Welcome in the Age of Green

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As we begin to feel a sense of relief that the Age of Aesthetic appeal (thank you iPhone) has finally arrived where touch, sight, and colour also mattered, we are being reminded that we cannot become too complacent. Ux is currently undergoing a silent rebirth that will see massive changes in our focus as practitioners. We have entered the Age of Sustainability and Eco-ethical Awareness – also loosely referred to as “Green.”

Is it a fad?

In my last post I was thrilled to see the visceral reaction of some of my industry colleagues on having a conviction about Usability being a commodity. As someone still practicing and who feels passionate about what I do I welcome a change in approach to UX – a rebirth. Usability, I uphold from the outside looking in, is commodified. The impression that anyone can do it is simply the reality. I again uphold: “No, not everyone can do it.” But sometimes our cues must be taken from impressions that others have of us and and not where we think we are.

The same holds true for the many overworked designers who are being asked to generate wireframes and proofs of concept as if there was no thought to the process. Moving into the age where Functionality and Aesthetics are now married, it is even more difficult to separate traditional usability from design and to say that one isn’t commoditize and the other is so.

The curve ball is now thrown when we now welcome yet another traveller on the road to UX journey. That traveller is Sustainable Design. Call it “green” or “eco ethical” but it is here to stay.

So what does this mean for the field of UX?

With this new paradigm shift, the need to understand how UX practitioners should support this evolution is critical. A more strategic positioning of UX and open dialog on the future of UX is critical. We need to become key drivers in the age of Sustainability and Eco-ethical Awareness,

Consumers have changed along with the global landscape. A recent US Forrester poll indicates that there are growing green concerns with about 25 million (approximately 12%) would pay more for green products with and growing 41%  who, while they are concerned can’t afford to pay more. Consider now – what if the cost of green products was more affordable? How then would design have to change to address a growing demand?

How can UX be roped into a “Cradle to Grave to Rebirth” approach of Product development? To first understand our many possibilities it is important that we have a good understanding of what it all means: “Green”, Sustainable, Eco-ethical awareness” and the fadish lingo that has us all clutching at air. I use the terms interchangeably and borrow from many existing definitions:

In the context of User Experience, “sustainable design” is the philosophy of designing products, space and or services, to comply with the principles of economic, ecological social, and cultural sustainability. In driving the ideas home in our respective companies we need however to think of it as:

strategy that ensures the UX field survives, thrives and evolves by following emerging trends that connects end user research to product design and overall user experience

The goal of sustainable design is to “eliminate negative environmental impact completely through skillful and sensitive design” – the idea that products must aim at being recyclable. A product designed with these new principles should work towards a model of cradle to grave to rebirth.

The applications of sustainable design philosophy range from the design on just about everything from small every day products to larger architecture structure to urban and planning, engineering, graphic, interaction and industrial design. Theses ideals of sustainable design principles also received a great thrust of attention from Janine Benyus’s theories on Biomimicry – a new discipline that studies nature and how we can use designs in nature to imitate and solve designs problems.

Why should we care as Ux practitioners?

From usability to sustainabilityIn the future we need to be closely integrated across design and research teams to address the new challenges that we face as experience designers. There are many factors that will drive the need for tighter alliances across Ux:

1. Increasing consumer focus on sustainable practices is a trend that favours growth in sustainable customer experience management and the need for advisory and consulting services where User Research can play a role based on previous understanding of users in general.

2. Increasing compliance and regulatory requirements will create an opportunity for designers to drive insightful solutions based on informed research. Embracing this will provide tremendous advantage to those innovative companies that buy in early.

3. Significant opportunity to take share with a focus on sustainable customer experience services, integrated with managing brand perception and a focus on the bottom line.

It is expected in the next few years, as we all come to terms with understanding our role in the Green era, new methodologies, frameworks and ideas will come together to provide exciting possibilities. Currently many of us are in the stage of thought and processing of our new realities. We must collectively and openly discuss the scope of engagement as we forge ahead, with less pliability and more strategic approach. Ultimately our contribution must be tied into the bottom-line.

Top image by Micky

Kem Kramer

Kem-Laurin is a User Experience Strategist, Innovator and Dreamer of Solutions; she is also author of User Experience in the Age of Sustainability: A Practitioner’s Blueprint and a pioneer of formal User Experience research practice at Research in Motion (makers of the Blackberry). She currently works at Autodesk as the User Experience Design Manager for Online/Mobile Team. In her spare, you can find her at home with her two young boys or weeding her perennial garden – two of her passions.

4 comments on this article

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  3. I think what we’ll find in the not-too-distant future is the green concept mixing into just the way things are done, sans adjective.

    Design that is green, sustainable, forever ongoing and in harmony with the planet is a theme we can observe in many cultures over millennia, but it would not permit the scale we’ve managed to achieve in the West in the last 500 or so years.

    Indeed, we have managed to create a space in which we could ignore what was essentially intuition and folk wisdom in favour of empirically-observable phenomena. That we are once again interested in so-called sustainability reflects in part our crowding, but also our capacity to model the entire system, making it difficult not to empathize.

  4. Damon on

    I don’t think that “green design” as you describe it here is really something that interaction designers will ever own or really contribute to. In the world of digital products, the itneraction layer is becoming more and more separate from the physical layer, which is really the only place where meaningful greening takes place. In physical interactions (ATMs, Electronic Devices) the role of the interaction designer very rarely includes any mandate to work towards sustainable overal design. That’s the role of the industrial designer. Trying to take that on from an IxD point of view would be seen as wasteful to most organizations who already have specialists for that task if they care to pursue the green concept. The third tract, that is communicating the value of green, is already becoming commoditized anyway, and it’s not really something interaction designers do anyway, more often being the duty of visual designers (when visual elements need green identity themes) and marketers (who’s job it is to communicate product value through a direct channel).

    I like the idea being kicked around here, but I don’t think it is the next step in the world of interaction design. If so, we’re already behind the curve. I also fail to see how this has anything to do, funamentally, with interactions (aside from imparting a vague sense that the product being used is not bad for the environment). We’re all passionate about certain issues, we all have our pet imperatives, green evolution being a potentially large one, but that doesn’t mean we can inject it into our work and pretend that we somehow own the concept or that the concept is really part of our job. If we think that education needs to change, our job isn’t to highlight the value of education in every interaction we design. If we think that we need fiscal discipline on a national level, our job isn’t to engage the user of our products with the value of understanding debt and fiscal liability.

    So to sum up, I appreciate the thought, might even agree on the value of green in general, but fail to see how this is a realistic next-step in our field. It seems like an ancilary concern, and not something that can really help define or change our practice.

    Just my thoughts.