Sustainable UX design: saving the environment with smarter websites

We know to turn the lights off when we leave a room. We know not to print that email unless it’s imperative. But there’s a massive carbon footprint that we don’t notice, and it’s getting bigger.

The carbon footprint of the internet is huge and often overlooked. We have been designing and launching increasingly energy-demanding websites since the creation of the world wide web. Now, we need to make the right choices to reduce the energy use of our websites through design.

Incorporating sustainable design into our websites not only looks to saving the environment but improving the user experience to boot. So, how can sustainable UX design curb our websites’ appetite for energy?



Environmentally unfriendly

Data is the culprit behind the monster carbon footprint of our websites. It takes energy to download, store, share and retrieve. The more data on your website, the more energy it takes for visitors to use your website. So, lots of data means a big carbon footprint.

Consumer devices aren’t the only culprit of energy consumption by data storage and retention. Website data is stored on server farms, which need to be on 24/7, and kept cool with air conditioning. For this reason, companies like Google are swapping to green hosting, powering their server farms with renewable energy. But we can do more to make our websites eco-friendly.

To start cutting down on the energy consumption of websites, we need to start shedding the excess kilobytes of data fattening our pages. The best place to start is by incorporating sustainable UX design.



UX design to the rescue

The way that websites are designed to work can make a difference. By reducing the time needed to browse our sites, the amount of data that needs to be stored and retrieved, and optimising loading speed, we make websites that are more environmentally friendly.

Sustainable websites don’t come at the cost of user experience, either. Bad user experience, surprisingly, isn’t a necessary evil to improve website sustainability. Lighter websites that are quicker to load and to navigate are clear experience boons.

In fact, poor UX could be a sign that your website is eco-unfriendly. By improving your UX design, you improve your website sustainability too. It’s win-win. So, what sustainable UX design features can you implement to improve the carbon footprint of your website?



Content findability

Content findability refers to how easy it is for website visitors to find any page of your content. The more pages a user is forced to load to find the article, information or item they’re looking for, the less sustainable your website.

More page loads mean more data being downloaded, and more energy being used. This data isn’t even what the user is looking for, meaning that energy is wasted on a bad user experience. Good findability is both good ethics and good UX. While the environment is benefitting from the accumulation of small energy savings, users are getting a slick, efficient experience.

Sustainable UX design means making it possible – and easy – to reach content by going through a minimal number of page loads.



Improving findability

Sustainable UX design tips to help improve the findability of your content include:

  • Clearly labelled menus

A complex menu trips website visitors up at the first step. Make your navigation menu clear, well-structured and easy to find. Find out what your visitors most want to access from your site, and put those areas and options on your menu. A clear, accessible menu is the first step to improving the findability of your content.

  • Clear and helpful categories and subcategories

Dividing your content into logical categories and subcategories streamline the content location experience. Instead of wasting energy and data searching through pages, visitors can select the topic relevant to them – meaning the data they download is of interest, not wasted.

  • Easy to find and use search function

Having a clear search function on the front page of your website means that users can directly locate the exact content they want, without loading excess pages.



Optimising sustainable performance

The performance of your website is another factor that not only improves the sustainability of your website, but the user experience too. Specifically, you can use sustainable UX design to optimise the loading speed of your web pages.

Optimising page load speed means that less processing power is used to load your website. As well as saving energy, faster load speeds reduce bounce rates by quickly giving users the content they want. So, fast loading means an efficient user experience that offers near-instant gratification.

And, as another bonus, using sustainable UX design to improve page load speed could potentially have positive effects on your SEO efforts. Google seems to like pages that load quickly.



Obtaining speedy sustainability

There are many sustainable UX design methods that can help reduce the loading times of your website.

  • Enable browser caching

Enabling browser caching for return visitors allows a browser to quickly retrieve your website data from a local cache. Without browser caching, data must be downloaded all over again from the web server, which takes longer and consumes more energy.

  • Optimise your images

By reducing image sizes and the pixel count of your images, you can reduce the amount of data that needs to be downloaded to display images on your site. It’s possible to do this without reducing picture quality by using online apps and services.

  • Remove unnecessary elements

Lots of extras stuck onto your site can drastically reduce the load speed and increase the amount of data your site needs. So, be sure to remove excess add-ons from your site. Regularly analysing the value of plug-ins, media and little-used features leads to a clear, uncluttered UI and less data to load.



Sustainable UX design

It’s time to stop overlooking the environmental effects of our websites and internet use. As we continue toward a more digitally connected world, it’s important that we incorporate sustainable UX design to curb our energy consumption.

Sustainable UX design means smarter, more efficient websites, a better UX, and a ‘greener’ internet. So, is it time your website shed a few excess kilobytes?


Useful links

Tech assumptions make an ass of your users

Feature creep: everything but the kitchen sink. Is your software guilty?

UX terminology: is it time we dropped the term ‘users’?