Help! Save the Planet with Non-Human Personas for UX Research & Design

Design User Experience UX Research

UX researchers and designers are advocates for the voice of the user. Bu twhat about key stakeholders that aren’t human? Like Our Beloved Planet! 

Human centered design (HCD) has been a methodology at the centre of development of products and services for the past few years in the digital and physical realms. Unfortunately, a focus on People, Technology and Profits has led to our neglect of living systems when making design decisions. 

This lack of consideration of our natural systems has had a terrible impact on The Planet. The primary human created emergency facing our world is Climate Change. We believe that if people had considered non-human personas upfront during the design process, maybe the human impact on the environment could have been reduced.  

Martin Tomitsch, Professor of Interaction Design & Director of Innovation at the University of Sydney addressed consciously making design decisions through changing the paradigm of personas. These non-human personas have been adopted by our team. They have the same approach as the human-centred personas that have been crafted to create empathy and tackle design problems with a human focus, and based on scientific data and statistics. 

An example of an industry which would benefit from taking into account non-human personas is the fashion industry.

There are many ethical online platforms that are grappling with problems regarding fast fashion and mass production in underdeveloped countries, as well as brands that are focusing on manufacturing environmentally friendly clothing. For example, Good on you that rates fashion brands on how good they are on people, the planet and animals. 

Here are some examples of non-human personas for UX research design that are affected by the fashion industry.

  • Atmosphere:

The garment industry is responsible for 10% of annual global carbon emissions, which damages the atmosphere. When introducing the atmosphere as a non-human persona, stakeholders are able to empathise with our environment. 

The Atmosphere- A non-human persona for UX ResearchLooking into design solutions, the University of Sydney Design Lab suggested a health star rating for apps, which can be found in the World Economic Form article. We are suggesting that that this approach can be applied by assessing an apps’ battery consumption, the better then app the less it needs to be charged. Thereby reduces the amount of electricity used and the CO2 released if the energy is sourced by burning coal. 

  • Dhaleshwari River:

Bangladesh is one of the biggest garments manufacturers in the world and dyeing fabrics is polluting their rivers through toxic waste water, which is killing their natural environment. 

The Dhalesshwari River- A non-human persona for UX ResearchThe impacts of the river pollution go beyond the environment, as the pollution also affects aspects of human rights. People who live close to this area no longer have the ability to use the water for recreation or even basic essentials such as fishing and drinking. The UN has designed a UN human rights app that addresses similar issues through their presentation and analysis of human and environmental conditions, in order to help those whose rights are being violated during the production of goods. 

  • Ocean:

Clothing that is made out of polyester is essentially made out of plastic. Polyester represents 60% of the clothing worldwide, which releases microfibres (plastic) that goes into the ocean affecting the whole ecosystem. 

The Ocean - A non-human persona for UX ResearchAs a way to tackle this problem and others, Good On You came up with a rating system approach which analyzes the environmental and ethical impact of fashion brands when manufacturing products. This rating assists consumers to make more sustainable and conscious decisions when purchasing clothing, through raising awareness and providing information about the material sources and labour conditions. 

In summary, for UX researchers and designers to create positive change, designers need to feel empathy with all the things that the product has an impact on, as they are doing their work. They can do so with additional personas that are not just about people. These personas elicit empathy (they made some of us cry!) and will help us to make more thoughtful design decisions, in particular concerning our environment and living systems. 

What designs have you seen recently that have taken into consideration this approach, or not?