Designing a low-energy Instagram experiment


I have been exploring ways of designing less energy and carbon intensive digital products and services. One of these experiments is a reimagining of Instagram, where instead of photos and videos automatically being automatically loaded and displayed by an algorithim, a user can browse their feed in a lighter text format and choose to view the content they want to see.


It’s been estimated that the tech industry has the same carbon footprint as the aviation industry.

As part of some research around the energy and carbon impact of digital products and services, I attempted to measure my own digital impact for a week. I found that ‘Social Media’ was my most energy and therefore carbon intensive activity.

This may be due to the way social media is designed, with the now almost homogenous ‘content feed’ that consists of auto-playing videos, photos, gifs, advertisements and links. This makes them heavy and energy intensive to load. These services have been designed for the attention economy, optimised to keep users engaged, interacting and scrolling and fine-tuned to keep people on the platform and loading or uploading content. Because of this business model these platforms also tend to have a lot of cookies, analytics and data collection trackers which add to the weight.


In this prototype, user’s Instagram posts are interpreted into text by image recognition and show users a text based representation of the content in their feed. Rather than automatically being shown everything in an algorithmically ordered feed, geared towards maximising attention and interactions, the user can tap to view content they actually want to see. As you choose to look at more content, you fill up your own energy/carbon meter, which is depicted in the gradient bar on top of the feed.

This would of course have to be done at the platform level and I’m not suggesting this is a solution, but an experiment designed to try and open up conversations within the design and tech communities.

This also isn’t and shouldn’t be about shaming users or burdening them with the responsibility. The responsibility for reducing carbon and energy use in the digital world should start with those of us designing and building digital products and services.

Email me for high res images and video 


Fast Company 
Overtime Podcast 
LS:N Global 
Curiously Green 
Tech The Lead