The Sustainability Scanner is an app that assists consumers in making sustainable choices while they shop by providing information about a product's carbon footprint and company's sustainability practices.
Climate change is one of the world’s most critical issues at present and it’s motivating individuals to change their consumption habits. There a lot of general rules for shopping sustainably like buying local and secondhand, but when you want to buy the sustainable option for a product it often involves some research. You could google the item with word “sustainable” in front of it but you run the risk of falling into the trap of greenwashing and have to sift through various sources. There also now exists a plethora of resources like online marketplaces that sell strictly sustainable products and organizations that rate the sustainability of brands and companies. However, the average consumer likes what’s convenient and wants a quicker way to make an informed choice when buying something.
Sustainability Scanner is an app that uses your phone camera to scan a product’s barcode and give you information about how sustainable it is. This way when you’re on the go you don’t have to do any googling and research and can make an informed choice in seconds.
My first phase of research was to conduct informal interviews. I asked five interviewees if they shopped sustainably, and if so, what their approach was. Many people conveyed that they had brands or companies that they trusted and brands or companies that they distrusted. My follow up was how did they come to trust a brand? Where did the trust come from? One interviewee cited research that involved comparing different companies while shopping for a particular product (using information provided by the companies), but most people did not have a way to pinpoint where their trust came from. “Their marketing says that they are sustainable- I guess I really don’t know” was one person’s explanation.
After gaining some insight on what individuals’ approaches were to sustainable shopping, I looked into existing services. At first, I thought that it would be the best approach to examine services that rate sustainable products. However, many sustainable online marketplaces detail their criteria for how they curate products, which offered insight into the things that are being considered in this space. Sustainable marketplaces also were brought up by the people I interviewed more often. One person cited them as a good tool when they didn’t want to be burdened with research.
Good On You, a company that rates the sustainability of brands, was also brought up by one interviewee. It seemed to be the most widely recognized comparable service to the Sustainability Scanner, but focuses mainly on the fashion industry. It also curated the brands it rated, rather than aiming to cover a wide range of brands.
Based on my interviews and exploration of existing products, I decided that the Sustainability Scanner would primarily be intended for grocery products. There largely aren’t products or services that provide thorough sustainability reports for packaged foods. This was surprising to me based on the fact that literally all people grocery shop to some degree. This was also an area that those interviewed didn’t seem to consider in their sustainable shopping. There were many mentions of sustainable clothing and beauty products, but little talk about sustainable food.
In addition, my research affirmed that an app that could scan bar codes was a useful tool for consumers. It is much easier to research while you are already at your computer shopping, but what if you are physically in a store? All of the existing services I looked at that curated sustainable products or rated sustainability exist solely online. Physical stores focused on sustainability exist but can often be more expensive or not carry as wide a selection of products as a non-specialty store.
The key goal of users is to learn about the sustainability of a product. This influenced the development of a flow that can get the user to the product page quickly and through various routes.
I began my design of the Sustainability Scanner’s UI with more research into existing companies, trends in sustainable technology in general, and the marketing of brands marketed as sustainable. Companies that evaluate the sustainability of products often have green as a central brand color and use a lot of leaf, tree, and earth iconography in their logos. Modern brands that make sustainable products generally have simple logos, often just text, and often using just black and white.
My reflex was to avoid green as a central color as to not blend in with similar products but ultimately I decided on a color palette that was a combination of approaches used by companies already in this space. My rationale was that the app should look like it belongs in the same space as other sustainable companies, while differentiating itself enough visually to communicate its uniqueness.
Unfortunately due to time constraints I was not able to do as in depth testing as I would have like. However, I was able to have a few people test an interactive prototype made with InVision. They were asked to image they were shopping at a grocery store and use the app as they felt they would in that situation.
A final thought I had when looking at the interface in brightly lit library is that dark mode might not be best suited for a grocery store environment, which is typically well lit. A version of the UI that is significantly lighter might be necessary.
The next step would be to create another iteration of this design using my feedback from testing and then test again. This project was completed over six weeks, which was a major constraint that did not allow for much iteration. In addition, I worked on this project solo. In future projects I would love to work on a team and with a developer in order to better understand the limitations of creating a product like this.
If I were to move forward with this product, there would need to be a lot of research on where to get data for the sustainability ratings. Though this is not part of the UX design, the data is very important to the overall product and trust from the user. I went down some interesting rabbit holes in search of an efficient way to collect sustainability data or find a source for it. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed designing the Sustainability Scanner and would want to work on similar projects in the future.