I’m Kent de Bruin, and this is my newsletter about design, software and anything else that interests me. This is edition #4 for 2020. You can find old editions here.
Last month I wrote about poster design, luxurious software, and Super 8 Film. I avoided writing about Covid-19 at all costs.
This month: Sustainable UX, Google Maps street view photography, and warped time.
This week I posted a long form essay called ‘Software is Polluting the World’. I wrote this article together with my friend Danique de Bies. Interestingly enough, the link got picked up by Hacker News where it generated quite some discussion and comments. It also resulted in more than 3,500 page views on my website!
So what is the essay about? I know it’s long (3,500 words), so I will share some highlights for you.
Digital pollution is an invisible problem that not many people seem to be aware of.
“Please consider the environment before printing this email”.
You have probably seen this line at the bottom of an email before. By now it’s widely known that you should pay attention to what you print to reduce your carbon footprint.
What few people realise is that there is also something called digital pollution. When we send emails we are using computational energy; this energy usage increases our carbon footprint and can have a big impact in the long run. That makes “Please consider the environment before sending this email” a valid statement as well.
The Internet consumes large amounts of electricity in data centers, telecoms networks and consumer devices. If the Internet was a country, it would be the 6th largest polluter in the world.
With the rising awareness of carbon footprints, some designers also started considering sustainability in their work. Enter the term ‘Sustainable UX’.
We identified two different ways designers and developers are pushing sustainability: small nudges, in which the user is (maybe unwittingly) prompted to choose more sustainable options, and content optimization, in which content is optimised as energy efficient. In the essay we describe both!
Working on our own sustainable design
Besides the article, I also worked with students from my design master on two small sustainable designs. We wanted to show what is possible when you apply a sustainable mindset to design. We challenged ourselves to look at apps we use on a daily basis and think about ways in which we could reduce our own carbon footprint without limiting ourselves in phone usage.
iMessages & Image Compression
Taking inspiration from WhatsApp (automatically compressing photos) and the Apple Mail application (giving users the option to compress email attachments), we created a small UI change for iMessage.
Our UI change provides the user with different size options in which they can send their photos. We decided to leave the choice of compression to the user because, sometimes, people still want to be able to send photos in full size and not lose any quality. To nudge people into sustainable behaviour, the smallest picture size option is automatically selected. Users can change this selection by simply clicking the option they would prefer.
Sustainable UX filter
To reduce the size of the content shared in Instagram Stories, we created an environmentally conscious AR filter. The Instagram filter uses a halftone effect, which compresses images into dots rather than tones. A lot less data is needed to fill up the images, which makes their size significantly smaller. By using our filter, Instagram users can reduce the size of their original picture by over 50%.
The Sustainable Dot filter launched on Earth Day. The filter has been picked up by various media outlets and generated over 11,000 views.
Corona time is definitely warped.
This is what my calendar feels like. Somehow changes reality.
Ultimate quarantine activity?
Google Maps photography might be the ultimate quarantine activity. This girl found some gems:
If anyone wants to go for a nice Google Maps street view stroll, the locations are 1.) Gjógv, Faroe Islands, 2.) Marfa, Texas, and 3.) Hội An, Vietnam.
That’s it for this month.