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Nov 10, 2020

Sustainable UX – Old wine in new bottles?

Usability and user experience (UUX) pay heavily into the efficient development of products and services as well as their efficient use. But is positive user experience (UX) automatically sustainable? We say: No, it takes more for UX to be sustainable! We show you how digital solutions can offer their users not only positive UX but also value-adding effects for the environment and society.

Consumers increasingly demand sustainable products and services. But what does this actually mean? Many people mainly associate the term sustainability with ecological aspects including less production and consumption, an effective use of materials and energy or environmentally sound material cycles. But while the ecological aspect is important and also the most common perspective, it is not the only facet of sustainability.

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In UUX, sustainability aspects play a role right from the start – with issues such as efficiency, accessibility for various user groups and end devices, or the reduction of stress and other health risks in connection with the use. In that respect, UUX has always been a guarantor for more sustainability in the development of products and services. Because efficient systems entail a reduction in time and energy consumption, lower support costs, meaningful features and better health for employees.

So, is sustainability just another new buzzword in UUX? "Sustainable UX" nothing more than old wine in new bottles? No! Not everything that is efficient and has a positive user experience is automatically sustainable. Despite positive UX, systems may cause harm to individuals or society, produce group-related discrimination, encourage actions that are harmful to the environment, or they may be intentionally designed in a way that conveys a positive experience, tempting users to spend as much time as possible with technical devices.

A "beyond UX" perspective

What does UUX as a discipline need to create sustainable products and services? Our answer: a conscious "beyond UX" perspective. A perspective that extends its horizon beyond individual user groups, taking ethical questions and values into account. One that combines economic efficiency with social and ecological tolerability.

So much for the theory. But what does that mean in practice? Our research project WiMi-Care exemplifies the implications. Together with our partners, we examined the use of service robots in health care. The core question to be answered: How can service robots support nursing care staff in their work? But for a successful and socially viable use, further aspects had to be considered, too: How do usability and interaction have to be designed so that carers do not feel obsolete in view of the robots but can devote more time to core tasks? Or: How do you design respectful interaction between robots and people in need of care that fosters participation and autonomy while protecting their privacy?

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Considering a broad range of sustainability aspects sounds like a great time and cost expenditure for companies that develop new products and services. Why does it still pay off to invest into a "beyond UX" perspective? Companies that focus on sustainable UX benefit in multiple ways. They increase their efficiency and reduce their long-term development, training and support costs. At best, they anticipate ever more complex requirements from consumers and politics, use sustainable products as a competitive edge and remain future-proof and innovative in a rapidly changing world. Moreover, considering ethical questions and values right from the start assures high acceptance of new products, increases customer loyalty and enables value-oriented companies to integrate their target values into the product development.

Sustainable and future-proof with the 6Rs

Let's get real. Our "6Rs" (Rethink, Research, Reflect, Reduce, Repair and Reuse) provide very practical initial answers on the question of how we support companies in developing digital products and services "beyond UX" and help them benefit from the advantages of sustainable UX. These 6Rs transfer existing sustainability principles to the digital world, making them tangible and practicable for this field.More about our "6Rs"

Conclusion

From a business point of view, UUX has been paying into the aspect of sustainability for years. However, UUX doesn't necessarily provide meaningful products and technologies for the environment and society. Sustainable UX only results in a win-win-win situation for the economy, environment and society when companies not only consider aspects of efficiency but also take possible negative effects on individuals, the society or the environment into account right from the start of the development process.Designers can and should assume responsibility by asking the right questions when developing new technologies, products and services, raising awareness for efficiency, sustainability, values and added value for society.

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The author

Kerstin Dyck, Lead User Experience at UID, has been designing holistic user-centered concepts since 2007 in her role as a user experience consultant. The graduate psychologist analyzes the subtleties of user requirements and translates them into a basis for the design of intuitive and appealing products. As a designer, she wants to move things and considers the development of sustainable (digital) products and services as the area where the demand and potentials are greatest. In cooperation with other companies she creates meaningful, value-adding products that are resource-efficient and increase the quality of life. At conventions and during her travels she finds new inspiration that helps her think outside the box in her projects.

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