WEEK 12: Workshop Challenge – The Future!

For this weeks workshop challenge looking at how a type of design could be envisioned in the future I wanted to look at how an alternate future might look. I was really inspired by the work of Superflux, imagining and depicting futures should we not change. The idea of exploring something I might take for granted and how that might need to change in the future was really fascinating.

Joining in with some of the discussions with my peers on the ideas wall this week, I mentioned the idea of data storage and the impact that is quietly having on the environment. Greenpeace estimated that by 2025 cloud storage could account for 20% of the worlds electricity consumption. https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/news/greenpeace-finds-amazon-breaking-commitment-to-power-cloud-with-100-renewable-energy/ – (Greenpeace Finds Amazon Breaking Commitment to Power Cloud with 100% Renewable Energy, 2021) That’s a pretty unimaginable world to live in if you ask me! With a desparate need to reduce energy consumption science is looking for ways to improve data storage.
We have already advanced significantly from disk based drive storage which takes up much more energy than an SSD drive storage. Future advancements look at using the much discussed wonder material “graphene” to introduce new more efficient methods of data storage. https://www.graphene-info.com/new-graphene-based-material-increase-recording-density-data-storage-devices – (New graphene-based material to increase recording density of data storage devices | Graphene-Info, 2021)

But lets for a minute imagine that these things don’t work out, energy crisis hits a critical point, we have long since disbanded print houses and recycled the materials. The world is still heavily reliant on it’s gloablised state, advertising is prominent still.

I wanted to look at how traditional advertising might replace digital with it’s reliance on data storage. Would we see a rise in sign-painters and traditional artists? How does this world look?
I started with a quick mockup, dropping sign-painted advertising over a photo of Picadilly Circus, I really wanted to see this look unique and like a new world. I didn’t really feel like this made much of an impact though. This direction only really showed a bygone world, an art that had it’s moment. The impact of this message would not be so bold. If anything the nostalgia of yesterday might actually be appealing to some. My message was about how the world we know it now looks different due to a limit of data storage.

I wanted to get an idea of what kind of data we consume on average using the internet and social media.
I found it quite difficult to determine how much data is actually generated on a web search, understandably Google are quite secretive on how their systems work (who’d have thought…) So I first added a google search for “Latest News UK” and using my browsers “Inspect” function, pulled through all the HTML code that is generated on a google web search.
Pasting this into dreamweaver and saving the subsequent html file generated a file equivalent to around 353kbs

I then downloaded the header images that such a search generates, the news article images and the google logo itself as a search would be pulling in this data. Google actually does an amazingly good job of keeping the file-size low on these as they are only around 5kbs each.
So let’s say for the sake of artistic licence that our google search used up around 370KBs of data. Not much. But according to https://www.internetlivestats.com/one-second/#google-band every second there are around 91,571 google searches happening around the world, that’s a lot of data! Obviously that data is stored and distributed, a lot of data is cached to save repeatedly downloading the same thing etc. I’m not scientifically inclined enough to work out the true data usage, but considering the power that storing data uses, I want to look at a future where we potentially cap this.

What does a future look like for design under data restrictions.

I want to envision a world where each person can use 1MB of data per day. What does advertising look like in that world? What do your friends and families digital photo storage look like in that world?
I started by downloading a quick scroll through Facebook. For the sake of anonymity around my friends, I’ve kept it mostly to ads and unintrusive posts. This quick scroll shows us highlights and five Facebook posts.
Each image within this uses up around 150KBs due to the way Facebook compresses images. That equates to 750kbs of posts, Four highlight images at 600kbs, Profile images and logos at around 5KBs each totalling around 80KBs. This brings us in at 1430KBs. (Very rough maths this!)
A quick bit of research suggests though that using the Facebook App currently drains about 1.5MB per minute. So actually maybe my working out wasn’t too far off!
https://www.wirefly.com/guides/how-much-data-does-facebook-app-use#:~:text=Regular%20use%20of%20the%20Facebook,of%20video%20you%20are%20watching. – (How Much Data Does The Facebook App Use?, 2021)

So what if our daily cap looks like 1MB, for the day?
I started compressing the images I found on this facebook result to get them as small as I could. My task was to compress images to a point where they are recognisable, but as small as I can make them.
Using Googles WebP setting I managed to get one of the images down to around 10KB. Not bad. I was also quietly impressed with how good the quality was across the three versions, from original to 10KBs see below.

So let’s crunch these smaller still, pushing these into jpegs or WebP files capped at around 10KBs, so let’s go smaller still.
I converted the image into 2 colour Gif format at the smallest quality I could push it. Tweaking the design slightly in the latter results to ensure more elements were legible. Results as follows.

However, if technology is such that a WebP image can display so much more artistic expression at 10KB than the Gif can at 5KB, it may not be worth minimising that.

After deciding what I wanted to create and understanding the limitations it would include I drew some layouts. I wanted to show the restrictions a user might face, locked away from content. But I also wanted to look at what incentivising the use of social media might look like in this world too. Perhaps companies would offer discount incentives based on the way you choose their content.

For fun I also wanted to show the idea of how a photo in this platform might be degraded to keep file size low!

I set to building a prototype in Adobe XD, a platform I’ve used a fair bit recently to create a working prototype of the social media platform I was creating “BESOCIAL”.
Basing my decisions on the Facebook feed I was emulating I created the platform in a way that would function with several decision paths. The results are below

Looking at the design once it was done I was kind of surprised at how normal it felt. The idea of this quite corporate and stripped down social media platform that removed our access to everything based on data restrictions felt no different to seeing paywalls in regular internet usage. Perhaps my design should have been more jarring, but I enjoyed the not-too-distant dystopia of it. The message was subtle, but it was there enough to give an idea.

My after thought was that being reminded of data usage might not be such a bad thing. I learnt that:

If every adult in the UK sent one less “thank you” email, it could save 16,433 tonnes of carbon a year. the equivalent to taking 3,334 diesel cars off the road.
(‘Think Before You Thank’ | OVO Energy, 2021)

I found that fact really jarring and considering how guilty I am of using my emails almost like a messenger service it might be interesting to remind people of the real world impact of their data usage. I’d like to consider in the future an app that tells you how much your data use is equivalent to in terms of carbon emissions, or the number of trees needed to offset your personal data use. Perhaps such a service could plug into our cloud storage, or see the upload data we send in a day and provide us a real world equivalent. Now I think about it, I really like that idea almost more than my original idea…

Graphene-info.com. 2021. New graphene-based material to increase recording density of data storage devices | Graphene-Info. [online] Available at: <https://www.graphene-info.com/new-graphene-based-material-increase-recording-density-data-storage-devices> [Accessed 13 May 2021].

Greenpeace USA. 2021. Greenpeace Finds Amazon Breaking Commitment to Power Cloud with 100% Renewable Energy. [online] Available at: <https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/news/greenpeace-finds-amazon-breaking-commitment-to-power-cloud-with-100-renewable-energy/> [Accessed 13 May 2021].

Ovoenergy.com. 2021. ‘Think Before You Thank’ | OVO Energy. [online] Available at: <https://www.ovoenergy.com/ovo-newsroom/press-releases/2019/november/think-before-you-thank-if-every-brit-sent-one-less-thank-you-email-a-day-we-would-save-16433-tonnes-of-carbon-a-year-the-same-as-81152-flights-to-madrid.html> [Accessed 11 May 2021].

Wirefly. 2021. How Much Data Does The Facebook App Use?. [online] Available at: <https://www.wirefly.com/guides/how-much-data-does-facebook-app-use#:~:text=Regular%20use%20of%20the%20Facebook,of%20video%20you%20are%20watching.> [Accessed 13 May 2021].