A New Digital Vision

  • Rob Bartlett

‘To make anything makes you a part of the problem’. So says one of my favourite makers. A truth that also applies to digital design.

I’ve had one giant bugbear with digital, throughout my entire career. Namely, its impermanence. What makes it so spontaneous, replaceable and new, can simultaneously make it such a frivolous producer of waste.

Unfortunately, very few of us are linking our digital consumption with our impacts on Planet Earth. The real travesty to my mind is that digital design could easily slash its CO2 emissions overnight.

Maybe because I started out as a web developer, in the days of dial-up, but I’ve never been overly impressed by all the flashy, fancy-pantsy stuff. (I probably also got burned too many times, struggling to turn some Print Grads designs into a site.) Instead, I'm always drawn to seek out the meaning behind a design. ‘What’s it for?’. ‘Who does it does help?’. ‘Does it just get in the way?'

In retrospect, this ‘healthily’ obsessive quest has undoubtedly lead to my success in icon design. I can think of no other discipline across all of digital comms, more focused, economical and precise.

These days, I'm just one in a vast community of creatives, taking a more sober approach. In fact, I’ve been redoubling efforts over the past few months, to become a more socially, ethically and environmentally-minded designer.

And it’s thrown up some really interesting questions along the way. Things like:

How do we harness the communicative power of design, without creating a ton of new waste? How do we progress the conversation around diversity, gender and race, in innovative and thought-provoking ways? How do we support our clients own initiatives and drives, through our pro-action as suppliers? None of it easy to answer overnight.

However, we can make an impact. Like the changes I've made to my own website and my proactivity with design. For example:

  • All full-colour images have been replaced by monotone bitmaps. (It’s brought the average image size down to approx. 40kb). I’ve removed all video content as well.
  • I’ve ditched using Javascript. (Saving on CPU demands)
  • I’ve stopped using analytics software or analysing data of any kind.
  • I’ve reduced all case study copy to around 240 characters. (Actively encouraging you to spend less time on my site.)
  • I’ve reduced all social posts to ‘once in a blue moon’ and muted those making the most noise.
  • I’ve joined 1% to the Planet as a way of giving back.
  • I set up Oasthaus Design and donate a percentage of income to socioethical causes.
  • I design with diversity, equality and inclusion front-of-mind.
  • I work remotely and have done for the past 10 years.
  • I run my studio on Eco energy and store my websites on a wind-powered host.
  • I use the Ecosia search engine on every device. (They plant a new tree for approx. every 45 searches made)
  • I’m in the process of switching to a better ethically ranked business bank.

Now clearly, my individual efforts won’t set the planet straight. But, if we start leading by example, we can turn impermanence into digital's greatest trait.