Sustainable UX design: What is it and how can it benefit your organization?

Green grass @ symbol.

Your internet use leaves an indelible mark. According to the BBC, “The carbon footprint of our gadgets, the internet and the systems supporting them account for about 3.7 percent of global greenhouse emissions.” As the web expands and more people access the internet from more devices, that share of the global carbon footprint will also grow.

Mitigating the impact of the internet on the environment isn’t just the responsibility of users. User Experience (UX) designers can help fight carbon-producing digital waste by focusing on making content as discoverable as possible and reducing the data load of that content. Doing so isn’t just a win for the environment. It is also good for your brand’s bottom line. Consumers are increasingly conscious about using their purchasing power to support brands that put concern for the environment front and center, as a 2020 study by IBM showed. In it, 57 percent of surveyed consumers said they are willing to alter the way they shop to help reduce their carbon footprint. It is up to UX designers to conduct research, define the information architecture, create a wireframe, create a prototype, and run tests to help meet this demand. Use this guide to discover how.

Incorporating sustainability into your UX design

Implementing sustainability into the UX design process should happen throughout the design process.

Get inspired through research

Good UX begins with a deep understanding of your users. Who are you trying to reach in digital spaces? What do they care about — as consumers, as individuals, and as members of a community? The better you understand what your audience wants, the better you can tailor a digital experience for their needs and values. This process can become a part of your sustainability efforts when you use thorough research to weed out less relevant ideas and focus resources on the ones that best fit your audience. By soliciting feedback and analyzing audience data, you can streamline the design process to save time and deliver something that resonates.

One of the best ways to see what you should be doing with your digital branding is to research what your competition is doing. If you notice they are following design trends that you are not — and that they are doing it successfully — that may suggest you should be doing the same. But better. Take note of their efforts — what is working for them, what is not working, and what consumers are responding well to.

Assess current impact

Knowing your UX designs’ current impact on the environment is the first step toward minimizing it. Audit every one of your front-facing digital touchpoints, starting with your website and any company apps. Ask yourself the following questions:

Reduce data use on your site

Simple steps like opting for smaller image sizes on your website not only cuts down on data usage, but may also help increase your site’s speed — and your users’ satisfaction. Meanwhile, mapping a streamlined customer journey that prioritizes key information and actions means less backtracking. Do visitors to your site often have the same questions? Building an FAQ page into your site is a great solution, but optimizing the UX might require you to change how navigation works, making clearer headlines, or even redesigning the buttons they click on to help get their answers faster and easier.

Creating a smoother, simpler online experience can also help reduce the time visitors have to spend on screens, as well as the bandwidth used by your site. This is all part of sustainable UX design — supporting the environment by better serving your visitors.

Look for sustainable swaps

Often, removing digital touchpoints is the fastest path toward a more sustainable UX design. Other times, it’s a matter of adding them. For instance, using high-quality and secure digital document solutions to digitize key business processes and capture e-signaturescan help reduce paper waste. Converting to digital documents can also make life easier on your customer — a win-win. Other examples may be converting in-person appointments, meetings, or conferences into digital events, reducing the need for gas-guzzling travel. Another may be incorporating QR codes on packaging or other products so customers can navigate directly to a digital user guide, again eliminating the need for printed materials.

Look for opportunities in your products

UX may intersect with product design. Generally speaking, UX designers will focus on the customer or user experience while product designers’ most pressing concern is with creating products that are competitive, profitable, and practical. These interests can intersect to make products both popular with customers and friendly to the environment, even in small ways. Industry trends are always changing, and your products should be changing right along with them. Get a head start on these trends by searching for new opportunities to make your products and services more sustainable.

Don’t be afraid to charge more for these new products as you begin to invest more in them. Use this as an opportunity to encourage your customers to make more environmentally friendly choices despite having to pay more. Be sure to explain the benefits of investing in sustainable products to back up the claim that you created them for the greater good.

When creating new products, find out what your target customers want but may not know they want just yet. Take it upon yourself to create new, innovative products that fit with industry trends, yet reflect your brand. For example, you could put a sustainable spin on common everyday products.

Regardless of which industry you represent, we all have a part to play in sustainability. Going green as a company is a core part of doing business today. Do your part and consider sustainable design practices a key part of your company’s creation process.