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How might we make it easier for people to accept the
carbon emissions caused by digital behaviors, and
motivate them to take long-term low-carbon actions?

about the project

I embarked on this personal project to apply UX design principles in order to solve problems that are important to me. As a seal lover who is concerned about the damage of Arctic habitat by global warming, I set out to address some of the main problems of human digital activities causing carbon emission. The topic is about my surprise to find that digital activities increases carbon emissions as much as offline driving, leading to higher temperatures. I hope that by creating an engaging and motivating experience, I can enable people to be aware of this serious environmental problem and participate in the low-carbon lifestyle.

type of engagement

solo student work 


6 weeks  (Oct-Nov. 2021)

project type

- user research

- user experience design

[why this project?]

Human digital activity is heating up the planet, which requires everyone's action to reduce their carbon footprint

My motivation for pursing this problem space came from conducting secondary research, and I was surprised to discover that digital activities that we have always thought of as more environmentally friendly are having just as much of an impact on carbon emissions as physical activities like driving and overproduction.


digital activities

“Every time I download an email I contribute to global warming. Every time I tweet, do a search, check a webpage, I create pollution. Digital is physical… It seems invisible. It seems cheap and free. It’s not. Digital costs the Earth.” (World Wide Waste, Gerry McGovern, April 2020)

data center.webp

data center

Data is not in the “cloud”, and it needs physical buildings to save, which are hungry for energy and causes significant carbon emissions every day. This can be said “If the Internet were a country, it would be the sixth largest polluter”.

1.6 billion trees are needed to offset email sending activities

1.6 billion

 More than 80% of the respondents expressed their willingness to contribute to environmental protection.



EcoFin focuses on providing users with an engaging and motivating experience of being informed and reminded through companionship, friend-like conversation, clear visualization, gamification, and usability testing.


seal icon.png


You got a friend from arctic ocean!

I designed a seal-like character to help users build empathy to engage and motivate users for paying attention to their digital activities.

  • friendly visual identity

  • arctic animal


Let's take a good care of your friend!

The health score of the seal-like digital pet is effected by the detected carbon footprint, and the pet relied on the tasks that the users completed to stay healthy. 

  • clear status visualization

  • facial emotion expression

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Direct manipulation with the digital pet

Quick and easy tasks to turn your friend back to healthy!

The tasks combines with the seal-like digital pet with visually appealing UI elements to inspires users to adopt a digital low-carbon lifestyle in a motivating way.

  • direct action instruction

  • easy operation

  • clear positive feedback

Software on smart watch and computer

Your friend is always here!

The pet is run on apple watch to accompany users, and build emotional connection with them at any time. It is also run on the computer with the carbon footprint monitor for users to easily check and complete tasks while using the computer.

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Flow 1_1x-60fps (1).gif

[design process]







  • desktop research

  • context observation

  • user interview

  • user journey map

  • storyboard

  • knowledge graph

  • competitor analysis

  • taskflow

  • wireframe

  • hi-fi prototype

  • visual+UI design

  • cognitive walkthrough

  • usability test

[research methods]

👀📝 5 hours

context observation

👩‍💻💬 6 semi-structured

user interview

[context observation]

5 key activities related to excessive data transmission and storage were identified

I followed a college student who needed to take online classes for a day. My goal is to identify the digital activities that contribute most significantly to excessive data transmission and storage, leading to high carbon emissions. I sat away from the student to avoid interrupting. 


[user interview]

2 main reasons behind those activities

were identified

I conducted 6 semi-structured qualitative interviews to share experiences about online activities. Our participants were students who spend more than 5 hours online every day. Notes and quotes from the interviews were analyzed user journey map.

Frame 1399.png




5 main high-carbon digital activities

  1. take online class

  2. search information

  3. save documents

  4. receive emails

  5. keep the PC on.



Users have uneasy feeling about the topic

When users talk about environmental issues, they often experience a sense of unfamiliarity and difficulty.

2 reasons.png


2 main reasons of those activities

1. unawareness: no idea about the environment impact related to digital activities

2. laziness (forgetfulness): need signal to be reminded to take action



Proper reminders can encourage action

Reminders with clear instructions could make users take immediate action, but reminders that are too difficult to understand or urgent can be nerve-wracking.

Good, problem defined. Time for ideas! 🌟

[design goals]

🤔 understandable

Make serious environmental issues and low-carbon topics easier to accept and understand

😁 easy

Change users' perception that low-carbon behaviors are difficult and troublesome

❤️ intimate

Establish trust and empathy with the product emotionally for users

[knowledge graph]

The data types that reflect carbon emissions were matched with corresponding low-carbon behaviors that can be taken

To provide users with reminder and targeted low-carbon behaviors, I conducted research on how to detect carbon emissions caused by digital behaviors, and which low-carbon behaviors can be promoted to reduce those emissions.

knowledge graph.png

[competitor research]

The product shoud convey serious and abstract concepts to users in a simple and understandable manner, as well as make users more engaged

As this is a serious environmental topic, users may feel unfamiliar and overwhelmed when discussing it. To simplify the product and make it more accessible, I analyzed four competing products to identify potential problems and learn from their advantages.

Group 280834.png

[design strategies]

vivid expression.png

vivid expression

Users can quickly understand the environmental impact of digital behaviors through visual images and familiar concepts, such as how many trees are needed to offset the carbon emissions generated by sending 50 emails.


friendly character

Through interacting and talking with the friendly digital pet, users can establish empathy for Arctic animals and feel that carbon emissions and low-carbon actions are no longer unreachable.

minize operation.png

minimize operations

To focus on getting users to complete tasks quickly and easily and minimize data transmission, I will apply the principle of minimalism and follow the principles of "green interaction" to enable automatic operations.

game-like process.png

game-like process

Users can gain sustained motivation through an interesting gamified process with positive feedback.

Nice ideas. Let's bring them to life! 💡 

[concept storyboard]

a seal-like digital pet runs both on smart watch and the PC with carbon footprint monitor


[task flow]


[testing + main improvement]

3 major improvement in my design

Based on various feedbacks from 3 users and 1 mentor, I made 3 rounds of iteration - with 3 major improvements.






Call to action

"I want to know immediately what happened and what to do."

"I'm so busy sometimes, I wish I could turn off notifications.”

Visual instruction

"I want the instructions to be clear, to help me directly and quickly know what to do.”











Emotionally engaging expression

"I hope to feel the difference and seriousness of the problem from the facial expression of the pet."

Finally here comes the design 😍

[character design]


[final design]

[design storyboard]

design storyboard_3.jpg

[my takeaways]

1. iterating the product together with the users


Being a personal project, it's natural to have certain limitations in my thinking. However, engaging with users to discuss the product shatters these boundaries, enabling designers to uncover issues and possibilities previously unseen. Even after completing the project, I regularly converse with new individuals about the product, and during these interactions, I consistently stumble upon fresh insights. I consider this process highly valuable and essential.

2. assessing the feasibility of the proposals: 


As a personal project, this design allowed me to explore my creativity. However, given more time and opportunities, I would have liked to assess the feasibility of the design methods. In future projects, I aspire to evaluate different ideas from a broader and more professional standpoint. Additionally, I eagerly anticipate collaborating with larger design teams and engaging with diverse perspectives, as it would make the design process more exciting and impactful.

Thanks for your time

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