Thoughts on Sustainable Digital Design

Thoughts on Sustainable Digital Design

About the image:
Week two of the 52 week photo challenge calls for a traditional landscape photograph. Although Toronto and the surrounding areas have beautiful natural scenes, the most accessible locations for me this past week was in the city. The layering of buildings of varying heights, and mash of architectural styles all fused into one image is an interesting sight to behold. It provides a symbolic and physical representation of how Toronto as a city has evolved. From old to new, from low to high, and from technologically absent to technology infused.

As designer I often read and see peers remarking about the future of design and design related jobs. One statement (with variations) I’ve seen often is:

“UX/UI Design is the new ___ of the Graphic Design”

Although I wouldn’t disagree with this statement I don’t think it’s entirely true. Design in many forms should be a combination of things, regardless of your style. Design in my opinion should be:

  1. User centric
  2. Purposeful
  3. Sustainable

User Centric

Regardless of what type of design you do I believe the core of your work should focus on people. Not any person, but the extremes of your audience. By designing and ensuring your product works for them you naturally cover the needs and wants of those “average” users. Designing with accessibility in mind is more impactful, as it forces you to evaluate and reiterate repeatedly in order to get it right.

Having said that, UX/UI is only an extension of design as a whole. Sure, many of products we create today are used on mobile devices (phones, wearables etc.) but that doesn’t automatically mean UX/UI is an evolution of graphic design. If you have people in mind when designing it doesn’t matter what you are designing for, you naturally design with experience in mind.


Along with designing with people in mind, design should be made with purpose. Everything needs to be analysed from the beginning to end, every component thoughtfully put together. Being a proponent of design thinking and similar thought processes, design should be an involved process that you can explain to others.

I see too often designers creating without a purpose or with an poorly defined goal. This usually results in designs that are lacking. One way around this I find is to take a step back and rigorously think through the 5 W’s. With those answers in mind you will be able to start prototyping and working towards a finished product that is people centric rather than just a designer’s view.


Sustainability is a loaded term that has different meanings in different contexts. In this case, I am referring to designing products that are self sustainable and can reduce continuous servicing. With designers increasingly shifting to designing applications, interfaces and dynamic content sustainability starts rising in importance.

Building products with purpose and are people focused can yield in designs that are easier to use and maintain with minimal intervention from the creators. For example, I have been designing a new method in which faculty at my institution can create websites. The new process focuses on delivering sites that are easier to setup, easier to write content for, and increase confidence in clients.

This has resulted sites being built quicker due to standardized templates that can be updated centrally. Support related questions decreased rapidly after each client was given training and began entering in content themselves. The ecosystem of plugins selected had no frills and purposeful chosen to ensuring little room for error. A robust recovery functionality also helped with increasing confidence.

In summary, the creation of sites for faculty has gone from a time intensive project that focused a lot on the tools needed, to one that focuses on tailoring sites for the specific needs of the client. This was only possible by breakdown the original process and analyzing it. By rethinking the process to be people centric, and purposeful, sustainability was achieved.


As any designer knows, design is an iterative process much like anything else. Successful implementations does not equate to continued success. In order to maintain success constant analysis and iteration is required. Designers need to keep real people in mind, purposely design each and every component, and develop methods that makes the product sustainable so that you can empower those you have designed for.

At the end of the day UI/UX, interactive design, experience design, graphic design, digital design or any other form of design are essentially the same thing. The end product are just variations of each other, with different display mediums. There are core ideas to design that should be applied to everything regardless.

Let me know your thoughts regarding this topic.

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