#DESIGN

How designers can help deal with climate change

Global warming and climate change are probably the most common words that come up in the conversation these days. Our current situation is indeed alarming as we’ve done huge damage to our planet and in certain scenarios, it’s too late to reverse our actions.

Good news — there’s still hope. For instance, beginning a dialogue around climate change, changing our lifestyle and becoming aware of our choices can help us reduce the impact of human intervention on our planet.

We want to make big changes but overlook that small steps could be an antidote to this problem. Look at it this way- we can’t refill our fossil fuel reserves but we can choose eco-friendly options, and make fuels last a little longer.

How designers can help deal with climate change

One hour of electricity saving isn’t going to help us. But imagine an hour of electricity saving by 7.5 Billion people, together. That sounds like an incredible Earth hour!

However, we must also understand that not everyone is in a position to contribute. There are some limitations like-

  • It’s difficult to inspire everyone to act towards protecting the climate. We resist change and it’s incredibly difficult to understand that a small change in our habits can help our planet. Like, it’s hard to understand how the proverbial butterfly flapping her wings in NY can cause a tornado in Texas.
  • To help people make a shift to more sustainable options, we need to offer alternate options. For example, if eating meat harms our environment, then what are the other food options we can switch to? 

This is exactly where, I believe, designers play a crucial role. How? 

Out of the 7.5 Billion population, nearly 4.4 Billion people have access to the internet which we use for browsing or using web/mobile apps to accomplish tasks. However, we tend to forget that like everything else, the internet is powered by data centers and power stations that need a 24-hour uninterrupted supply of electricity. Thus, in hindsight, there is a carbon footprint associated with every interaction we make on the internet. Even for reading this blog post!

That’s why I feel that if designers can infuse options which help reduce the impact of usage of internet/phone (and eventually electricity consumption), the 4.4 Billion people can be the potential change-makers.

Intrigued to know how designers can do that? 

Choose your color palette wisely

Choose-your-color-palette-wisely

It might be a little difficult to believe but it’s true that the colors that you choose to include in your design come with a carbon footprint. Many studies have shown that using dark colors uses less power than the bright colors as bright colors are more power-hungry. And this is true not just for pictures and illustrations, it’s also valid for themes and background colors of apps.

In almost all laptop and mobile displays (LED, LCD, OLED, AMOLED, etc.), the power consumption increases with the brightness of the screen. Even Google acknowledged it and had implemented a dark theme for YouTube to increase battery life.

So next time, you’re choosing your color palette, consider choosing darker colors. It’s possible that you wouldn’t always be able to choose a darker theme/colors because of your brand guidelines. But one option that you can explore is giving users an option to switch to a darker theme.

Pay attention to the performance of your app

Pay-attention-to-the-performance-of-your-app

Environmentalists often encourage people to switch off their appliances when they aren’t using them. For example, turning off water tap while brushing your teeth, switching off your car engine at red lights, switching off fans and ACs before stepping out of the room.

Similarly, designers can use techniques for creating designs that consume less battery. Performance of an app should be one of the biggest focus areas for a designer. The faster the app, the lesser the memory usage, and the CPU cycles, the lesser would be the battery consumption. Lesser the battery consumption, lesser the charging, which leads to saving the planet. One charging cycle at a time. Phew! 

One technique could be to use fewer animations via micro-interactions. I know what you’re thinking- microinteractions are great, they help engage the user and create a better user experience. But only when they’re designed with the best practices, the right intent and at the right place. Too many micro-interactions just for the sake of creativity not only spoils the user experience but also drains the battery life.

Another design technique could be to not overload your UI with too many images, and intricate styling. 

So next time you’re tempted to use high-resolution images or overload your UI with too many micro-interactions, try and find the local maxima between Microinteractions and battery life. Test your UI with and without too many animations and look at the battery drainage pattern.

Find an alternative to push notifications

Find-an-alternative-to-push-notifications

We need constant reminders to complete our tasks. Our attention span is lesser than that of a Goldfish and without push notifications, we’d probably miss important tasks like filing tax forms, paying electricity bills, or maybe, breathing. 

But what you might not know is that push notifications consume battery too. The notification automatically generates a message and notifies about things that need one’s attention. Behind the scenes, these messages are first fetched from the App’s server and then carried back to your phone. Obviously, this requires internet usage (read: electricity) as well as battery consumption.

So as a designer, it’s you who need to question- does my app need this functionality? What are other ways to prompt users to complete this task? Even if it’s absolutely necessary, designers must think about only the critical flows that require such notifications.

Give eco-friendly nudges to users, if applicable

Imagine yourself in this situation- you’re booking a cab to reach a nearby shopping complex. You book a cab via Uber and before your booking is confirmed it shows you a notification which says 

“The location you’ve entered is just a few minutes walk from your place. Do you still want to take the cab?” 

UI design which prompts users for more eco friendly options
Of course, Uber would have to find a way to make sure that you can walk.

Or, another situation could be- shopping websites nudging its users with a simple notification like this-

“Opt for a “No-hurry delivery”- We have received bulk orders from people in the same area as yours. If you aren’t in a hurry to receive your order, help us reduce ‘deliver same-day carbon footprint’ by opting for no-hurry delivery”. 

UI design which prompts users for more eco friendly options

They can even give a minimal cashback, discount, or merely display a message that how the users are helping to make the planet green again. 

When users know their simple acts of patience can help make the planet better, they are likely to choose such options.

Cure Fit has implemented this in their mobile app. It asks users if they would like to receive cutlery with their food. However, here the eco-nudge reminds them about reusing their cutlery and if they choose to do that, the app offers a small discount as a token of appreciation. How thoughtful!

Curefit gives environment friendly options

Applaud users when they opt for eco-friendly options

The Nissan Leaf is an EV vehicle and has an “Eco-indicator” in the dashboard display. This indicator displays how economically you’re driving your vehicle. It’s monitored by the accelerator pedal operation, brake pedal operation, driving conditions, traffic conditions,  and heater and air conditioner usage.

Nissan Leaf's Eco-indicator

So, when you’re driving, you can check your Eco-Drive level and change your driving style or operation of vehicle accessories to reduce the power consumption of the vehicle. 

If you’re driving well, the trees start growing on the display, indicating that you’re doing a good job. It’s a great example of how product designers can help deal with climate change by giving apt visual indicators to users.

Similarly, UX/UI designers can help create UI interactions that motivate users to do their bit in saving the environment. Or, if they’re already doing their bit, designers must motivate them to continue doing what they’re doing. 

An example of this is Ecosia. Ecosia is a free search engine that uses its profit to plant trees around the world. But how do we know it really does? 

Ecosia

Ecosia shows the counter on its home page about how many trees they’ve planted so far and keeps the messaging clear at each step- “Search the web to plant trees”

It also shows a personal counter on the top right corner with a small tree icon which indicates the number of searches you’ve performed so far and how many trees have you contributed to the planet.

Ecosia tells users how many trees have been planted by you


 

There is a famous quote by Helen Keller- Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

We have this opportunity to work towards creating a better world through our designs. The power of visual communication can’t be overstated and I hope we understand the role we can play towards creating a better future.

I would love to hear from you if you’ve created any designs or used any techniques which have helped in creating a positive impact on our environment. I would love to see your work and spread the word about it. 

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