How design could save the world. Literally.

‘The same design that fuels mass consumption also holds the power to change the world’ — David Berman

We live in a world that is greatly shaped by design, without design you wouldn’t have stop signs or traffic lights, nor would you even have an iPhone. In the 1940s, design convinced millions of people to pick up smoking. Whilst today, design tells society to quit.

Design holds the capacity to affect and influence the actions and habits of the world.

Because of this, it’s essential that designers use it for the greater good. The environment is depleting at a rate unseen in the past 10,000 years, a rate that puts life on earth at risk. This means that if we’re not careful soon there won’t be anything to design for.

As designers, we should be more conscious about how the products we build affect the end user’s ecological footprint. When was the last time you heard ‘sustainability’ in your sprint kick off meetings?

How can you become a more sustainable designer?

Sustainability is achieved when you make decisions that equally benefit society, the economy and the environment. A lot of the time, we design our products to be great for society or even the economy but not necessarily great for the environment. When you restore this balance your product becomes more sustainable.

It starts with considering the environment during the design process. You’re more than just a pixel pusher, could you add a feature to your app design that would benefit the environment?

Applying this IRL.

Through data-hunting and a little calculation, I found that during its entire life an Apple device will emit a rough average total of 268 kg (CO2e) greenhouse gas emissions.

I know 268 kg doesn’t sound like a lot until you consider that there are currently over 1 billion active Apple devices in the world. Additionally, 268 billion kilos seems crazy when you bear in mind that the total average weight of Apple’s current product line is only 0.4g

By designing software that better manages aspects like energy use, the footprint of an Apple device could be reduced from the end user’s perspective.

Low Battery Anxiety

Yep, it actually exists and it affects 9 out of 10 of us. 30% of these sufferers are actually more frustrated by their battery dying than stepping on a plug. Despite the rise of portable chargers, wouldn’t it be great if we could just charge our phones less? Ideally, sustainable design should allow the user to reduce their carbon footprint without them actively having to do much.

Apple’s Low Power Mode is a great answer to this. Though, If the rumours are true and the iPhone 8 does feature an OLED display, Low Power Mode could be taken a step further. It could be renamed ‘Power Save Mode’ because it would no longer be exclusive to when you have low battery. When running Power Save Mode, it could activate dark interfaces built within the different apps on your phone — this would save your battery because the display would produce less light.

Ideally, it would automatically adjust according to your environment, just like the brightness setting does now. That way when you’re out at night without a charger, you’re inevitably saving on battery.

Plus, we could all probably do with a notification that lets us know when our phone is fully charged not just sufficiently charged. Or even an estimated charge time when you first plug in your charger(ECT?), this could prevent you from forgetting your phone on charge — altogether preventing energy waste.

The paper industry uses more water to produce products than any other industry.

Paper is also a main cause of deforestation. Apple could lower their environmental impact even more by including digital receipts with Apple Pay. Not only would it benefit the environment, it would also be more convenient — you’d never lose a receipt.

Delivery vans substantially contribute to the amount of pollution in the air.

Each year, 2 million people die prematurely because of pollution. Refrigerated delivery vans emit almost 30 times as much toxic pollutants than a lorry engine. With this in mind, supermarkets like Tesco could offer discounted delivery when you choose the same day as a neighbour.

An idling car releases as much polluted air as a moving car.

It also wastes just as much petrol. Because of this, the Environmental Disease Fund advise that people turn their ignition off when waiting for more than 10 seconds. Navigation apps like Google maps know when you’re stuck in traffic, and when you’re car is stationary. A subtle reminder telling the user to turn off their engine could help save fuel.

Weather apps could encourage users to take walks.

The Met Office app could collect data regarding the optimum weather conditions to participate in light exercise. This information could then be used to encourage users at the most appropriate time, to take a walk. More people walking means fewer people on the road which could in turn reduce air and noise pollution.

It starts with you.

There’s no better day than today to make our world a better place.


I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my thoughts.

I’d love to hear yours.

Continue the discussion by tweeting me or leaving a comment below.