Sustainable digital design principles

Someone wise said that there is no system developed by humans that can’t be changed by humans. How do we change this global system whose extractivist, growth, dominance and profit obsession is speeding us to the point of extinction?

What can we do if we work in the digital industry that can help in the healing of the planet? Over the last month or so, I’ve put together a list of statements and principles connected with sustainable digital design based on a wide range of sources.

Tim Frick and Mightybytes have for years being doing wonderful work on designing sustainable websites. Tim has outlined certain key principles such as:
• Findability
• Performance Optimization
• Design & User Experience
• Green Hosting

A lot of wisdom in these. We need to encourage much more reuse of digital artifacts to improve sustainability and we can’t do that if these artifacts are not easy to find.

Tom and Vineeta Greenwood have a really wonderful company called Wholegrain Digital that is leading the way in sustainable and ethical digital design. Tom wrote a great book on the subject called Sustainable Web Design.

The Sustainable Web Manifesto has an excellent set of principles:

  1. Clean
  2. Efficient
  3. Open
  4. Honest
  5. Regenerative
  6. Resilient

The Low Impact Website manifesto has some very specific recommendations about what a low-impact website does, such as “Minimizes the power consumption on the user’s device.” It’s well worth a read.

The Principles of Green Software Engineering offer a range of powerful and practical insights. The first three are:

  1. Carbon: Build applications that are carbon efficient.
  2. Electricity: Build applications that are energy efficient.
  3. Carbon Intensity: Consume electricity with the lowest carbon intensity.

At a slightly higher level, the Design Justice Network Principles give a critical framing within the larger context of earth and society. Their first three principles are:

  1. We use design to sustain, heal, and empower our communities, as well as to seek liberation from exploitative and oppressive systems.
  2. We center the voices of those who are directly impacted by the outcomes of the design process.
  3. We prioritize design’s impact on the community over the intentions of the designer.

Based on the above and other research, plus kind feedback from numerous people, I’ve collected a list of statements that are important in understanding how to go about sustainable digital design. I’ve assembled them as a Top Tasks survey and I’d really appreciate if you could take 3-5 minutes to decide which items on the list are most important to you. If you could also spread the word about this survey, I’d really appreciate it too, as the more people who vote the more solid and statistically reliable the results will become. Hopefully, early in 2022, I will publish the results.

For sustainable digital design, what's most important to you? (3-5 minute survey)

The 6 best books about sustainable web design

5 inspiring videos about sustainable web design

The Building Blocks of Sustainable Web Design

Sustainable Web Manifesto

The low impact website manifesto

Carbon Neutral Websites - webneutralproject

Principles of Green Software Engineering

Design Justice Network Principles

Podcast: World Wide Waste
Interviews with prominent thinkers outlining what can be done to make digital as sustainable as possible.
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