Illustration by Natasha Remarchuk from Icons8

1. Smart defaults 

This is a level up from the “understand your user” I mentioned in the tips for UI/UX designers. If you work on larger and longer projects you already have good knowledge of the behaviours of your users. Be predictive of their actions and offer them defaults that will most probably suit them. And include shortcuts for you power users or frequent users who already have the knowledge of your product and use it daily. Or design a solution that can predict the smarter. defaults for you. Of course it’s little bit more complicated, but it will pay off, again multiple times. By better usability, effectivity and smaller environmental footprint of course

2. Do proper Content Design 

And do it first. If you work with any kind of content (majority of us do) be very conscious about what content is most important to your users and in which context. Create your designs and interactions around and with the content not the other way around. If content design is not something you use or come across frequently, or if you need a good primer I recommend Content Design by Sarah Richards or Content Strategy for the Web by K. Halvorson, it will show you how to do this stuff properly.

3. Use your unique position. 

I think this is probably one of the most important tips or suggestions I can give you. Almost anyone can influence the general and generic stuff. How much power you use, if you recycle, what kind of transport do you use. But you - you as a designer have a unique position. You are an expert on the stuff you help to create. You have influence on how some niche of an industry or market works and you can change stuff! Be the expert and do the small steps or improvements that can translate to bigger impact. Just to give you an example:

I work in design of Content Management Systems. I know how messy it can be and how much (sometimes) unnecessary complexity it can add. But it’s me who’s in the best position to do something about it. I can design changes that allow people to reuse most of the content they produce and that means there will be less and less unique instances of it used, and less and less of clutter and traffic generated. Know the complex systems you’re creating and what’s your position in them. And change stuff. Maybe openly and transparently, or maybe do it guerilla style and sell your sustainable solutions packaged with improved performance or decreased costs and tell no-one about your true goal. This is the most impact you as a person can make.

4. Take formal responsibility. 

Product (-oriented) designers love to measure stuff and track progress on various quantitative metrics. Add one or two more. Create a sustainability or eco-connected KPI or Key Result. If you’re not sure where to start, first identify the impact your product might have. There’s quite a lot of exercises and techniques which can help you. For example futures/futuring techniques or Black Mirror exercises. Actually the last one is quite interesting - basically it’s a group exercises /preferably for a group of designers) where you explore the worst possible scenarios and impacts your product or feature might have on social, psychological or environmental level. It’s quite funny and useful thing to do now and then. But if you want to follow more precise and rigorous route, dive into the world of LCAs or lifecycle assessments. LCAs come from the world of physical design and circular economy and they’re quite helpful framework to asses the various direct or transitive impacts of a product during its lifetime. It’s quite complex, and to be honest it’s easier to do for a car or a cellphone than for a digital product but there are ways and techniques to do it right. If you’d like to know more I recommend book by Tim Frick - Design for sustainability. Some things from the book might look outdated by now, but the approach to LCAs of digital products is still good and valid. LCA is not something easy to do and it can gain complexity quite quickly, but if you go for it it’s kind of sign that you mean it and you’re serious about your impact and its mitigation.

5. Eco friendly options or defaults. 

If you spend any time evaluating and assessing your impact why not use the insight directly in your product? During the evaluation you won’ find just the various kinds of impact your product have, but also big opportunities and possible leverage points you can use. Try to include them in the product. Or even better make them the default options for your user. For example: If you work in e-commerce solutions make the least impactful shipping method the default one. If you work in transportation services include the option not just for smallest amount of transfers or cheapest price but also for the most ecological option of travel (most direct, using the least polluting carrier or mode of transport, etc…) when user searches for connections. Show users not just the financial cost but also the emission load of their purchase. You probably already have something in mind. As I mentioned - you’re the experts on your system.

6. Be wary of offsets. Don’t slip to greenwashing.

I said “Show users the emission load of their purchase”, right? Every now and then you see some prompt to compensate for the carbon footprint caused by your purchase by donating to a climate related charity, or you see that some company supports some foundation or has a program dedicated to plant some trees once per year. Sure offsets are nice, they buy the user clean conscience. They’ve done at least something, right? The same goes for organisations. And many times it’s the organisations that pollute the most or that bear the biggest deal of moral responsibility who pushes and advertise their offsets the most. Well isn’t this fishy? This is exactly what we call Greenwashing. Someone who can make the true systemic change just flashing a minor or even symbolic gesture to send a signal that “they care about the planet ”. I’m not saying all offsets are bad. They are a nice part of the mix of solutions you can use to mitigate your impact. You can even build whole product and company around it and it would make sense - such as for example Ecosia - the search engine using most of their revenue to re-forest parts of the tropic region.