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Sustainable Websites: How UX Design Contributes to Usability

The digital world significantly impacts the environment through global greenhouse gas emissions. Sustainable web design is an approach to website architecture that aims to minimize environmental impact. The usability and sustainability of websites are two fundamental aspects that must be considered together to develop effective and responsible digital solutions.

13 June 2024
  • UX
  • UX Design

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Team Conflux

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13 June 2024
  • UX
  • UX Design

 

The W3C, World Wide Web Consortium, is committed to making the web an accessible place through its “Web Sustainability Guidelines” to minimize environmental impact. These guidelines are a set of recommendations and best practices aimed at making the web more environmentally sustainable. They focus on reducing energy consumption and carbon emissions associated with web use. The main areas of interest are:

  • Resource Optimization
  • Efficient Design
  • Sustainable Infrastructures
  • Accessibility and Inclusivity
  • Education and Awareness
  • Sustainable Development Practices
  • Reducing Content Impact

These guidelines present a goal, a resource for change and progress, defining themselves as a continuous work in progress.

Evaluating UX for Sustainability: A Progress Report

Adopting sustainable website standards is crucial, and the W3C group has established specific criteria to ensure this. An analysis of the W3C UX Design guidelines was conducted on the websites of three major Italian pharmaceutical companies: Angelini, Chiesi, and Menarini. For each site, 5 relevant pages and 3 main tasks were selected and evaluated using an Excel grid that divided the criteria into site outputs and processes. This allowed determining compliance at the general site level, specific pages, and tasks.

The initial analysis involved isolating the UX Design guidelines within the consortium document to apply and evaluate them on the pharmaceutical companies’ websites.

The first step was creating an Excel grid containing the UX Design guidelines and the criteria related to each guideline, then classifying them as site outputs or part of the process.

For the guidelines that resulted in an output, it was necessary to add the reference “level” indicating whether they pertained to the general site, specific pages within the site, or tasks to be performed. A sample of 5 relevant pages and 3 possible tasks on the site was selected. This ensured that the initially created template included the “area of reference”, specifying which page or task was being analyzed for each output guideline criterion and its corresponding evaluation. The need to divide the grid this way arose from the specificity of the criteria, which did not always allow for a generalized positive or negative evaluation.

 

 

For each site, about one-fifth of the criteria were deemed “not applicable” because, in some cases, the reference page or site did not exhibit the described characteristic. This made it impossible to place all criteria into an evaluation that either reflected or violated the guideline. The evaluation of the “Angelini” site showed that most criteria were met, with a total of 44 positive assessments across specific pages, the site, and tasks. The “No” responses were concentrated on criteria related to the homepage and the general site, totaling 13. The results for the other two sites were slightly different: “Chiesi” had a total of 42 “Yes” and 11 “No”; “Menarini” had 46 “Yes” and 11 “No.” The discrepancy in the total for each site is due to factors not considered because they were “not applicable” in the analysis. Considering only the applicable criteria, excluding the “not applicable” ones, we can estimate a percentage that reflects how much the site violates the sustainability guidelines. In the first case, “Angelini” had 23% negative responses to the reference criteria, followed by “Chiesi” with 21%, and “Menarini” with 19%. Thus, considering only the analysis of the consortium criteria outputs, the sites are sustainable with room for improvement.

Human Eyes Are Not Enough: Expert and Instrumental Evaluation

After completing the three grids for the three sites, it became apparent that this evaluation, especially in the analysis of the home pages, can be subjective concerning Attention-keeping and Efficient path. The other guideline criteria refer to specific tangible characteristics, making it easier to remain objective. Although most criteria are user-evaluated, some criteria, such as image optimization, lazy loading, and the ability to disable images, slowed down the work as they are difficult to identify.

To support the work on Excel, research was also conducted using “sustainability calculators” that classify sites based on global criteria considering emissions and the sustainability of the processes that constitute the websites. Eco Grader, Green Web Foundation, and Website Carbon Calculator evaluated the “Menarini” site as drastically insufficient, “Chiesi” as average but still nearly insufficient, and “Angelini” stood out with 80% approval. Therefore, a cross-evaluation between user experience and an expert is necessary to obtain a complete analysis, as even the use of support tools helped define and evaluate the websites. Promoting a more ethical and aware approach to green web design through usability, accessibility, and sustainability also contributes to improved user satisfaction and controlled impact to create a healthier and more sustainable digital ecosystem.

In conclusion

Website sustainability and usability are two fundamental pillars for a responsible and effective digital presence. Adopting the W3C guidelines not only helps reduce environmental impact but also promotes a smoother and more satisfying user experience. The analysis of the Angelini, Chiesi, and Menarini sites highlights how attention to UX Design and sustainability can lead to positive results, albeit with room for improvement. Integrating objective criteria and evaluation tools with practical experience is essential for ethical, accessible, and future-oriented web design. Only through joint efforts can we aspire to a healthier and more sustainable digital ecosystem.

If you are interested in learning more about the sustainability and usability of websites, contact us! We are available to provide further details and discuss how to implement more responsible digital practices.

  • UX
  • UX Design

Team Conflux

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