Article written by Nicole Gouws

How many times have you had a physical or emotional reaction of despair when listening or seeing the devastating effects we humans have on this planet? In those moments you probably felt helpless and thought “how can I ever have a significant impact on saving Earth”. Not to fear, in this article I will explain to you why I believe we as UX designers have the most powerful “weapon” known in existence to make a difference to our users and by doing so we can save the world. The weapon I am referring to is our minds and our ability as UX designers to accurately identify problems and design solutions that are functional as well as intuitive. In this article we will look at how we as UX designers need to change our mindset of what it means to design “eco-friendly”, how we can identify new behaviour changing designs and lastly singling out sustainable design criteria that we can implement in order to create relevant solutions.


In a recent article published by the United Nations, they said our designs need to meet “the economic needs of the present without compromising the ability of the planet to provide for the needs of future generations”. That sounds like a tall order does it not. In simpler terms they are merely saying that we as UX designers need to think further than just sticking a “green” label on existing products and calling that “eco-friendly”. The phrase ‘sustainable design’ has become such normalized wording in the past decades. However, it is still not considered as a crucial part of design, rather people think of it as something extra to add onto an existing design. This mind set has to change, considering the current day and age we are in, I want to advocate that it should be LAW that all designs must be sustainable – in terms of environment, economy and society. This leads me into my next segment on how our jobs as UX designer come in to play in identifying problems and designing innovative solutions to these problems in order to save the planet.


Let me be clear, the sustainable and relevant future for UX designers will not involve identifying problems and designing products that are more ecofriendly. The solution to the problem goes much deeper than that. We need to challenge our problem solving abilities and design solutions that will change the behaviour of consumption if we want to have a true impact. Let me use the “kettle” as an example. How many times have you boiled water in the kettle, used one third of that water and ended up boiling that left over water three times more. You just wasted so much energy for nothing. As a UX designer we have just identified a problem so now we can design a behaviour changing solution. A possibility for design could be to design a smaller kettle that only allows you to boil the water you need at that time and thereby forcing you to change your habit of boiling water unnecessarily and wasting energy as a result.


There are brilliant organisations like IDEO and the Ellen McArthur Foundation that has already come up with a new design system called the Circular Economy. The concept in a nutshell is simple, lets design solutions for systems that generate as little waste as possible. As a result of implementing this design criteria we end up with products or solutions similar to the “kettle” example we just looked at. In addition, we can also ask ourselves important question when designing like, does this even need packaging, can we make it LONG LASTING, can we make it renewable, repurpose the material and last but not least make it recyclable and biodegradable.

The solutions just mentioned and concepts like Circular Economy are all important factors to consider when designing. However, I believe we can go even one step further when coming up with design solutions. Let me explain, Leyla Acaroglu is a sustainable provocateur and she recently said that we need to consider how can we leverage things that are already happening in order to alleviate problems for the environment. I totally agree with her statement and believe we can truly have a significant impact on the environment if we can transform environmental problems into sustainable design solutions. For example there is a company that realised there is a lot of ¨Iron Dust¨ left over from the manufacturing industry. They realised by dumping the iron dust in the ocean they are able to remove carbon from the water and this actually ends up fertilising the ocean and removes up to 1 trillion kilograms of CO2 every year.

Drawing to my conclusion on how considering all these factors we as UX designs could save the word. We come from decades of designing where the main focus was to design the most commercially viable product that would equate to the most consumed . However, by adopting this methodology we were not designing solutions at all rather we were designing problems. It was Leyla Acaroglu that said today’s biggest problems are Consumptions and the best solution is deign. Would you not agree that if design is the best solution to our environmental issues caused by consumption then we as designers have the most powerful weapon to save the planet. It is not time that we as UX designers actually do what our job requires us to do and design solutions.