Design for Sustainability is an approach to design that focuses on creating products, services, and systems that are environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable throughout their lifecycle.
With our today’s guest, Sebastian Gier, we will talk how to create products and systems that are not only functional but also sustainable, resilient, and adaptable to changing circumstances.
Please tell me about yourself: your edu & professional background and personal interests.
Please tell me about yourself: your edu & professional background and personal interests.
I am Sebastian, Co-founder of Footprint, a startup that aims to help companies in reducing their carbon emissions using AI. Prior to that I worked as a UX/UI design Lead at BMW, on future mobility design projects and multiple startups and organizations like Bosch or Harvard. Moreover, I am the host and organizer of the Designdrives podcast and DDX conference. The next DDX conference will take place on May 6th during the Munich Creative Business Week, Germany’s largest design week. The conference focuses on UX & Innovation and shares insights from design leaders from startups and companies such as BMW, IBM, SAP, Cisco and many others.
I am very passioned about the positive impact of design and creativity and believe people in the space play a key role in driving change, such as sustainability, by the power of materialization and creating shared emotional visions.
Why did you decide to talk about sustainability? What makes this topic is important to you personally?
After speaking with various businesses about the difficulties of incorporating sustainability, I realized the complexity they face with the lack of expertise and resources as well as the risk of doing greenwashing and ensuring their efforts are transparent. It was then when I realized that I truly felt compelled to take action. With my background in user experience and my co-founder’s experience in technology and AI, we had the unique combination of skills and expertise needed to make a meaningful impact on reducing emissions.
We came together to form Footprint, a startup that aims to empower small to medium-sized businesses with the tools they need to reduce their carbon emissions in a fast and easy way. We are driven by the belief that innovative, user-friendly solutions can make a real and tangible impact on the environment. It is our goal to use our skills and expertise to create something that not only makes a difference, but also empowers others to do the same. Especially using AI to make the process of carbon reduction a lot faster and efficient for businesses.
Can you share some great examples of sustainable design? Maybe from your own portfolio?
We have developed a unique methodology called the ClimateSprint, an open source framework which individuals can use to run workshops and this allows companies to significantly reduce their carbon emissions in a short period of time. We want to make this as accessible as possible to create maximum impact.
By thoroughly analyzing a business’ footprint, we are able to identify potential areas for reduction, and then work with the company to ideate on ways to effectively reduce emissions. We also quantify the potential impact of each action, providing the company with clear, measurable data on the potential savings to be gained. This allows the company to make informed decisions on which actions to take and move forward with. This strategic approach is a powerful tool in helping companies become more sustainable and make a noticeable impact on the environment in a very short period of time.
From our experience so far the ClimateSprint creates on average 30% of carbon reduction potentials within only a few rounds of ideation. This methodology prioritizes collaboration across teams and stakeholders as well as leverages the intelligence and innovation power from these individual people. By default sustainability requires collaboration. We also integrate people that are coming from the implementation side to make sure things get actually developed afterwards.
What are a few things that designers should do to create sustainable designs? Maybe you can share some practices for embedding sustainability in design?
Designers have the unique ability to contribute to sustainability in two ways: through their design process and strategies, and through their operational implementation. On the strategic side, designers can play a crucial role in shaping the design of products, enforcing new business models and helping companies understand how they can reduce emissions and develop sustainable practices. This is where designers can truly shine, by using their creativity and problem-solving skills to generate new ideas and build confidence and belief in sustainable solutions.
We as designers, don’t need to have all the answers, but rather act as facilitators, being part of the team, bringing together different experts and perspectives to connect the dots, and then materializing the abstract. The power of designers is to accelerate discussions by materializing theoretical ideas and bringing them into an artifact that sets the foundation to take the discussion to the next level.
By listening to experts and utilizing techniques such as prototyping and visualization, designers can make abstract concepts more concrete and easy for people to understand. This can help to bridge different perspectives and accelerate the process, leading to a foundation of people to discuss and build upon. Moreover, by creating prototypes and visualizing the potential outcome, designers can help people emotionally connect with the vision and believe in it, encouraging them to imagine a more sustainable future and new business models.
Bringing people with different perspectives together can be a powerful tool in accelerating the discussion and creating a foundation for further action.
Other than the strategic approach, designers also have the ability to make a huge impact on reducing emissions through more operational means. These might include implementing sustainable materials and production methods, designing for energy efficiency, and considering the entire lifecycle of a product. Our role as designers is not only to create visually appealing and functional products, but also to ensure that they are sustainable and environmentally-friendly.
It’s important for designers to recognize that creating a sustainable product is not only about protecting the environment, but also about creating a win-win situation for the business, technology, environment, and the customers. Designers should strive to create products that are not only environmentally friendly but also economically viable, technically feasible and satisfying for the customers. This way we will be able to convince others faster.
The process of reducing the environmental footprint of a digital product can be done by improving its user experience (UX). This includes reducing the amount of pages that need to be loaded, making the digital experience more efficient, and providing actionable and easy-to-find content. Additionally, updating existing content instead of constantly posting new content can boost SEO and reduce the environmental impact. To make the digital product more environmentally friendly, designers can consider the end of life of the content, set up a proper design system, use dark mode, system fonts and SVG/vectors for icons, and reduce image file sizes. Also, it is important to use a green hosting provider that is powered by renewable energy, and to calculate your performance budget via https://www.performancebudget.io. Lastly, it is important to be smart about tracking user data and storing only the necessary metrics, and avoiding re-loading static content that was already loaded.
Where to learn more about sustainability? What books should we read? Who should we follow in the design community to learn more about sustainability?
Joining a community of like-minded individuals and organizations dedicated to promoting sustainability, participating in online discussions and forums, or collaborating on projects with others, are just a few examples of ways to expand your knowledge. Embrace the journey and stay up-to-date on the latest developments, best practices, and emerging trends in the field. You can also join sustainability-focused groups and communities, such as Sustainable UX (SUX) to network with others in the industry and learn from their experiences.
How do you perceive the future of design? What role will sustainability have in the future?
The focus of design is shifting towards sustainability by not just cutting down usage but also redesigning processes and requirements.
In the future, design will focus on quantifying its impact to drive change and create a more sustainable environment. This will be achieved through setting and tracking KPIs, such as decreased carbon emissions. Designers have learned to work more data-driven and I feel designers are incredibly empowered by that in order to argue more strategically and measure their impact. Just as we learned to measure aspects of accessibility and conversion it will easier to measure the environmental aspect and more integrated into the workflow. Design will serve as a bridge between people and ideas. Its power lies in its ability to bring abstract concepts to life and to connect with human emotions, and this will only be enhanced with the integration of AI in the process — which will make designers even more productive and positioned in a more strategic role.
For me the future of design is strategic and empowers acceleration and decision making in the tension between business goals, human needs, technology opportunities and environmental impact.