Embrace sustainable digital design

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PHOTO: Zbynek Burival


How do you work sustainably as a digital professional? If you are a code or content producer, you are a CO2 producer. How do you ensure that your digital activities produce as little CO2 as possible? Better yet, how do you ensure that your digital work is useful enough to save more energy than the energy needed to create and maintain it?

I first discovered Netlife in Norway around 2007. They had invited me to speak at their annual conference and when I looked at their website I was intrigued. Here’s a web consultancy that put people and usability first. There was no nonsense, no bogus language. They were real. And from there I started one of the best partnerships of my career, working with great people to help create a useful website.

The partnership continues. Netlife is on a new journey to answer the questions I posed in the opening paragraph. “I want to do meaningful things,” said Beth Stensen, CEO. “Refocusing the user experience towards the earthly experience is what will create meaning for us.”

I thought I had reached nirvana once I discovered user experience and usability. To me, it seemed like the holy grail of web design. I enthusiastically read Steve Krug’s great book, “Don’t Make Me Think”. I was inspired by the thought of Jared Spool and Jakob Nielsen. I remember seeing Jostein Magnussen, one of the founders of Netlife, speak frankly and funny about terrible corporate design, and thinking how brave he was to say such things. I’m still inspired by the essence of UX. However, in recent years, I began to have doubts about how I was living and whether the work I was doing was good or bad for our planet. I’m not the only one with doubts.

“I, too, started having second thoughts,” Beth explained. “This focus on people, this focus on the user – have we overdone this? I started thinking about the consequences for the planet. Humans are not good for this planet and developing services for humans is not may not be the right path. So how can we integrate the needs of the planet into our design thinking and think about the earth experience rather than the customer and user experience? How do we change our priorities, and those of our customers, in relation to what we develop and what we put on the market?

“We’ve worked really hard to make it easier for people to consume,” Beth continued. “Now we have to see people as something more than just users and consumers. They are humans living in the context of the earth. It’s not good for us to consume more and it’s not good for the planet. So how can we build mechanisms into our digital solutions that make you think? »

The more I think about these issues, the more I realize that getting people to think more about the right things is a key part of the solution. If we don’t think because it’s so easy to make that purchase online, if we don’t think because it’s so easy to return what we bought on a whim, then we’re building a highway to global warming hell. In every design decision we make, we have to think about the earthly experience. Does this decision contribute or reduce global warming? How can we conceive of people thinking more and acting less, and when they act, they act much more deliberately and consciously?

Gerry McGovern is the founder and CEO of Customer Carewords. He is widely regarded as the global authority on increasing web satisfaction by managing customer tasks.

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