application. Make sure that you optimize the images and videos on your app/website, shift to a renewable energy based server to reduce emission and keep data limited to only what’s vital to make the right impact on the users.
3. Making products mobile-optimized
According to Statista, the number of mobile devices worldwide in 2020 stood at 14.02 billion, which is projected to rise to 17.72 billion by 2024. Clearly, mobile-first is the future of technology and it’s just a matter of time when everything goes that way someday soon.
As much as it offers business growth opportunities for manufacturers of these devices, it also brings in the unique opportunity for energy efficiency and sustainability. Agreed, it also poses designers with the challenge to wrap everything within the frame of small screens, but it also kills the temptation to feed in unnecessary design elements that you might otherwise include for desktops and laptops.
This invariably makes it possible to design mobile-oriented products that will load quicker and take away the strain of flipping through more than necessary pages.
Drawing inspiration for sustainable UX design
You know what they say about inspiration - that you find them in the most unusual of places. Thankfully, you don’t have to wander around in the hopes of finding inspiration in some mysterious place when it comes to green UX design ideas.
Browse through this extensive collection of sustainable design ideas to take inspiration from. Of course, you can make it easier by resorting to themes like relatable animation, symbols and subtle messages to create designs that speak boldly about renewable energy and zero emission.
Mic drop moment
I believe the green energy movement has not just already begun, but has picked up a steady pace to take us towards a CO2-free world. As more tech corporations pledge to do their bit towards reaching this goal, optimistically speaking, it’s only a matter of time before the rest gets inspired and follow suit.
At 0707 Inc, our designers follow every step to stay true to our commitment to green energy with our designs. Reach out to us and together we can share this amazing journey of contributing to a clean and green future, one that our coming generations can breathe without fear.