8 common misconceptions around Sustainable UX/UI Design

Show notes

With the start of season two I want to address a couple of misconceptions around sustainable design.

What's the word sustainability, is it only about carbon emissions, what's green design, offsetting, social sustainability, is it boring, does it need more time or will it consume more budget? Those are questions we will have a look at in this episode.

Mentioned in this episode:

👉 Podcast episode "Sustainable web design and its benefits"

Love, Sandy


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Show transcript

Welcome back to the Green The Web podcast. It's been a long time. I know it was a long summer break, but this is the start of season two of this podcast.

It's a podcast about ecologically and socially sustainable design. And I'm your host, Sandy Dähnert, a freelance UX/UI designer and researcher based in Cologne in Germany, and the mind behind greentheweb.com.

And in this first episode of season two of this podcast, I want to talk about common misconceptions around sustainable design. Because I talk with colleagues about it a lot. I hear it here and there, and there's a lot of them. And with the start of the season, I want to address at least some of them. Not all of them, of course, but some of them. The first one goes right into the core of misconceptions. The word sustainable or sustainability and sustainability is much more than talking about ecological factors. It's much more than talking about social factors. Sustainability just means long term, long lasting. It could be sustainably financially, it could be sustainable economics. It could be any kind of thing, a sustainable relationship, everything that's meant to be there for a long term. So sustainability doesn't mean green doesn't mean social. It means so many more things. So yes, in this title I say sustainable design just because it's shorter. But usually I talk about socially and ecologically sustainable design, about green design, about ethical design, about all of those little details below it. And just to make sure, yes, sometimes we can make it short and just say sustainable design. But to be really precise, it just means everything and nothing at the same time. So yes, we can still say sustainable, but yes, we can still be more precise with our wordings and the way we talk about specific aspects of sustainability and sustainable design. The second common misconceptions I want to talk about today is that sustainable design is often referred to as carbon reduced design. No, we're not just talking about energy. We are not just talking about data. We're not just talking about carbon emissions. That's one of the aspects like three different aspects actually, of sustainable design, but just some specific ones from what I just said, from the first misconception as sustainable as a word and as a phrase. So no, it's not just about carbon design and carbon emissions, carbon reduction and stuff like that. Which brings me to the third common misconception saying green design is equal to lightweight data. Reduced design. That's still not true. Yes, lightweight design and data reduce design is a part of green design. Yes, carbon reduce design is a part of green design. And even them, it's not just about images and image compression or stuff like that. There is so much more. I call them the ten energy eating monsters, where it's also about data storage and less variation. Click paths and way more to design in a lightweight way. Your digital products. And I will have another episode coming up in the next weeks, where I go even deeper into that. But just for a really short overview. Green design yes means lightweight design. Yes. Data reduce design carbon reduce design greener e-commerce. How we change the way we buy online and sell online. It's about positive behavior changes and behavior psychology. It's about raising awareness and advocacy. It's about bringing in environmental stakeholders and integrating nature into design and decision processes. It's about reducing negatives, increasing positives, and even enabling regeneration for the nature around us. So you see, there is much more than lightweight design. It's just the easiest to talk about because we have some measurements and some KPIs we can work with. That's why we usually talk about that at first. Then. The fourth common misconception around sustainable design is the topic of offsetting in general. I see that so often that people have a badge that they are now climate neutral or carbon neutral, and that's obviously not just in digital design or digital design in general, but in all kinds of different design aspects. And this claim might even get limited in Europe soon anyways, and I'm very excited for that, because it just says pretty much nothing. And I don't have anything against offsetting per se, but just having a look at traditional offsets means one kilogram of CO2 being emitted, plus one kilogram of CO2 avoided elsewhere still means one kilogram of CO2 is emitted. When we look at carbon removal offsets, it's talking about one kilogram of CO2 emitted. -one kilogram of CO2 removed elsewhere equals net zero carbon emissions. And a lot of carbon emissions certificates are being bought and green badges and stuff is out there. I'm really not much into that because yeah, it's still one kilogram of CO2 emitted in this example and obviously much more in real life with businesses and companies and projects. Yes, removal offsets can have a positive impact with even planting trees, renaturalizing moores, stuff like that. I'm not against it. I find it like it's brilliant to do that stuff. But a tree only removes your CO2 in 20 or 30 years of time. And we are claiming climate neutral and carbon neutral products and websites now with trees that have been planted now. So I find that whole concept a bit offsetting. Ha ha. As a little wordplay. So nothing against offsetting, but we need to be very realistic about offsets and how we use them and how we communicate them, and that we're still having emissions, but we try to avoid or remove them elsewhere is brilliant, but we need to be clear about that and communicate that. Otherwise we feel like, yeah, we can buy everything that's climate neutral. It's not okay. The fifth topic of common misconceptions is about sustainable design is social sustainability isn't just decisive patterns or earlier called dark patterns. We're not just talking about those manipulative patterns that we see everywhere and all kinds of websites and applications. It's about integrating passive users and affected people that are impacted by the things that we design in all kinds of different matters. It's about workers in the production process. It's about ethical design, accessibility, about equal design, diversity, inclusivity, mental health. There is so much to social sustainability, and I bet I forgot some of the things. So really stay focused on. There is so much more underneath to saying social sustainability. It's not just decisive or dark patterns, it's way more. Number six of common misconceptions around sustainable design is that it's boring. And you probably heard me talking about it quite a lot of times because I find it very helpful to know. And I had the same misconception around it in my head at the very beginning, because everyone was just talking about, well, you have to limit yourself here and you cannot do this and you shouldn't do that. And no full width images and everything compressed and as minimalist as possible. And I was like, okay. I mean, for some of the brands, it works really, really well to have a minimalist design, but not for everything and not for everyone. So at some point I thought, well, is actually sustainable design boring if we have it as accessible, ethical, light weight, carbon, reduced green as possible, and all of the other things that I talked about in the last minutes, is it then actually boring? And no, it's not. It's most of the time more usable, more user friendly. It can be super colorful. It can be really fun. It can be interactive, there can be animations, and there can be all kinds of different things in there. It has nothing to do with only creating now minimalist and let's say boring websites. It can be everything you want, just with some twists that you might haven't thought about beforehand. Common misconception number seven I want to talk about is that people think sustainable design doesn't go with business KPIs. That I need to have this hippie dippy attitude and business side won't ever understand what I'm talking about. And it's not true. And I did an episode about the benefits of green design in season one, so you can check it out. So just as a quick sum up for socially as well as ecologically sustainable design, you can have great business KPIs going along with sustainable design, minimal loading times, super fast page speed, greater usability for real. I'm really honest about this. It often leads to greater usability, about reduced bounce rates, about better SEO ranking due to the minimal loading times and greater usability, and reduced bounce rates about more visitors, especially with increased accessibility. Because more people can actually access your digital product, it's about happier users. Greater brand love, higher conversions. Yes, that is possible with sustainable design about more customers returning customers. Especially when we talk about accessibility and people feeling welcomed in your digital product and they actually want to come back to your website, app, digital product of what kind soever. It's about less returns with greener e-commerce because you really care for that. It's about better availability in rural or low bandwidth areas, and there is much more in it for people and for nature. But we are talking about common business KPIs, so those are the ones that I often refer to, and there's more to them. But those are the things that every business wants to go for. So yeah, you can take exactly those business KPIs and say, I want to check out some sustainable design, some inclusivity, some accessibility, some lightweight design, some other things that we talked about in this episode. It's easy to implement them with business KPIs. And then the final common misconception around sustainable design that I want to talk about in this episode is that people think it needs more time and budget, and there is a yes and a no to it. Yes, there is things that need more time and budget, whether that is adjusting your workflows of integrating compressing your digital assets like images and videos and fonts and stuff like that, that's an extra step. So it needs extra time. Yes. Whether it is some additional features that you need for accessibility reasons, yes, it needs more time and also budget. Whether it is getting outside of your current work comfort zone and thinking about all of these things, learning more about all of these topics. Yes, it needs time and budget, but no, it doesn't always need more time. Once you know a couple of things. Lightweight design, for example, does not need to be more time or budget consuming. If you know more about the ten energy eating monsters, you just shift some of your mindsets in your head and you design your digital product in a bit of a different way. You even have more clarity with your design systems and variations. With your click paths. It can all lead to even less of a budget that is needed. Once you know that some of the features, you don't even need to bother with them because it's just useless for the user, but also harmful to certain people or nature. ET cetera. Also, hosting doesn't need to be more expensive. It can be the similar price or even less of a price, especially if you start decluttering and really have a look into how much storage is needed for your digital products, uploads, downloads, things like that. Then you might even discover that you need less of a server space and can even save money. All right. To sum it up, we talked about eight different common misconceptions around sustainable design. The first one was sustainability as a word in general. The second one was about that. It's not just about carbon emissions. The third one was about green design, not meaning just lightweight and data reduced design. The fourth one was about offsetting. The fifth one about social sustainability. That's more than decisive and manipulative patterns. The sixth one is that sustainable design isn't boring or it doesn't need to be. You can make it boring if you want to. The seventh one was about business KPIs, and the last one was about time and budget misconceptions.

I hope you got quite a bit out of it and feel free to send me your thoughts on common misconceptions around sustainable design, and send your comment on the LinkedIn post or the Instagram post that you can find via grain web, or even send me an email about it. Because I'm always curious about what are misconceptions that you are having or receiving or hearing about, and other than that, subscribe to the Green The Web podcast, where again, I'm talking about loads of ecologically and socially sustainable UX UI design topics. This is season two of the podcast, so dive into the many awesome episodes that are already published. Rate the podcast if you enjoy the show and this would really mean a ton to me. Visit me on green.com or via Instagram or LinkedIn. As I said, I'm happy to hear about your thoughts on today's episode, to connect with you, to read from you, and then see you in the next episode.

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