UXGlasgow meetup on Planet-centered design

Last Wednesday, 6th December 2023, I attended the UX Glasgow meetup online, for the first time since way before the pandemic. And, oh boy, am I happy I went!

The title of the December event was “Planet-centered design” and, since the new W3C Sustainability draft Guidelines had recently been announced, I could not resist the curiosity to find out more.

Here’s a brief summary of the 3 talks of the evening:

Don’t wait for the brief

Sandrine Herbert Razafinjato, Design Director at Method, started by telling us how big the problem is: if the internet was a country, it’d be the 6th in the world in terms of its CO2 emmissions.

She also had a long list of small changes we could all make as individuals in our private lives and as tech industry professionals at work. From switching off the camera during video calls and using wifi rather than data to optimizing all images and video and turning off auto-play.

Her recommended further reading would be:

How might we design greener services?

Ned Gartside, Senior Service Designer at Defra, used an example of “going to the cinema” to tell us how to think of and visualise our services’ infrastructure, and how we could identify its environmental hotspots.

A screenshot showing the user journey, service infrastructure and hotspots of an example trip to the cinema

Ned also pointed out that, to know the real impact of any improvements to our service’s emissions, we need to measure them, both before and after any changes are made.

A group of designers in Defra has been looking into this for the past 18 months and they have come up with a list of eight principles for good practice:

  1. Research to understand environmental impacts
  2. Design to help users succeed first time
  3. Design for lower user and agent impacts
  4. Design for low page, document and communications weight
  5. Develop green applications, software and storage
  6. Optimise processing, transmission and storage
  7. Be smart with data
  8. Set up teams to follow green working practices

He also mentioned that the EU is working on new legislation to make it compulsory for companies with over 250 staff to report of their Scope 1,2 and 3 emissions and the UK government is considering similar legislation too.

His recomendations for further reading include:

Sustainability built in from the start

Sam Woolard, from BJSS, and Helio Costa, from Sparck told us the real solution is to make sustainabiity a requirement rather than a voluntary extra, after all, according to them, not many people cared about accessibility until it became compulsory.

Aside that, Helio showed us a Figma plugin he has built, and made available for free, to help UI designers make more sustainable decisions. For example, did you know that screens use more energy to generate the colours blue and purple than the colours yellow and orange?

Also, Sam shared some tips on making software more sustainable from an engineering viewpoint. For example, using Carbon Intensity APIs to find out the best time of the day to run those daily regular jobs such as backups.

Their recommendations would be to: