Wednesday, January 30, 2008

What does experience design have to do with sustainability?

Making sustainable experiences ...

“Is there such a thing as sustainable experience design?” In our internal discussions of The Designers Accord, Jesse posed this question. Not being industrial designers, we generally aren’t qualified to address product life-cycle issues such as materials & processes or transportation logistics in any meaningful way. But, as Jesse suggested, perhaps we can bring a new perspective to the sustainability conversation that other disciplines haven’t yet considered.

Experience is closely tied to sustainable behavior: People act un-sustainably because it’s often much easier or results in a better experience than doing otherwise. (It’s much more convenient and pleasant to drive my car wherever I want.) Thus, experience designers are uniquely-poised to encourage sustainability by capitalizing on what we know about human behavior as well as business strategy. We have the capacity to:

Make sustainable experiences more compelling than the alternatives. How can we make doing what’s best in the long run more attractive in the short run? (e.g., Make transit a better experience than driving.)

Understand and appeal to people’s motivations, values and aspirations. As ethnographers, we know how to tap into the subconscious motivations that unwittingly shape behavior. How can we appeal to these tendencies at points of decision so that right choices become the most natural choices?

Harness the power of information to help people make better decisions. As information designers, we know how to make the abstract concrete and make hidden costs visible, visualize the future, and tell stories. The right information can not only influence decisions when presented at critical moments, it can also shape underlying attitudes and values — a necessary component of lasting change.

Promote a service-mindset vs. a product-mindset. As Liya Zheng put it in her post on Service Design and Sustainability: “Think about how to appeal to consumers and businesses with a complete solution that goes beyond the product itself, and where possible, minimize the use of products by delivering great services.”

Communicate the business value of sustainability. Green sells! Businesses for whom green is central to their identity, value proposition or business strategy are more successful than businesses that adopt a cause just because they ought to. As design strategists, we can help companies find ways to turn sustainability into profitability.

But while it’s easy to identify how we COULD contribute, the tricky part, especially for us as consultants, is finding real opportunities to exercise these skills. While design educators can shape future generations of designers and business-people, and in-house designers can shape their company’s culture and product/service strategy, we’re often brought in for specific, often screen-based projects that seemingly have nothing to do with sustainability."    (Continued via adaptive path, InfoDesign)    [Usability Resources]

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