1. Define the must haves and eliminate the non-essential

The sooner we start, right from the definition of the need, design specifications, and the prototyping, the bigger reduction on the environmental impact can be.

Frédéric Bordage, Ecodesign / the 115 best practices (translated from the French)

Before you start the design phase, it is crucial to accurately evaluate the needs to avoid adding unnecessary capabilities. Around 45% of capabilities are never used, and 70% are not essential (Ecodesign / the 115 best practices - French). The definition of the needs is therefore a critical phase and must be conducted with the project stakeholders.

Eco-design is a global approach of continuous improvement. Its main goal is the decrease of environmental impacts, reached through different means among which digital sobriety. One of the key elements of eco-design is the functional unit.

The functional unit represents the main task of your service and often corresponds to a user goal. For example : “Buying a concert ticket”, “Watching an online video”, "watching a 5 min long video on a smartphone through 4G", “Looking for a phone number”, "talking for 20 min with a visio tool", "booking a medical appointment from a personal computer"...

Questions to ask yourself

The first need to assess is whether the digital service itself is necessary:

  • Is a digital service required to offer this service?
  • Is there any non-digital solutions which could meet with this need? (see: 7. Go further)

One can then wonder about the other needs to define:

  • What are the real needs of this functional unit?
  • Does the added value of the service justifies the resource consumption required by its creation? Do we create more value than we destroy?
  • Is this capability really necessary? Can we do it differently?
  • What would happen if we didn’t have it?
  • What is the minimal quantity which fulfills the user needs? Number of results, image resolution, sound quality, video length...

Example of non-essential capability

The BBC podcast service offers two choices of download: “Higher quality” and “Lower quality”.

By default, if we don’t know the impact of one or the other, we would choose the “Higher quality” option which is 2 times heavier. And we can’t hear the difference between the two with standard speakers or headphones.

The functional unit for this service would be: “Download the podcast” and not “Download the podcast in high or low quality”.

We could eliminate this non-essential capability altogether and only keep one download option: the lower quality one, without calling it that way!

BBC Podcast page with a Download button Page and 2 download options “Higher quality” and “Lower quality”

The necessary role of user experience (Green UX)

We call Green UX the action of remaining focused on the real needs and expectations of the user in order to limit his or her environmental impact. Eco-designing eventually boils down to applying the fundamental principles of user-centric design, which have often been perverted for business purposes.

Getting the essential user needs covered is not at the expense of the user experience, on the contrary. An example to illustrate this principle is the comparison between the Google search bar and the Yahoo! homepage: one displays only a logo and a simple field, whereas the other overloads the page with weather forecasts, news, ads and other useless information (without even mentioning the number of server requests sent to load such a page).

These 2 extreme examples both answer the same need of displaying a search bar but with two very different UX approaches. The first one is more efficient in terms of fulfilled needs but also the most appreciated by the users. Other more privacy-friendly search engines, such as Qwant or Duck Duck Go, also resort to this kind of simple UX.

Going for a "greener" UX impacts the whole development process of the digital service:

  • the decision-making process regarding the interface
  • the choice of components and features
  • the navigation path.

Green UX therefore affects the UX and UI design, but also the development, the update and the maintenance of the service. This is why it is essential to focus on delivering a sober and efficient user experience if one wants to decrease the overall environmental impact of the service.

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Come talk with us on https://slack.designersethiques.org, channel #projet_ecoconception.

Authors of the guide: Aurélie Baton and Anne Faubry.