Sustainable Web Design by Tom Greenwood

I’ve know that there is a movement to make the web more sustainable for a while, but Sustainable Web Design, written by Tom Greenwood, is the first book I’ve read about it. I read the book, honestly, because it’s from A Book Apart, and I give pretty much everything they publish a read.

I’m recommending the book, however, because it illustrates that sustainability is one more excellent reason to run an efficient, cleanly-coded, performant website.

An efficient site lets a user do the task they arrived to do in the fewest possible understandable steps, and with the fewest possible distractions.

A cleanly-coded website has less code cruft, takes up less server space, takes up less time to transmit from place to place, and has fewer errors.

A performant website also takes up less server space and less time to transmit from place to place. Additionally, it makes the web feel “snappy” and increases user confidence and satisfaction.

All of those things help us burn less electricity (both as the web consumer and — more importantly — as the web producer), and as a result, increase the sustainability of the internet. Considering that the internet is, as Tom Greenwood puts it, a coal-fired machine, any increase we can make is progress.

Sustainability is important, but sustainability isn’t my passion in UX (at least right now). My passion is seeing that coal-fired machine become more accessible to people with disabilities and users in general.

Turns out that efficiency, clean code, and performance <i>also</i> increase accessibility. Especially when we’re talking about things like “yo how about you remove those eleventy billion javascript frameworks that aren’t accessible, eat a ton of server space, and make loading times agonizing, and try plain static html instead?”

We all have our passions in UX, and that’s good. It helps to keep the larger culture balanced. But it’s also excellent when we can places where our different goals can be met together using common techniques.

Whether you’re passionate about sustainability, accessibility, or just plain great UX, whether your interest is in software, hardware, or managing data centers, whether you are a lifelong tech geek who remembers when everything had to fit on a floppy disk or you’re new to the web and don’t remember a time before Amazon.com, Tom Greenwood’s book will have suggestions for how you can make your products, and our planet, more sustainable. And probably hit a good number of your other life goals on the way.

Quiet in a time of change

You may have noticed that the site has become… well… UX-related book reviews mostly.

That’s not an accident — I’m reading more than I have in decades, and I do my best to review good books because reviews are a driver for sales, and good authors deserve to be rewarded for being good authors.

But it’s also an acknowledgement that I’m not talking about much else in UX right now. Even on The Interconnected, which is my usual ranting locus, the site was virtually silent last year.

Last year, I think we can all agree, was rough.

This year so far is better but that doesn’t mean much. When I walk the half marathon in Virginia Beach, mile 11 over the damned bridge is hell, but it being stupid hard doesn’t suddenly move the finish line closer.

Still, I think there’s a finish line around the corner, so I shall trudge on until I can fall onto the beach and soak my feet in the ocean.

Things that are looking up:

  • I have a new job at Vertex, Inc. where we design software that calculates sales tax and VAT. I am pro-fair-taxes and also pro-make-taxes-easy, and in a lot of places (for better or worse) sales taxes fund lots of important local initiatives, so at least at the moment it feels like a good fit. I’m two months in and I haven’t seriously pissed anyone off yet, but the day is still young.
  • I’m seeing more and more people in our industry concerned about accessibility and making things more equitable for all, regardless of disability. I refuse to say that the pandemic has any silver linings with 500,000 dead in my country alone. I will say that hard-earned lessons are still lessons, and hopefully we’ll come out of this with more accessible jobs, more accessible websites, and more people giving a damn about their own impacts on their neighbors’ ability to survive in an increasingly technical world.
  • While we’re on the subject of survival, there’ll be a review coming up sometime soon on Sustainable Web Design by Tom Greenwood. I’m about halfway through now and already recommending it to coworkers. Many of the goals in the book align with accessibility goals and good information architecture goals, so I think it could become an asset in convincing our higher-ups (especially in enterprise product design) that good web design = good business, both on the surface and within the code.

I’m also working (slowly) on my own accessibility website, trying to bring together information from the WCAG and the Deque online training classes I’m taking, articles that I rely on, other books, etc.. The ultimate goal is somewhere that people can navigate through a list of components and find something that says “Oh, buttons? Here are all the WCAG guidelines, info on how to hit them, and info on how to test them, all in one place.”

That’s taking longer than I thought it would because

  1. pandemic;
  2. constant exhaustion;
  3. I am the world’s worst estimator.

May you also be within sight of the next milestone, and may your strength hold out until you get there.