Making innovation sustainable with user-centric technology

By Freddie Eastham
User experience designers will focus on consumers when building tech functions, but how will the sustainability mindset shift the way they develop software

When we discuss “making innovation accessible in the sustainability sector,” we mean designing apps, services, and websites that the general public will want to access and use. This can be achieved using user-centric technology.

Innovation is an integral part of social, economic, and technological growth and prosperity. But specific paths to innovation isolate large groups of people that could be useful to have on our side. 

UX designers have a unique opportunity to help today’s consumers make smarter decisions. Technological innovations have to be accessible to everyone and here’s why:

A large portion of sustainable software is used by people who are already environmentally conscious. For this reason, continuing to create software and services through the same methods used up to this point would keep the circle closed. 

A UX designer must put the general consumer at the centre of innovation to make it more accessible. General consumers want information that is quick and easy to understand. That’s what they should be provided with if we hope to deliver a greener future through sustainable software development.

Why it’s important to balance sustainable innovation and UX

Yes, solely focusing on innovation brings about progress, but only a limited one. If innovation isn’t accompanied by accessibility, it sabotages itself right at its core. 

Generally, one of the main goals of software development is to make apps or services attractive to a broad audience. The only exception here would be professional programs used in specific industries, which require years of education or expertise. 

We can often see this trend in the advertisements like ForEx trading ads, for example. The massively complex currency trading process was boiled down to its bare essentials to draw in as many people as possible. 

These predatory apps should indeed be discussed, and there is undoubtedly a place online for this discussion. 

What this example served to do, however, is draw attention to the ever-rising importance of implementing accessibility in software development to remain afloat on the market. It’s becoming imperative, one might argue.

The designer’s role in sustainable UX 

UX can serve to inform users about the different ways of becoming sustainable. But to help consumers understand just how their choices affect the environment, UX design needs to be more general public-friendly. 

That means relying on our knowledge of how the average user thinks and wants.

We know that customers want easily accessible and reliable products and services. Any tool which makes the shopping process more difficult - or longer - than it has to be is out of the picture. 

The average consumer needs clear, immediate information that they can use to make a purchasing decision quickly. As one might imagine, a detailed CO2 tracking app probably won’t achieve the desired effect.

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) could potentially allow consumers more agency in online shopping. By presenting available information about the supply chain and allowing consumers to rank it in comparison to other products of the same category, it’s possible to facilitate long-term user engagement.

The issue here would be the lack of back-end information. In other words, many big companies don’t have transparent supply chains. Due to this lack of transparency, collecting valid and accurate data to present to users is challenging. 

And that’s where the question of possible government incentives and regulations to provide such information arises.

Leveraging behavioural design to promote sustainability

There are mixed opinions regarding behavioural design as a tool to promote sustainability. After all, the end goals of such practices are objectively beneficial on a global scale. 

Yet, it’s the subtle manipulation of consumers that poses questions regarding ethics.

We firmly believe this to be an unproductive way of framing the issue. It creates a problem that doesn’t necessarily have to exist.

To put it simply, it’s not about controlling people’s actions in favour of someone else’s goals or maliciously influencing their purchasing habits, quite the contrary.

Consumers should be helped achieve their goals through behavioural design to promote sustainability.

That is where software developers have a unique opportunity. For example, they can combine our preference for absorbing visual information with shopping deals and present sustainable alternatives to everyday products.

Even now, there are plenty of browser extensions serving this cause: 

Non-intrusive and straightforward tools help users find cheaper deals on products they’re looking for and provide environmentally-conscious alternatives to those products.

Examples of sustainable UX innovation

We know that consumers prefer products, services, and, ultimately, software that makes their everyday activities easier and cost-efficient. We also know that UX design can guide them into making smarter decisions.

Browser extensions like Beagle Button or Finch are catching the attention of many online users. Beagle Button, for example, gives users ethical alternatives to products that customers are searching for online. It also provides the option to individually set the criteria the user finds most important such as workers’ rights, lower emissions or waste, and even animal welfare.

On a grander scale, the electric vehicle industry is considered one of the most crucial actors in CO2 reduction. Its software developers are making giant leaps forward in solving pollution and making the transition to electric vehicles more attractive.

They do this, in part, by developing apps that sync to one’s vehicle and display all the relevant information simply and elegantly. It is calculated in advance which routes will consume the least amount of energy and which charging stations will be available along the way. 

The end result is a seamless, environmentally friendly, and cost-efficient experience — one that we could see popularised worldwide, hopefully soon.

The Final Word

We have more opportunities than ever before to guide people towards greener consumption. We’re not just idly standing by, either. Each day brings about new improvements in the sustainability sector that paint a brighter picture of tomorrow. 

But we can’t do this alone.

Ease of access, simplicity, and reliability have proved crucial in further development. In order to invite a more significant number of people, we simply need to show that sustainability isn’t a hobby, nor a pipe dream, but a practical solution that improves our daily lives.

• Join global business leaders and sustainability experts taking meaningful action at Sustainability LIVE, held at Tobacco Dock, London, 23-24 February 2022. Register to attend today! Click here to learn more


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