Sustainable Design Deliverables 2: Ux Analysis

Second in our series exploring how sustainability might be incorporated into the web and related design processes for the virtual world, we consider early-stage User Experience, or Ux documents.

As a discipline, Ux is relatively new, first emerging in the early 2000s with Jesse James Garrett’s classic Elements of User Experience. In this book, Garrett took a user-centric approach to web design and split the process into early and late stages, implicitly moving the design process  more sustainable footing. The classic diagram from the book showing this is reproduced below:

about-the-kristina-halvorson_s-book-content-strategy-for-the-web-the-elements-of-user-experienceBy separating user needs from client and developer goals, Ux automatically creates a more “inclusive” design process, satisfying a key feature of most sustainable frameworks.

But, given the general “sustainability-friendly” aspect of Ux, where should we add sustainability information? The following lists some common Ux deliverables, along with suggestions for incorporating additional sustainability components.

Affinity Diagrams

These early-stage deliverables mix company goals, user features and behavior and product details into a attractive cloud. The affinity diagrams incorporate whatever user research on demographics exists, along with designer “big ideas” and overall goals. The trick is to arrange each item by “affinity” and begin to generate natural groups of ideas, features, and information.

Affinity Diagrams are a real gateway to sustainable thinking, by their emphasis on the overall “System” instead of features. In contrast to the rigid Taxonomies developed in class Information Design, the affinity diagram tries to discover the underlying connections of project elements. In short, the designers attempt to reconstruct the virtual ecosystem their project will reside in. Connections or groups indicate dependent elements, and illustrate potential flows of information (which will in turn become energy/data flows on the network.


(click for link to original)

The affinity diagram is in effect a form of design annealing. Elements are put together and “shaken” in a brainstorm session with the hope they will fall into their natural relationships. As such, potential problems for sustainability should appear in the groupings.

  • If, for example, supporting the user base requires many players and sophisticated network clouds, these features have to be factored into the true cost of the service.
  • If the project indirectly leads to wasteful user behavior, the sustainability of the project may be questioned
  • Affinity diagrams will typically include the “players” in the project, which allows questions about the sustainability of sourcing

More on Affinity Diagrams




In contrast to the “system thinking” of the Affinity Diagram, the Persona is resolutely user-centric. Taking insights and information about the intended site audience the designers construct an “average” person. Typically, several Personas are constructed along major market segments identified by demographics.

Personas are one of the best ways to make sure that designers pay attention to the “human friendly” and “inclusiveness” elements of sustainable design frameworks. Developing a Persona, even when actual market research is limited, helps designers get out of their own heads and into the heads of their audience. Developing the Persona often suggests additional lines of research and exploration for the project.

When developing a Persona, one should consider where sustainability goes into its makeup:

  • Does the Persona care if the process is sustainable?
  • What features (visual, text) assure the Persona that they are doing the “green” thing?
  • Can the Persona determine if they are following a sustainable path?

More about Personas:

Customer Scenarios

A scenario attempts to write out the “average” experience of a User using narrative storytelling techniques. The “Hero’s Journey” narrative, common in storytelling, is often the base of a customer scenario. Typically, the scenario describes “a day in the life” of the Persona, during which the Persona uses the interactive system.

Scenarios allow an additional chance to incorporate sustainable thinking. Since “sustainability” means that a resource will function in the future the same as the present, this should be appear in the User Journey. Aspects of user behavior likely to result in waste “on the ground” can be identified.

  • For example, a User Journey requiring said user to access the site via desktop could be less sustainable, due to the resource and energy consumption. Allowing mobile access would be a sustainability plus
  • A shorter path to finding a site (e.g. via improved SEO) would reduce consumption of user time, network, and device resources
  • In contrast, a mobile experience requiring increased interaction (due to the smaller screen) on the network would be less sustainable. The smaller size of the mobile would be offset by the increased cost of delivering more screens (read HTTP requests) via the cellphone infrastructure (reflected in the higher costs for connectivity).



A storyboard records the sequence of interaction the user experiences (typically from a scenario) with the designed interactive systems. Storyboards are often created in parallel or just after Personas and Scenarios. Storyboards can mostly focus on the user, in which case they resemble storyboards found in animation and film.

The most common format for a storyboard is a “comic book” style deliverable, with small illustrations of the User’s activity with the interactive system, captioned and “cartoon-bubbled.”

storyboards-2013-01-11-13-01-04(click for link to original)

Compared to the scenario, the storyboard offers few additional opportunities for sustainability. The feature of a storyboard – showing the integration of direct action (visual) with though (captions, balloons) is less useful for sustainability thinking, which often requires long descriptions to be understood.


User Journeys, Customer Journeys and Experience Maps

All three of these terms refer to the same “combo” deliverable. Typically a User Journey combines Persona, Storyboard, and Scenarios information into an integrated document.  Each element runs along a row, or horizontal track, with different kinds of Ux analysis stacked for comparison. An additional line (touchpoints) calls out moments in the customer’s quest when they access media, content, or people at the company.

Even though there is little new information, the User Journey helps integrated, systems thinking. By putting several research tracks in one place, it often points out areas where a task doesn’t match customer expectations or company support. These issues are sometimes indicated by a “fail line.”

Sustainability thinking could easily be added to such documents, as an additional row in the diagram.


(click to visit original link)


Anatomy of an Experience Map

Experience Map used to solve Medical Delivery Problem (GREAT)

Where does Sustainability Belong?

Our earlier post in this series discussed the pros and cons of integrating sustainability language into existing documents, versus creating a separate document. In the case of Ux, the former option is best. In fact, since sustainability is implicit in many of the user-centric conceits of Ux deliverables, the best place to locate it is in a “combined” documents where sustainability might be compared to other features of the Ux analysis. Therefore, User Journeys are the obvious location for sustainable Ux. A sustainable deliverable would naturally create a new row in the User Journey, this one concerned with sustainability features of the user’s journey.

For more complex analysis, a separate Sustainability Journey might be defined. In this deliverable, the core process and user are kept, while other rows contain various aspects of the sustainability equation, possibly along the principles of Sustainable Virtual design. Here are some possibilities

Sustainable Web Design Goals in a Customer Journey
Value Track – points at which real valure (rather than fluff or hype) are accessed
Agile Track – points where the user incrementally understands their task in greater detail
Green Tech Track – points where using a green server cloud affects the customer journey
Design Track – points where inclusive design strategy is applied
WPO Track – points where the process is more energy efficient that the customer activity it replaces
SEO Track – points where SEO improves searches, reducing usage of devices and network

The “Sustainability Journey” would form a compliment to traditional Customer Journeys, and could be listed as an additional area of the design process for clients.

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