Article first appeared at Muzli on Jan 24, 2021
That’s not a guide and not even an overview of trends. It’s a collection of thoughts, facts, and practices. It’s a call to set our own design trends with sustainability in mind.
The Earth is a big mom embracing all of us in its huge hugs. Awful things are now happening around the world. They aren’t an accidental event coincidence. The Earth is breathing harder than earlier. I’m not speaking paranoically, and I’m not a fan of pro-apocalyptic videos on YouTube. I’m talking about very obvious and globally known things soaring in the air and trying to whisper to everyone, “think of sustainability for your own future…”
Thanks, God! “Antarctica is still the cleanest place on Earth protected by anti-pollution laws”, according to the Australian Antarctic Program. But it seems too small for humankind to live there in the future, isn’t it? 🙂
“We are living on this planet as if we had another one to go to.” — Terry Swearingen, Nurse & Winner of Goldman Environmental Prize in 1997
In 2021, we can say that we will probably have another “planet to go to” indeed. Applauses to Elon Musk and his legendary SpaceX Mars program! He understands that humankind is unceasingly destroying its own home. With a passion for “being among the stars,” he is preparing a Plan B for humans.
However, is it really so necessary to destroy our Earth? Let’s leave Plan B for interplanetary travels and consider Mars as a second home (not the only home) in the future. As designers, you have the power to evoke the product user’s consciousness for “sustainable thinking.” Here I’m sharing some design and non-design views on how we can implement it altogether.
Today, the word “sustainability” is widely applied to define the processes, measures and actions through which humanity avoids the exhaustion of natural resources to maintain an ecological balance that doesn’t allow the quality of life of modern societies to decrease. It has three dimensions: social, economic, and environmental.
The term “sustainability” is also used to describe “improvements in areas like natural resources overexploitation, manufacturing operations (its energy use and polluting subproducts), the linear consumption of products, the direction of investments, citizen lifestyle, consumer purchasing behaviors, technological developments or business and general institutional changes.” (YouMatter)
What I like about Wikipedia is that it’s sometimes so amazingly laconic:
“Sustainability is the ability to exist constantly.” — Wikipedia
So, what should we do to “exist constantly” as a species on this planet?
Before writing this article, I have read pretty many resources about “green UX,” and do you know what I find out? There are a lot of amazing practices on how UX designers can implement green, sustainable UX. However, I understood that the green UX engine would be more powerful if it aims to change the user’s mindset. It’s how a UX designer can contribute to global sustainability processes.
“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” — Albert Einstein
We can remind people about their own responsibility for the Earth, educate them on green consumerism, and popularize sustainable thinking through well-known UI/UX design trends.
From unobtrusive pro-environmental notifications and friendly animations to products oriented towards reducing CO2 emissions — there are so many ways to implement it in design. Consider also designing digital experiences that promote green energy, less energy consumption, inclusiveness, and accessibility.
You can start by creating in-app green consumerism reminders and daily “green” inspiration in animations and illustrations. Provide opportunities for users to learn more about environmental problems and solve them right within your UX design. You can make “sustainable UX” your product user’s reality.
The best way to skill up is to learn from someone’s work done. Here I share a few “sustainable” design ideas and inspiration from other creative professionals.
The environment is the primary but not the only consideration within sustainability. It’s also important to consider human welfare. Social diversity and equity are components of social sustainability. They are equally important as the environmental and economic dimensions of the sustainable future.
I like how Fireart Studio popularizes social diversity through website design. These guys created web animations that depict their teammates and how different they are. All of them are unique in their own way.
The environmental sustainability aspect is often based on 3 Rs (recycling, reusing, and reducing). Recycling is using old products in new ways. Reusing refers to using items more than once. Reducing means minimizing the amount of waste we create and lower energy consumption.
You can create an onboarding user experience with 3 Rs in mind. What if you incorporate animations or illustrations reminding users about recycling, reusing, and reducing into several app screens? There are endless ways to implement it. Here is how Jessica Flores has done it through illustration.
Another great example is the illustration created by Koen Speelman. It’s his way of telling people about the threat of plastic pollution that may cause the disappearance of some species. The logical outcome is that we need to recycle, reuse, and reduce the amount of plastic in oceans.
Inclusive design is one of today’s biggest UX trends. It implies design for all people, including those with disabilities. In one of my articles, I mention that we can “humanize” our technologies by using empathy-driven and user-oriented design.
“From designing body prostheses and home appliances to creating mobile and web experiences — try to be helpful and empower people to get a more enjoyable and comprehensive experience. That’s where genuine empathy is hidden.”
Luckily, sustainability has become a new trend in the modern digital world. It’s revealed not only in design but also in marketing. The next aspect I’d like to consider is sustainable marketing. It is the promotion of environmental and socially responsible products, practices, and brand values.
Designers can motivate their clients to incorporate environmentally and socially “conscious” design elements into the brand’s websites and mobile apps. If the company hasn’t considered sustainability as one of its corporate values before, it’s probably the right moment to inspire your client for it.
An excellent example of the brand that incorporated sustainability in its tone of voice is LEGO. They dedicated a section of their site to its sustainability programs:
“Our mission is to make all LEGO® bricks sustainably by 2030. Why? Because being sustainable is good for the planet! We want to make bricks out of things that we can grow again or are recycled. This is not easy as we want sustainable LEGO bricks to have the same high quality that you are used to, but what we know is this: big ideas may start small, but they will help us build a greener planet one brick at a time.”
It’s quite a radical method. When if nothing else works, you must be tough to break your “green” message through the digital noise. We, humans, don’t want to know about global problems like they refer to everyone besides us.
In this case, the only option is to look at the problem from a different angle and model what will happen with the Earth if we don’t stop recklessly consuming and depleting natural resources. Here is how two illustrators, Daniele Simonelli and Cristina Susano, communicated it to the audience.
They won’t tell you about it. But they need it. It would be great to educate your product users about green consumerism and its positive impact on everyone’s life. We can use in-app notifications, hidden tooltips, and content suggestions. There is a wide variety of UI/UX design practices that we can use for a “green purpose.”
“The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.” — Robert Swan, Author
I’m sorry to break it to you: nobody will save the Earth. Nobody but you. Nobody will build our future until we do it. Our future is now.
In this article, we have considered the concept of sustainability, why do we need it, and how other creative professionals design with sustainability in mind. Now it’s your turn. Go and create something very “green” for your users and your Earth. And I don’t mean the color. 😉
By Dana Kachan