Real talk: The challenges and frustrations as a sustainable UX/UI designer

Show notes

There's some challenges around Sustainable UX/UI Design and we should talk about it. A lot more often.

This episode is not meant to demotivate all of us. 🙂 It's about sharing experiences. Knowing that there is a lot good that comes with getting into sustainability, but also some very normal regular daily life challenges.

Love, Sandy


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Show transcript

It's not all sunshine and butterflies. Does one even say it like that? Well, anyways, there are some challenges around sustainable UX, UI design and we should talk about it a lot more often.

So welcome to the Green Web Podcast. It's a podcast about ecologically and socially sustainable design. I'm your host, Sandy Dähnert, a freelance UX, UI designer and researcher based in Cologne in Germany and the mind behind Green the Web.

And this episode is not meant to demotivate all of us. It's about sharing experiences, knowing that there is a lot good that comes with getting into sustainability, but also some very normal, regular daily life challenges that come up. It's not suddenly shiny in a perfect world with perfect projects, all lovely team members and time flying by while having a ton of fun. And of course, sometimes it is and I wish it would be like that always. But there is a chance you might encounter some frustrations along the way, because it does not always go according to plan and our grand wishes. And that's even okay this way. And when I talk about sustainable UX, UI design. So sustainable user experience and user interface design, I mean the ecological as well as social sustainability parts of it. So going real into the green carbon awareness, energy aware like all of the ecological aspects and web design and e-commerce and all of those things, as well as in social design and being really ethical, mindful, accessible, mentally healthy, diverse, inclusive, and all of those things. Just to make that clear, when I talk about sustainable UX, UI design. And you might be in a company, in an agency, you might be a freelancer, and you start a sustainable UX, UI, design project, maybe even a regular project. But you want to bring in some sustainability into this project. That might be a redesign, an audit, a fully new digital product design, or something along those lines. You will encounter probably a couple of different challenges along the way. There will be challenges that every other project has as well, and there will be additional challenges that come with the aspects of sustainable UX, UI design. So problems that you find in every other project as well are budget and time and decision makers who might have their own ideas, hierarchies and team dependencies relying on other people, lack of team members, even nerve wracking team members as you will encounter that as well. Just because it's sustainable design that usually is with people who have more of a sustainable mindset, do care about certain aspects, topics, people, nature, all of those challenges are still there, some of them even more like budget. Some of the environmentally friendly and socially friendly projects do have a little bit less of a budget because they are not exploitive and on mass consumption. So there might be a little less of budget there, or there might be a time pressure because everyone wants to do so much in very little time. There might be lack of team members just because there's not enough people in the company, in the agency yet, or just in the project team. And yes, there is still a chance that there might be team members on board that you don't really get along with. I hope not, of course, but yes, it can happen. It's still all of those things still can happen that you encounter in all of the other projects that you've been in before. And I want to dive deeper into more. Challenges and frustration points that come along with sustainable UX, UI design. First of all, let's dive deeper into budget and time, which is often the biggest challenge of it all. And yes, we always need to be time and cost effective, like time and cost effective design and implementation, which isn't wrong. We need to be effective with what we have, but with new topics, new knowledge has to be developed first. So new knowledge in sustainable UX, UI design, whether that's the ecological or the social part, it has to be trained. Once everyone is trained in sustainable design matters, it doesn't need to take more time and budget. There are so many things that you trained skill sets, mindsets, just things that need to be done. Different way of thinking. And then you don't need more time to design something that is accessible and ecologically sustainable. There is, of course, some additional features or things that come up when you design for people in nature that additional budget and time might get necessary. So having a an additional dark mode or having additional features for accessibility, inclusivity, ecological e-commerce and all of those things, yes. Then additional budget and time is needed. But for the biggest part, it's just a different way of looking at things. So that is time and cost effectiveness, which is correct. But still there are some challenges in between. The second part of budget in time is research, so you probably know it from user research. It often gets skipped. So whether it's regular user research that we know from human centered design, whether it's ecological research and just simply building empathy for environmental stakeholders, for non-humans, whether it's building additional empathy for, for example, accessibility personas for users with certain needs or also non-users. So passive users who are impacted by the designs and the digital products that we are creating, and often those things are cut short or are even not existing. And I get it to some extent. Some people just want to have a basic website. No fuss, no extras. Okay, yeah, there is budget of a challenge and there is research skipped as one of the biggest things. Another reason is that often people aren't even aware that those topics exist, even just human user research and definitely not ecological research in non-users, non-human users and all of those things. And some people are scared of additional workload, of dealing with new topics of money spent in useless ways. So you need to find a way to talk about those things to promote research, whether that's user or ecological research. And yes, research on environmental stakeholders, passively impacted people, special groups such as disabled users. It needs extra time and budget. That is true, but it's also so worth it. It is so extremely worth it. Once you've done it, you see why it was missing and things that you just see differently, the mindset you have differently, or even new features that pop up and new motivation, new inspiration, new innovation. But yes, sometimes you need some extra budget and time for this research. And the small budgets and small projects usually don't have that budget in time for it, but the bigger ones do. And then it's extremely important to go deeper into it. And it's even ecological just to do user research like basic user research, because before going into coding and programing and web development, doing that in between the design and the development phase or even earlier in the whole creation process, doing user research, finding out what users really need, how they interact with digital products, what are frustration points for them, how are things working out really and how not? That is so important before going into implementation, into development and ecological in the sense of you don't design and develop and then find out what our frustration points. So you start from the beginning, do the whole design phase again, and then a development phase again, and then you find out another frustration point to all of those things at the very beginning and during the design process. So you don't have to double workload, energy consumption and all of those things that come along with work like, okay, that was time and cost effective implementation as well as user research. And another factor that I often see that is very challenging and can bring up some frustrations is workflows. So workflows in general, it's a toughie. Um, there are so many books and courses and platforms and blog articles and podcast episodes and whatsoever about workflows and how to bring real, effective workflows into your work. Bringing sustainable UX, UI design into it has some additional frustrations in there. For example, you need additional image or illustration or font or video compression scaling assets correctly. That's another step or several other steps actually to add to your workflow. Exporting and maybe even various formats subtitles, alt text, infographic descriptions for accessibility. More time is also needed to search for diverse and inclusive imagery. It's all an extra task that needs to be integrated into workflows as seamlessly and easy as possible, of course, but that brings some challenges while going from the regular workflow to a more extended, sustainable workflow. So that is often a thing that I see in companies, agencies and also with colleague freelancers. That is like a but yeah, I don't have that much time. And often asset management is cut really short at the very end. It's like, okay, design is approved. Now send me all the materials by the end of the day, something like that. But there are so many things that we can do, especially at this very point of compressing and scaling and exporting and doing all of those things correctly. That can help in an ecological as well as socially sustainable way. All right. So that was time and budget. I guess there's probably a couple of more things along those lines and in this aspect. But those are the three major ones that I see very often. And then there is a couple of more aspects that I've encountered a couple of times. One thing is that the direction of the design or the digital product is often chosen before the design work actually happens. That is corresponding to there is no research done, just one single person in a hierarchy way above you has decided sometimes also a little bit different. But that's like the stereotype has decided. This person has decided that this is the outcome. And now you shall design what this outcome. Will actually look like. And that is really difficult to bring in sustainable UX, UI design and to advocate for the things you're passionate about. And you know that it's really valuable because you have this very strong wall you have to fight against. Another thing that I often see is that sustainable design is often an afterthought, whether that's accessibility, mentally healthy design, inclusive design or ecologically sustainable design. It's a okay, we design first and create and develop and have everything ready, and then we can talk eventually about color contrasts and bringing down some data and maybe some more inclusive imagery or diverse imagery, and then no one ever talks about it. It's in some kind of backlog list, and all kinds of other features will be implemented first before you get to this part of the backlog. And that shouldn't be like that. It definitely shouldn't be. It should be at the very front of the creation process. All of those things, accessibility being one of them, ecological sustainability being a second of them to really create valuable digital products for people and nature. And when we have it from the very beginning of the creation process, being aware of all those things, being aware of disabled users, of passive users, of non-human personas, of all the environmental stakeholders, like from the very beginning of how users actually need this product to be and how they interact with the product we're creating, then we can build truly meaningful and valuable digital product instead of just creating something that might be helpful for some and might be horrible and frustrating for others. This is often the case. Um, another aspect that I often see is that putting in the extra work for the business side is hard. And lately I've been at a meetup and there was some discussion point about wi ux UI designers need to be. Involved in. Business strategy, business modeling, and where there's like true potential for creating a sustainable business from the ground up. And in some projects, you have the ability to go deeper into the business side and business strategy, business model things. In some projects, you just don't, because then you just create a small little website for a solopreneur, and you don't have the ability to go into the business side. And that's okay. And when you have use it, I know it's a lot of extra work and it's a lot of extra advocacy and being very patient, communicating a lot, promoting sustainable design a lot and fighting a lot eventually as well. And that brings me to a point that is very challenging and frustrating. Advocacy in general for anything that you feel very passionate about and still might be a niche, it's hard. You have to have a lot of strength and it can be tiring and I know that feeling. So I feel for you. With you, I've been there. But it's so worth it. It is so extremely worth it. I know as with every other new topic, it needs time, it needs effort, it needs consistency. But it's worth it for people and for nature. It really is. And one episode I published earlier this year is about how sustainable design is a marathon, not a sprint. And it's still true. Some things work extremely fast. For some we need an extra load of patience and that is the biggest challenge. I feel like of it all, bringing all of those things together, bringing time, bringing budget, bringing hierarchies, teamwork, advocacy for sustainable UX, UI design and shifting workflows, shifting thinking models, shifting mindsets and bringing new skill sets into the company, the agency, or just the project you are involved in. It is challenging, but I see a tremendous value in it. As I've been in this realm of sustainable design in the last five years, more than five years, and there is a huge shift and more people talking about the topic that I see that we can actually have an impact if we continue talking about it, if we continue communicating about it, and I see it from small businesses to huge corporations having sustainable design task forces and time set apart for this topic or different topics. So when we continue talking about it, we can change this industry. We can all together change this industry. So I think those challenges and frustrations are worth it, although not every day it seems like it. But believe me, it is worth it. And in the end, we just built way better products than we have ever before. And although we might still face challenges and frustrations, we do it for humans, for real people who will have better experience, for passive users who will have no negative impacts, and for nature and the climate. Luckily, there is many awesome projects, days or even just moments that make it all worthwhile and sustainable. UX UI design is an amazing field I wouldn't want to miss, I really wouldn't. So this was a very true and honest podcast episode. I still hope I didn't demotivate you, but just brought some. Just some nodding to you about. Yeah, yeah, I've seen that. Yes, I've experienced that. So just know you're not the only one. There's many more of us who encounter those challenges, encountered those frustrations. And please feel free to share yours on my Instagram or LinkedIn post about this podcast episode today. I really would love to know that I'm not alone either. I mean, I know that I'm not because I hear so many other people talking about that, but still, it just sometimes feels good to know we're all in the same boat. We're fighting for the same things, and we all believe in the same positive impact we can make. And knowing that we need to shift this industry to be a more sustainable one. Just a little recap. We talked about budget, about time, about decision makers who have their own ideas about the direction that is often chosen before design work even happens, about hierarchies, team dependencies, which might be also lack of team members or relying on other people or frustrating team members. We talked about sustainable design often being an afterthought, and that putting in the extra work for a business strategy and business models is very hard, but when we have the chance, we should use it. And the challenge of advocacy and of bringing new ideas, new knowledge into your company, your agency, your team, your project. That is what we talked about in this episode, just as a little recap.

I hope you still got some inspiration from this podcast episode, although it was a different one than usual, and there are some tips and tricks that I shared between the lines, so I hope you notice them and then subscribe to the Green Web Podcast. It's a podcast where 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. This would really mean a ton to me and visit me on or via Instagram or LinkedIn at Green the Web. I'm happy to hear about your thoughts on today's episode, to connect with you. To read from you, I really do. I really, really do love to read from you. Whether that's a personal message that you send me or whether it's a comment you write below one of those posts and then see you in the next episode.

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