How sustainable design best practices can help combat data poverty and build brand value


Published by Chris Butterworth
on 23/05/2022

There are many benefits to implementing sustainable design practices within digital products, including lower running costs and better performance. When it comes to consumer-facing touchpoints, performance is key, whether for a website or a web application.

Crucially, these practices can actually lead to higher conversion rates due to the positive impact on user experience, thanks to quicker loading times and hitting additional performance benchmarks.

The data poverty problem

Technology rollouts always start from major economic hubs, with London usually being at the very centre here in the UK. While that’s understandable, when it comes to data poverty, smaller towns almost always have it worse. This is especially prevalent in cases where the local council is not just for the town, but the surrounding villages, where there can be dozens — all with sporadic connectivity.

Having tested every English county council website, you can see that there’s a huge variation in page size, which in turn leads to a huge variety of loading times, with the largest taking a full five seconds to load the home page.

Five seconds is a relative eternity online, and this has massive implications for both households and businesses looking to find local information that could affect them, or looking to pay for services or sundries online, especially for those with little or no internet connection.

TitlePage size (MB)Loading time (seconds) *
https://digitalbeacon.co/report/birmingham-gov-uk2.762.208
https://digitalbeacon.co/report/cambridgeshire-gov-uk5.034.024
https://digitalbeacon.co/report/cumbria-gov-uk0.960.468
https://digitalbeacon.co/report/derbyshire-gov-ukhome-aspx0.870.696
https://digitalbeacon.co/report/devon-gov-uk1.51.2
https://digitalbeacon.co/report/durham-gov-uk0.580.464
https://digitalbeacon.co/report/eastriding-gov-uk3.352.68
https://digitalbeacon.co/report/essex-gov-uk2.041.632
https://digitalbeacon.co/report/hants-gov-uk0.400.32
https://digitalbeacon.co/report/kent-gov-uk0.220.176
https://digitalbeacon.co/report/lancashire-gov-uk2.011.608
https://digitalbeacon.co/report/norfolk-gov-uk10.8
https://digitalbeacon.co/report/northyorks-gov-uk1.331.064
https://digitalbeacon.co/report/suffolk-gov-uk1.831.464
https://digitalbeacon.co/report/surreycc-gov-uk0.640.512
https://digitalbeacon.co/report/hertfordshire-gov-ukhome-aspx3.422.736
https://digitalbeacon.co/report/staffordshire-gov-ukhomepage-aspx1.10.88
https://digitalbeacon.co/report/leicestershire-gov-uk1.691.352
https://digitalbeacon.co/report/lincolnshire-gov-uk6.335.064
https://digitalbeacon.co/report/nottinghamshire-gov-uk1.271.016
https://digitalbeacon.co/report/westsussex-gov-uk1.641.312
https://digitalbeacon.co/report/gloucestershire-gov-uk3.152.52
https://digitalbeacon.co/report/worcestershire-gov-uk2.131.704
https://digitalbeacon.co/report/eastsussex-gov-uk1.451.16
https://digitalbeacon.co/report/oxfordshire-gov-uk2.522.016
https://digitalbeacon.co/report/warwickshire-gov-uk3.692.952
https://digitalbeacon.co/report/somerset-gov-uk3.222.576

Another key sector to consider is education, where technology use has become a key part of everyday life, and online submissions for work or remote learning have become the norm, even more so during the pandemic. Despite education often being focused on innovation, within higher or remote education there are some truly archaic systems being used, where little or no investment has been made.

TitlePage size (MB)Loading time (secs) *
https://digitalbeacon.co/report/bath-ac-uk3.833.064
https://digitalbeacon.co/report/warwick-ac-uk11.879.496
https://digitalbeacon.co/report/ucl-ac-uk15.5212.416
https://digitalbeacon.co/report/lboro-ac-uk6.445.152
https://digitalbeacon.co/report/durham-ac-ukhomepage108
https://digitalbeacon.co/report/imperial-ac-uk1.541.232
https://digitalbeacon.co/report/st-andrews-ac-uk1.711.368
https://digitalbeacon.co/report/lse-ac-uk4.53.6
https://digitalbeacon.co/report/cam-ac-uk4.223.376
https://digitalbeacon.co/report/ox-ac-uk2.592.072

Although the table above is for universities, where most of those who attend can afford a fast broadband connection, the same can’t be said for the 1 million UK households who have affordability issues, or the close to 900,000 children who live in households with only mobile internet, where data has a real minute-by-minute and MB-by-MB cost.

The data poverty solution

This is where digital sustainability practices come into play, above and beyond government intervention to get affordable broadband in any form in every household.

By implementing digital sustainability practices, we are able to help reduce the amount of data transferred for these portals to function, in order to help make them work for those on lower speed connections and make it more accessible regardless of location.

An example of this is the gov.uk website, which weighs just over 200KB in size — and loads in just 0.16 seconds on a 10Mbps* connection.

While some practices that can help your website may seem complex, there are some fairly straightforward ones too. Compressing and minimising imagery use - and other media – is one of the biggest things that can help. Beyond that, removing unused code and optimising what’s currently used (including fonts) will be the next biggest thing. This can be complex, but is well worth it in the long run.

Beyond your website or web application, we can help by raising awareness of data poverty, to help eradicate it within our society. We are still within the transition to a digital-first society, with a huge number of services moving online, so we need to ensure that these services are accessible to everyone who needs them.

*10Mbps is used throughout as it’s the average connection speed of 4G which covers 99% of the UK population.


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