Empowering designers to work with sustainability

Four principles for UX designers for positive change

As designers, we have the opportunity to craft solutions that create positive value for our users, the environment, and society. We are trusted to contribute to sustainable change to create a brighter future. The convenience of Kate Saunders's four principles makes it easier for designers to apply this knowledge to their work to have a positive impact on the triple bottom line: people, planet, and profit.

Kate Saunders in EGGS talked at CPHUX on designers' responsibilities to take action for a cleaner, safer and healthier world. Kate encourages designers to apply the SDG's within the features that you're working with and to think more about the value that you as designers can create using them more as prompts rather than trying to get too scared with how you are applying the SDG's. Videography: Marcus Nordin.

UX design to influence positive change

Many Copenhagen designers are puzzled on how to tackle the growing topic of sustainability and climate change. Within the field of UX and digital design, we have yet to realize what we have influence over and how we can contribute to making the world more sustainable. Designers have the agency and responsibility to add to lasting, positive change. Ultimately, we have more influence and duty as designers of apps, digital products, and services than we realize. Even when we work for products that seemingly go against this climate-friendly aim, we can identify areas where we as designers can make a difference. Let me share with you four principles for you to apply in your UX and digital design work.

Principle 1: Go more in-depth to find value

By using the sustainable development goals (SDGs) from the UN, we can use them as a prompt for more conscious impact creation in our day-to-day projects. We can do this two-fold: firstly by evaluating our current or past projects to become more accustomed to the goals and themes; secondly by using the more granular sub-goals to prompt and spur ideas during the ideation process. It's great to map out the whole company or project, but applying the SDGs on a deeper level can be more impactful.

The Sustainable Development Goals are excellent source to create awareness for how the digital service your are working on can contribute to a cleaner, safer and/or healthier future.

Principle 2: Make it measurable

Once you've selected the areas you want to impact, it's about being clear where you can then measure that value. We're accustomed to using KPIs to evaluate our work and products. We should also be thinking about which areas we can measure the sustainable impact across the triple bottom line. Many environmental and social impacts can have a marked commercial and economic value as well.

The triple bottom line is an accounting framework with three parts: social, environmental and financial. Some organizations have adopted the TBL framework to evaluate their performance in a broader perspective to create greater business value.

Principle 3: Design for circular value streams

Traditionally the lifecycle of a product has been linear - from research to manufacture, use, and then end-of-life. Circular value streams and the circular economy consider where waste can be brought back into the value stream, something the digital and UX field can learn from. Data centres worldwide consume 1% of global energy every year, which is the same CO2 -footprint as the world's air traffic. We need to take responsibility for our footprint and identify where we can reduce, repurpose, or replace waste within our digital and service lifecycles. For example, working with our developers to design less energy intensive features e.g. progressive loading of content, caching, and image optimisation can benefit the environent, as well as improving user experience.

Designing for circular value streams is the methodology and approach we apply in EGGS Design to cater for sound circular economy for a product/service, during production, during use and after: handling waste to ensure the continual use of resources.

Principle 4: Design for sustainable behaviour

Studies show that digital products are having an adverse impact on our behaviour: just think about how certain social media apps have changed the way we behave. By understanding the current behaviour of our users and identifying areas where we can create positive and desired behaviours, we can adapt our user experience and nudge users to create more conscious habits that benefit people, the environment, and the bottom line.

From learning to unconscious and integral

Sustainability is a constant learning process for UX and digital design. Eventually, we will go from thinking of sustainability as a speciality to considering it as an unconscious and integral part of our design process, automatically questioning if our products and services are creating positive value for the triple bottom line.

Sounds interesting?

Kate Saunders

You should talk to Lead Digital Designer
Kate Saunders
+45 617 06 500

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