Green IT: Challenge for designers

Posted on June 20, 2010


A few years back I wrote a paper about marketing computing programmes – promoting courses of study that is  (rather than either selling programs or programs that sell things).   In that paper I talked about how badly our prospectuses do at promoting the career of computing to potential students.   Instead of careers with a focus on what graduates do,  we seem to be in the business of selling computers  – the hardware – almost indistinguishable from an advert from Dell or HP.     Computing might be ubiquitous, but only in the form of  close-up images of a skewed keyboard.

I know how this has happened, probably you do too.   The subtle difference between computing as a career and using computers in your career usually lost on our friends in marketing.    Even if they get it, the tools they use – the commercial image banks – don’t make this distinction either:  computing and computer are treated the same.  Try it, see if you get past query results like this:  “results for (Using Computer (Moving Activity) OR Computer Equipment (Information Equipment))“.

So, why am raising this now?   I’m raising this now because a skewed keyboard caught my eye this week, and instead of not telling the story of computing careers, its failing this time to tell the story of sustainable computing careers.

This image is from the Green IT week virtual event (an entirely worthy event I encourage you all to register for next time round).  Ignoring the sidebar ones (generic pictures of a virtual conference set up), to me the middle ones fail to bring together Green and IT – a missed opportunity to tell a narrative of sustainable computing.

The leaf infused with circuitry is a literal interpretation but does nothing to suggest what it might mean to be a green IT practitioner, it serves little function more than eyecandy. The logo for Computers Off has a green switch but nothing more.

The skewed keyboard juxtaposed against the hand holding soil similarly misses the point.  Neither the keyboard nor the hand properly represent computing (emphasis on the _ing rather than _er) nor sustainability.  Just like the keyboard poorly represents computing, the hand/soil image poorly represents sustainability.

Worse, there is no attempt to integrate the two, the site visitor who found the site thinking “what’s green got to do with computing?” is left thinking “clearly nothing if the best they could do to tell this story is a keyboard and some soil on separate images”.

Probably the most crucial step in telling the story of sustainable computing is the message that it is a single narrative.   Instead the images in this screenshot suggest I buy a computer and perhaps I could do some gardening.    Separate, unrelated stories.

No, I don’t have the answers here.  Perhaps a challenge.   What images could we use to tell this story?   As a start, I think that almost any of the diagrams in the collection could, with a bit of designerly sprucing and placed in a computing context, do a better job here at demonstrating relevance and exploring synergies to begin to tell the story of sustainable computing.