Paul Hill by Paul Hill

Building for sustainability: How to design accessible and thoughtful digital products

  • Accessibility
  • Ethical Design
  • Sustainability

Sustainability is more important than ever in 2021 — even when designing for the digital. 

The pandemic has increased many people’s concern over how human activity affects the environment, with 70% of respondents to a BCG survey claiming that they feel more aware of it now than before the arrival of COVID-19. 

You might not think about design when you see the word “sustainability”, but guess what? Sustainable digital design is a thing. 

And it can make a positive difference to our impact on the world. Let’s take a closer look.

What’s important for sustainable digital design?

Sustainability is a big word (and we don’t just mean the number of syllables packed into it). It covers multiple areas, from the ethics of the production process to the carbon footprint they create. But it also applies to inclusion and accessibility — both of which are critical in design when one billion people in the world live with some sort of disability

As people who live and breathe design, we need to think about our digital products’ lifecycles to bring relevant, high-quality content to the right people at the right time. 

We need to do this in an ethical, compassionate way. Particularly with removing barriers to access and consuming as few of the planet’s invaluable resources as we can.

So, think about users who rely on screen readers, hearing aids, or other technologies to access content regardless of their disability. 

Designing digital products that accommodate and embrace all users is paramount.

Building digital products with a low carbon footprint

Yup, that’s right — carbon footprints matter even for digital products! 

Think we’re nuts? Not so. The world’s data centres devour enough electricity to power all of Great Britain and still have some left over!

So, what can we do?

  • Reduce the amount of energy users waste searching pages — help them find what they need when they need it.
  • Videos require more processing power and energy to run, so use them sparingly and keep them concise.
  • Reduce the amount of JavaScript used to decrease strain on CPU usage and energy consumption.
  • Pay attention to font usage in design, as complex fonts add file weight to websites and contribute to power consumption.
  • Don’t go overboard with images — like video, they consume more power, so use them carefully to make a bigger impact.

The power of ethical design

Like sustainability, ethical design is an umbrella term in website design. Ethical web apps should:

  • Be accessible to all.
  • Incorporate inclusive features. 
  • Respect user privacy and security. 
  • Tell users how their data is utilised. 

Another key ethical concern? Offshore digital product development. 

Yes, you can save money thanks to lower salaries in less-developed countries, but workers might not always be fairly compensated and companies may not use the most eco-friendly practices. 

Think carefully and do your research before you sign on the dotted line with offshore providers. 

Taking a design-led approach to digital products

Want to create digital products that deliver exactly what your audience needs? Thunk transforms businesses with a passionate design-led approach and builds better digital experiences.