Does Sustainable Interaction Design Exist?

11 Apr 2006 - 3:15pm
8 years ago
9 replies
2569 reads
Michael Jones
2006

Google tells me it doesn't. But I'm convinced that there have to be
certain principles that interaction designers can follow that are
more environmentally friendly than others. I work at a product design
company filled with designers looking to develop products that are
less damaging and more environmentally friendly, but for the most
part, interaction designers are stuck on the sidelines developing
interfaces and screens that don't have any of the material or
manufacturing choices of industrial designers. This has been
frustrating-- I hate feeling like I'm rearranging deck chairs on the
Titanic.

Obviously, the most environmentally friendly product we can create is
no product at all, and often interaction design is better at this
than industrial design when we are able to turn a product into a
service. I'm going to go ahead and make a sweeping generalization
that interaction design is more sustainable than other forms of
design, but I refuse to believe that our work is done and we simply
need to keep doing what we're doing. Shouldn't user-centered design
take into account the user benefits of sustainable design?

Do we resist putting "print" buttons on websites? Do we aim for
smaller applications because down the road this means less storage
devices and less electricity used to transport all those bytes?
Should our sustainable concerns focus on social issues, like the
social benefits of community software, universal information access,
and self-empowerment? Should we be building power consumption meters
into every product's interface?

What are the best practices of sustainable interaction design?

Mike Jones
Interaction Designer
Smart Design

Comments

12 Apr 2006 - 12:48am
sajid saiyed
2005

Hi Mike,
I would be the first person to jump into this discussion.

You have initiated a great topic and also some of your thoughts on
sustainaable interaction design are thought provoking.

Let me start by saying that sustainablility, as it is widely known
today is dealing with material things, whereas here we are trying to
talk about is 'sustainable practices'.

But when I look at some of your suggestion, for exaxmple, 'resist
putting a print button'.
What happens when I need the same information again if I have not
printed it. I end up turning on my device or computer and hence end up
using more non-renuable resources like electricity.

Whereas if I print it, I am spending non-renuable resource just once,
paper on which I print can always be re-cycled....

I am not saying there cannot be a sustainable interaction design, but
probably I need to think on it more....

I will come back with more views later.

Sajid

On 4/12/06, Michael Jones <mjones at themethodnine.com> wrote:
> [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted material.]
>
> Google tells me it doesn't. But I'm convinced that there have to be
> certain principles that interaction designers can follow that are
> more environmentally friendly than others. I work at a product design
> company filled with designers looking to develop products that are
> less damaging and more environmentally friendly, but for the most
> part, interaction designers are stuck on the sidelines developing
> interfaces and screens that don't have any of the material or
> manufacturing choices of industrial designers. This has been
> frustrating-- I hate feeling like I'm rearranging deck chairs on the
> Titanic.
>
> Obviously, the most environmentally friendly product we can create is
> no product at all, and often interaction design is better at this
> than industrial design when we are able to turn a product into a
> service. I'm going to go ahead and make a sweeping generalization
> that interaction design is more sustainable than other forms of
> design, but I refuse to believe that our work is done and we simply
> need to keep doing what we're doing. Shouldn't user-centered design
> take into account the user benefits of sustainable design?
>
> Do we resist putting "print" buttons on websites? Do we aim for
> smaller applications because down the road this means less storage
> devices and less electricity used to transport all those bytes?
> Should our sustainable concerns focus on social issues, like the
> social benefits of community software, universal information access,
> and self-empowerment? Should we be building power consumption meters
> into every product's interface?
>
> What are the best practices of sustainable interaction design?
>
> Mike Jones
> Interaction Designer
> Smart Design
> ________________________________________________________________
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12 Apr 2006 - 1:04pm
Michael Jones
2006

I actually first suggested the removal of the print button to be kind
of provocative, but your response has got me thinking more. I
completely agree that its great to have an archived copy of a page
for looking at later or offline, but what if instead the button saved
a PDF to your desktop rather than launching you right to printing?
You'd still have your own copy of the document, you could still print
it if you absolutely had to, but we'd have provided a solution for
those people who simply just needed an offline local copy.

Typically we talk about improving onscreen legibility as a
usability issue, but what if instead we thought of it as an
environmental issue-- the better people can read stuff onscreen, the
less likely they are to print it out?

The energy trade-off is interesting, but its a slippery slope of
expanding system spheres. Is the energy used to print out that
papemake that printer, or recycle it more or less than the energy
used to turn on the computer? I think we could back and forth with
"your way uses more energy than mine" for a while, so perhaps we
should set it aside for now.

An interesting thought exercise...

Mike

12 Apr 2006 - 4:23pm
Nathan
2006

Gingerly stepping into this potential morass...

A good friend forwarded to me this discussion and I've subscribed to
the list in order to respond. I've been an interaction designer for
over 10 years and I'm finishing an MBA in sustainable management
(graduating in June) so I feel like I can competently add to this topic.

For starters, sustainability means a lot of things to different
people. Generally, however, it's not simply a replacement for "green"
or "eco" but refers to human and financial issues as well as
environmental ones. A great definition to start with is posted on the
homepage of a new dictionary of sustainable management terms just
launched here: http://www.sustainabilitydictionary.com

Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising
the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

One of the first things I learned about sustainability is that there
is no one, right answer. Complex systems, by definition, connect to
many issues and often create surprising interactions and conclusions
and, often, unintended consequences. A simple questions like "paper
or plastic" doesn't have a simple answer (one could adequately argue
either side).

This said, two principles that one can almost always count on helping
are: Less and Local. The less stuff created, consumed, or discarded,
the better (though this can't be taken to the extreme). The more
Local something is mode (and thus transported less), generally, the
better it is for the environment. However, as great as both of these
are for the environment, they can also have negative impacts on
financial and social systems--particularly if these systems aren't
ready for the change.

Other important developments in design include:
• Dematerialization (less)
• Transmaterialization (even less)
• Design for Environment (particularly in use of toxics and processes)
• Design for Disassembly (recyclable, etc.)
• Design for Reuse
• Take-back Programs
etc. (you can look up some of these in the dictionary)

It find it an interesting proposition to apply this approach to
interaction design. In general, electronic/computer-based systems and
services don't have nearly as big an impact as material ones though
they obviously have both an initial impact as well as an ongoing one
(power), as well as a disposal impact. Recently, there's been some
fascinating comparisons, for example, of the life-cycle costs
analyses of digital music downloads vs. buying CDs over the Internet
vs. buying CDs in "bricks and mortar" stores. The former clearly has
less impact than the latter two which are much more closely rated.

It's important to approach this subject with an appreciation of the
complexity of systems and an open mind (sometimes, the answers can
really surprise you and not seem intuitively "right"). it's also
important to not try to force people's behaviors (like not allowing a
Print function). Instead, education is usually a better route (and
letting people make their own decisions about their behavior) since
you can't ever know whether someone's intended use is better or not,
good or not, etc. That doesn't mean, however, that we can't try to
influence behavior for the better, just to be clear about our
motives. You might look into the Captology Lab at Stanford and some
of their projects as they have been specifically playing with
persuasion, seduction, and influencing behavior: http://
www.captology.org

Lastly, Mike, you're right that product/industrial designers are a
big part of the problem in that they create a lot of stuff and many
don't have a clue (or desire) about sustainability issues (eco or
otherwise). That's why programs like the ID program at CCA here in SF
have made sustainability an integral part of their teaching, not just
a separate class tacked-on somewhere along the way.

Sustainability really needs to be integrated into all parts of the
process and discussions in order to be effective. I don't think that
interaction designers can effectively correct or even just approach
these concerns from their part in the process. It has to be addressed
throughout all parts of the design and management and, especially, in
the criteria. In other words, we can't "fix" product designers'
design problems from our end. We need to help them reduce these
problems in the beginning. Then, of course, we need to move further
up the development chain to the marketing, engineering, and strategy
departments of our clients to set the criteria at the beginning for
how these solutions need to perform in these aspects.

Nathan
________________________________________________________

Nathan Shedroff WEB www.nathan.com
Experience Strategist

22 Cleveland Street NET nathan at nathan.com
San Francisco, CA 94103

13 Apr 2006 - 10:59am
Todd Roberts
2005

Michael, your comments about ID vs IxD ties into a point that Bruce Mau made
in his Wired talk - that we need to break down the silo-ization of design.
His belief is that all designers are trying to make the world better, they
just go about it in different ways. What are the possibilities of the
different types of design bring their skills to bear on the problem at hand?
I suggest poking around at http://www.massivechange.com and
http://www.brucemaudesign.com.

16 Apr 2006 - 12:05pm
dcooney at umich.edu
2006

Great question Mike!

> But I'm convinced that there have to be
> certain principles that interaction designers can follow that are
> more environmentally friendly than others.

I forget where I read it, but someone recently mentioned how
informative it is to think of interaction design less as designing
interactions with physical space, and more as designing interactions
with time.

> Obviously, the most environmentally friendly product we can create is
> no product at all, and often interaction design is better at this
> than industrial design when we are able to turn a product into a
> service.

The scarce resource might then be peoples' time, and the most
attention/time friendly product could be one that doesn't exist! But a
product that helps me do what I need to do, in less time, or improves
my experience of time AND (nodding to Nathan's quoted definition from
http://www.sustainabilitydictionary.com ) does so not at the expense of
my other life activities, or the life activities of others - that
product might be considered sustainable...

Dan Cooney

23 Apr 2006 - 2:11pm
Oleh Kovalchuke
2006

I was looking for additional examples of importance of thousand year period
for interaction design when lo-and-behold Mike has raised the question of
sustainable design.

I think the ethics of interaction design come into focus and change on the
scale of thousands of years. Consider these examples of questions reflecting
heightened ethical awareness, which bear on eventual changes to interaction
design: "Does this design contribute to global warming?", "Do we really
need the tools facilitating cannibalism?" (cannibalism was widespread among
all cultures according to this source: http://tinyurl.com/jlqlb), "Who is
this God person anyway?".

The sustainable design questions have been added to the perception time
scale: http://www.tangospring.com/IxDtopicWhatIsInteractionDesign.htm .

--
Oleh Kovalchuke
Interaction Design is Design of Time
http://www.tangospring.com/IxDtopicWhatIsInteractionDesign.htm .

On 4/16/06, dcooney at umich.edu <dcooney at umich.edu> wrote:
> [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted
material.]
>
> Great question Mike!
>
> > But I'm convinced that there have to be
> > certain principles that interaction designers can follow that are
> > more environmentally friendly than others.
>
> I forget where I read it, but someone recently mentioned how
> informative it is to think of interaction design less as designing
> interactions with physical space, and more as designing interactions
> with time.
>
> > Obviously, the most environmentally friendly product we can create is
> > no product at all, and often interaction design is better at this
> > than industrial design when we are able to turn a product into a
> > service.
>
> The scarce resource might then be peoples' time, and the most
> attention/time friendly product could be one that doesn't exist! But a
> product that helps me do what I need to do, in less time, or improves
> my experience of time AND (nodding to Nathan's quoted definition from
> http://www.sustainabilitydictionary.com ) does so not at the expense of
> my other life activities, or the life activities of others - that
> product might be considered sustainable...
>
> Dan Cooney
>
>
>
>
>

23 Apr 2006 - 7:40pm
Fred van Amstel
2005

If we think about ecology only in terms of reducing garbage volume or
materials degradability, we´re missing the important notion of
ecosystem harmony.

We´re all part of many ecosystems: our planet, our culture, our home.
We´re allways making decisions that affects not only the lives of
other peoples around us, but the lives of animals, plants and other
living beings.

The problem is that most of the time we´re not conscious of the
negative impact of our decisions.

If we wanna change something, it´ll be a complex challenge as Nathan
pointed out. We have not only to convince ourselves of being more
conscious, but to convince other people too.

The big news is that the product we design have a big influence on the
people´s perception of the world.

At Ivrea Institute, Belmer Negrillo designed a biodegradable mobile
phone with a flower seed that you can plant after using it and others
experiments to get people thinking about technology and ecology.

http://people.interaction-ivrea.it/b.negrillo/thesis/main/exhibitions.html

--
.
.{ Frederick van Amstel }. Curitiba - Brazil
¶ ...''''''''''|| www.usabilidoido.com.br

23 Apr 2006 - 8:21pm
Oleh Kovalchuke
2006

Sustainable design is one of the latest developments in the steady shift
from "father knows best", "absolute truth" views to "cooperative knowledge",
humanist mentality and ethics. In Western civilization the shift started
about 500 years ago with advent of Renaissance.

Lakoff in 'Don't Think of an
Elephant'<http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1931498717/sr=8-1/qid=1145839928/ref=pd_bbs_1/102-6962834-7265758?_encoding=UTF8>illustrates
this shift of views with the example of current US politics
where neocons (visibly represented by "Bush, Inc.") embody the latest
push-back of "restrictive father" family values and therefore disregard such
issues as sustainable living. It's a good book where Lakoff also offers
several approaches to reframing our collective conscience in terms
responsible living.
--
Oleh Kovalchuke

On 4/12/06, Nathan <nathan at nathan.com> wrote:

>
> Sustainability really needs to be integrated into all parts of the
> process and discussions in order to be effective. I don't think that
> interaction designers can effectively correct or even just approach
> these concerns from their part in the process. It has to be addressed
> throughout all parts of the design and management and, especially, in
> the criteria. In other words, we can't "fix" product designers'
> design problems from our end. We need to help them reduce these
> problems in the beginning. Then, of course, we need to move further
> up the development chain to the marketing, engineering, and strategy
> departments of our clients to set the criteria at the beginning for
> how these solutions need to perform in these aspects.
>
> Nathan
> ________________________________________________________
>
> Nathan Shedroff WEB www.nathan.com
> Experience Strategist
>
> 22 Cleveland Street NET nathan at nathan.com
> San Francisco, CA 94103
>
>
>

26 Apr 2006 - 3:53pm
Becubed
2004

http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/14.05/green.html

The above article, titled "The Next Green Revolution," includes a
quote that made this discussion about sustainable IxD leap to mind:
"More is not better. Better is better. You don't need a bigger house;
you need a different floor plan. You don't need more stuff; you need
stuff you'll actually use."

So there we go, a core value that IxD shares with environmentalism:
building better stuff that people will actually use. So when we fight
the good fight against feature creep, in a way we're championing the
green revolution. When someone deletes a crappy software application
from their desktop, it may not end up in a landfill site, but it
reinforces a throw-away mentality.

Okay, so now we lobby to get IxD/UCD included in the ISO 14001
Environmental Management standards. /grin

--
Robert Barlow-Busch
Practice Director, Interaction Design
Quarry Integrated Communications Inc.
rbarlowbusch at quarry.com
(519) 570-2020

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