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RENY®Studio: White Paper Series

White Paper 3

A Design Thinking Approach to Sustainable WordPress Design

In today’s digital age, the importance of a well-designed, user-friendly, and sustainable website cannot be overstated. With an increasing focus on sustainability and eco-friendly practices, organisations must adapt their web presence to reflect their commitment to these values. This white paper will outline the Design Thinking process for creating a sustainable website using WordPress as the content management system (CMS).

  1. Introduction

  2. Design Thinking

  3. Hosting

  4. Testing

Introduction 

In today’s digital age, the importance of a well-designed, user-friendly, and sustainable website cannot be overstated. With an increasing focus on sustainability and eco-friendly practices, organisations must adapt their web presence to reflect their commitment to these values. This white paper will outline the Design Thinking process for creating a sustainable website using WordPress as the content management system (CMS).

Empathise

Understanding User Needs and Sustainability Goals To create a sustainable website design using WordPress, the first step is empathising with your target audience and understanding their needs and expectations. This involves researching your users’ preferences, habits, concerns regarding sustainability, and the environmental impact of web design.

  • Conduct user interviews and surveys to gather their expectations for sustainable websites.
  • Research industry trends and best practices for sustainable web design.
  • Understand the environmental impact of websites, such as carbon emissions, energy consumption, and e-waste.

Define

Identifying the Problem and Setting Objectives After empathising with your users, define the problem you want to address with your sustainable website design. This stage involves establishing clear objectives and requirements for your WordPress website.

  • Define the critical sustainability goals for your website, such as reducing carbon emissions, using eco-friendly hosting, and optimising resource usage.
  • Set measurable objectives to track your website’s sustainability performance.
  • Identify technical or design constraints, such as responsive design, compatibility with WordPress plugins, and accessibility requirements.

Ideate

Generating Sustainable Design Solutions With a clear understanding of the problem and objectives, brainstorm potential sustainable design solutions for your WordPress website. Consider various approaches to address sustainability goals and encourage innovative ideas.

  • Explore different WordPress themes and plugins that promote sustainability, such as energy-efficient coding, lazy-loading images, and performance optimisation tools.
  • Consider incorporating renewable energy sources or carbon offset programs for your website’s hosting.
  • Evaluate content delivery networks (CDNs) and caching techniques to reduce the environmental impact of serving web content.

Prototype

Building and Refining the Sustainable Website Design In the Prototype stage, create a working model of your sustainable website design using WordPress. This involves selecting the most promising ideas from the Ideation stage and implementing them in a functional website.

  • Choose a WordPress theme that aligns with your sustainability goals and customise it to fit your brand identity.
  • Install and configure plugins to optimise performance, reduce energy consumption, and enhance the user experience.
  • Test the prototype on various devices and browsers to ensure compatibility and responsiveness.

Test

Evaluating and Improving the Sustainable Website Design Finally, test your sustainable website design with real users to gather feedback and validate your solution. This stage involves monitoring your website’s performance, assessing its sustainability impact, and making iterative improvements.

  • Collect user feedback on the website’s usability, design, and sustainability features.
  • Monitor the website’s performance metrics and compare them against your sustainability objectives.
  • Iterate and refine the design based on user feedback and performance data to achieve your sustainability goals.

Conclusion

Designing a sustainable website using WordPress requires a comprehensive approach incorporating the Design Thinking process. By empathising with your users, defining your objectives, generating creative solutions, prototyping, and testing, you can create a website that meets your users’ needs and minimises environmental impact. Committing to sustainable design practices, your organisation can contribute to a greener, more eco-friendly digital landscape.

Action List for UX Designers and Developers to Ensure a Carbon-Negative Website:

Eco-friendly hosting:

  • Choose a hosting provider with renewable energy sources or a carbon offset program.
  • Consider hosting providers with energy-efficient data centres and hardware.

Optimise images and media:

  • Compress and resize images to reduce file sizes without compromising quality.
  • Use image formats like WebP or AVIF for better compression and faster load times.
  • Implement lazy loading for photos and videos to reduce initial page load time.
  • Utilise responsive photos to serve the appropriate image size for each device.

Efficient coding practices:

  • Minify HTML, CSS, and JavaScript files to reduce file sizes and improve load times.
  • Optimise the website’s critical rendering path to prioritise above-the-fold content.
  • Use CSS animations and transitions instead of JavaScript when possible for better performance.
  • Remove unnecessary code, plugins, or widgets to reduce the website’s footprint.

Content delivery and caching:

  • Implement a content delivery network (CDN) to serve static assets from geographically closer servers.
  • Leverage browser caching to store fixed assets locally on the user’s device.
  • Use server-side caching techniques like page caching to reduce server load and response time.

Accessibility and performance:

  • Ensure the website is accessible to users with disabilities by following Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
  • Regularly audit the website’s performance using tools like Google Lighthouse or WebPageTest.
  • Address any performance issues or bottlenecks identified in the audit.

Sustainable design principles:

  • Adopt a mobile-first approach to design, focusing on essential content and functionality.
  • Use typography, colours, and white space effectively to create a clean and user-friendly design.
  • Design for modularity and reusability to reduce development time and resource consumption.

Continuous improvement and monitoring:

  • Track the website’s carbon emissions using tools like Website Carbon Calculator.
  • Set up performance monitoring tools like Google Analytics or New Relic to track user engagement and resource usage.
  • Regularly review and update the website to maintain its carbon-negative status.

By following this action list, UX designers and developers can ensure that their WordPress website is user-friendly, visually appealing, and carbon negative, contributing to a more sustainable digital environment.

Here is a list of websites where users can test and validate their website emissions:

  1. Website Carbon Calculator (https://www.websitecarbon.com/): This tool estimates the carbon emissions generated by a website based on its specific energy consumption, data transfer, and the energy mix of the hosting provider.
  2. EcoGrader (https://www.ecograder.com/): EcoGrader evaluates the overall sustainability of a website, including factors like performance optimisation, user experience, and environmental impact.
  3. Green Web Foundation (https://www.thegreenwebfoundation.org/green-web-check/): The Green Web Foundation offers a tool that checks whether a website is hosted by a green hosting provider, which can help users assess their website’s environmental impact.
  4. Google Lighthouse (https://developers.google.com/web/tools/lighthouse): While not explicitly focused on carbon emissions, it provides a comprehensive performance audit to help users identify areas to optimise, ultimately reducing their website’s energy consumption and emissions.
  5. GTmetrix (https://gtmetrix.com/): Similar to Google Lighthouse, GTmetrix offers performance analysis and optimisation recommendations to improve a website’s overall efficiency, which can contribute to reduced carbon emissions.
  6. Pingdom Website Speed Test (https://tools.pingdom.com/): Pingdom’s tool can help users enhance their site’s efficiency and reduce their carbon footprint by analysing website performance and recommending improvements.

While these tools can help users estimate their website’s emissions and identify areas for improvement, it is essential to remember that they only provide estimates and recommendations. Users should continually monitor their website’s performance and optimise it to maintain a low carbon footprint.

Ben Rennie

Co-Founder and Design Director at RENY®