Sustainable Virtual Design, of which Sustainable Web Design part, is brand-new. There is lots of justification, some theory, but as yet we’re missing many of the things needed to make this a reality.
Want to help? Here’s what you can do!
1. Understand Why Design is the Problem
Check out Nate Shedroff’s great book “Design is the Problem“ to understand why web sustainability isn’t just engineers making data centers green and optimizing web code. Symbols have a carbon footprint, and the the way designers put together their symbols affects the ultimate sustainability of a site. Bad design = poor sustainability, and that’s true even at the level of art direction and identity design. Think about your carbon footprint the next time you tweet.
Look at classic definitions of sustainability used in other design disciplines, and make sure you aren’t taken in by “greenwash” or attitude masking ignorance. Look at outstanding sites in other disciplines like re-nourish which treat sustainability in a real way.
2. Do the Math
Sustainability isn’t just a pious lifestyle, or a desire to be “green”. You drive a bicycle to work, but your website may be burning excess carbon at the same time. Designers and developers alike will need to have basic numerical literacy. If you need to brush up, I recommend Ron Lawson’s awesome online book (with problems and solutions) MathAndYou.
3. Get Real, and Check the Trends
Dump the techno-utopian view that assumes that everything will get bigger and faster forever. Stop reading tech-porn, and look instead for the real value and impact of the web. Study the web design and development trends that are leading to rising “bloatware”:
Read up on Sustainability. Make sure you understand how sustainability has been defined in other disciplines, like Architecture and Graphic Design. Check sites like Pingdom, HTTPArchive, WebSiteOptimization.com and Internet Growth Stats to get the big picture beyond browser market share.
4. Find the Happy Design/Development Medium
There’s got to be a middle ground between “someday, the code-free Internet will look just like my Photoshop comp”, and “Graphic designers are ruining the web“. Re-think your designs, and if you’re not prototyping in code, make sure you understand the web as the web, instead of a inferior version of your design tools. Without a re-thinking of design, optimization and efficiency can only go a little way – you’ll have a streamlined hippo that could have been a gazelle.
If you’re in a team, have your designers learn some coding, and your coders learn some design. Get them together in a room at early stages to discuss sustainability, instead of siloing them away from each other.
5. Do something with your current projects
Check out green host value statements, and switch your project to a green host like AISO.net, CleanAir Hosting, or Canvas Dreams (there are many others). Check your own web host to see if they have a green strategy for their data centers. Check your office and workflow for obvious places to save energy.
As you work, try some of these “quick fix” techniques:
- Making the web a better place: Guidelines for Green web design
- How to become an Eco-Web designer
- Best Practice for high-performance web pages (WPO)
- 20 ways web developers can reduce their carbon footprint
- Craft a sustainability statement for your project or design shop
6. Educate Clients
If you’re working under Sustainable Virtual Design, let your clients know! Its only a matter of time before web projects have sustainability as one of the marks designers will have to hit. It’s an edge you can use.
Sustainable Virtual Design needs specialists to develop tools that can work for the majority of designers who are optimization engineers. The goal is to develop a Green Boilerplate similar to iSkeleton, but more advanced
- Web Performance Optimization (WPO) – can be build packages that can be used by individuals and small shops?
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – can we make a site sustainable in its find-ability?
- Life-Cycle Assessment (LCA) – can software be designed to get a truly quantitative value for the carbon footprint of a web page, similar to LCA in other industries. We need a low-cost way to perform LCA for websites, online games, and similar projects – Eiolca.net, are you listening?
- Web Development – can we choose libraries, frameworks, and code that will improve the carbon footprint of web pages? Think what you could put under a “Green Boilerplate” that would increase sustainability relative to other templates and frameworks out there
- Web Design tools – can we develop plug-ins that monitor sustainablity of a web design as designers work? There are great examples in industrial design, e.g., SolidWorks. We need a screen like this in our web design tools. MS Visual Studio, Coda, Adobe, Eclipse, Aptana, are you listening?:
- Web Design – can we adopt design strategies, layouts, imagery that will make sites more sustainable?
- Web Business Strategy – can we make business models that integrate into the Internet ecosystem, rather than exploit it? Can we make web business practices the leader in sustainability?
Get your ideas out there, and let me know so I can list them!