Making an impact through Green UX

User Experience & Usability

(alt=”Green leaf on the converging point of computer circuit board.”)

I was going to start this article by highlighting the prevalence of climate change in the media, but a quick Google uncovered that mentions in 2020 fell below those for cake and picnic… I’m glad we’ve got our priorities straight. In all seriousness, last year saw reports of record-breaking floods, heatwaves and storms to bring home the reality of climate change, with the number of disasters related to weather, climate or water hazards increasing fivefold over the past 50 years.

Like most people I try to do my bit for the environment, but as I’m sure a lot of you can relate, I still eat meat, can’t seem to get away from plastic packaging and still want to get on a plane to go on holiday. There’s one thing however that I don’t usually link to being sustainable – my use of the internet. We tend to forget that in addition to the power we supply to our mobiles, tablets and laptops, everything on the internet is stored in data centres, which are responsible for 2% of global carbon emissions. That’s the same as the aviation industry (before the pandemic).

I’ve been doing some research and thinking about what the UX industry can do to lead the way in eco-conscious behaviour.

What is ‘Green UX’?

‘Green UX’ is exactly what you might guess: creating a great user experience for the customer, whilst also minimising its environmental footprint. Thankfully these two goals often go hand in hand, but I’d be surprised if many UX professionals said this was something they consider on a day-to-day basis. So, what exactly should we being doing to protect the environment?

1) Streamline user journeys

During usability testing, there are often clear points in a journey where users become uncertain or distracted from the task at hand. One of the primary causes of this is the amount of content on the page, and over the past decade the average web page weight has increased by 356%. As well as raising the risk of abandonment as pages take longer to load (not everyone has fibre or 5G), more content reduces the discoverability of key information and calls to action. This can result in the user going down a rabbit hole, all whilst increasing their carbon footprint.

As UX professionals, we should ensure that every user journey is streamlined by asking:

  • Are you addressing a real user problem or need?
  • Does every element on the page support the user in accomplishing their goal?
  • Can the goal be reached in the minimum number of steps possible?

(alt=”diagonal footprints made from green leafs”)

2) Make simple, smart design choices

Designers play a key role in reducing the data usage of digital services, by informing the content included on each page. Admittedly, people will probably judge the use of poor resolution images, whilst animations and colour can increase user engagement. However, there’s a fine balance between data-hungry content that is needed, and design elements that are frankly unnecessary.

Here’s a few ways to offer benefits for and beyond Green UX:

  • Look at the format of content such as images and fonts (e.g. JPG vs. PNG) as this can determine the associated file size, hence storage and loading times too.
  • Introduce a dark mode or colour palette. This will use less power on the user’s device, whilst reducing blue light exposure and accommodating different user preferences.
  • Avoid auto-playing content such as videos or music. This can be disruptive for users including some with accessibility needs, as well as continuing to eat up data.

3) Encourage eco-friendly behaviours

Over the past few years, more companies have been rolling out features to align with user’s environmental values. You can filter or sort results to view sustainable travel options or responsible clothing brands, choose to use a search engine that plants trees (Ecosia), and group deliveries to arrive together rather than on separate days (Amazon). UX teams are perfectly placed to uncover additional user needs in this space, whilst ensuring functionality is effectively implemented into designs.

We believe that responsible behaviours can be further encouraged by:

  • Increasing exposure to eco-friendly options, by positioning them appropriately on the page, after all, people aren’t going to use something if they can’t see it.
  • Using design elements such as certified logos, icons, or colour to highlight when the user is making a responsible choice. This will offer positive reinforcement, increasing the likelihood of repeat behaviour.
  • Removing any sacrifices that the user must make to be sustainable, such as taking additional steps or paying more. Ok, we admit that this one goes way beyond UX.

Responsible filter options on

Responsible filter options on

4) Start with personal choices

Many of you might be thinking that everything I’ve mentioned will have a negligible impact on climate change, which is true when you look at each point in isolation. But consider the cumulative effect of the whole UX industry instilling green practices into everyday work. Perhaps the first step is flipping the focus onto our own experiences – what can we do to reduce our personal carbon footprint, before carrying through the same considerations through to our profession?

I’ll leave you with some food for thought:

Cut out unnecessary messages: If every UK adult sent one less email each day, it would save 16,433 tonnes of carbon a year, which equates to 81,152 flights to Madrid. Unsubscribing from emails that you never read will have an even bigger impact.

Delete obsolete files: By 2025, global data storage is predicted to exceed 200 zettabytes (a 2 followed by 23 zeros), half of which will be stored in the cloud. Store data locally where possible and regularly clear out old files and messages that are placing an unnecessary demand on server farms.

Reduce streaming: Streaming accounts for around 60% of the world’s internet traffic. Minimise your usage by turning off auto-play, downloading regular content and limiting what you watch.

To conclude…

As preventing climate change becomes ever more important, we can only predict that the expectation to follow Green UX principles will too. So next time you’re struggling to convince your stakeholders to agree to UX design changes, why not bring the environment into the mix?!

Speech bubbleGet in touch to talk about how our expert user researchers can support your team create a more sustainable user experience.

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