Web Design for Mental Health: 3 Strategies for Inclusive Design

by | May 22, 2024 | Blog

In today's digital world, it's eye-opening to think about how web design for mental health can affect the way we navigate online spaces.
iPad with a wireframe of someone creating a Web Design for Mental Health

Inclusive design is at the heart of creating digital experiences that cater to everyone. Inclusivity goes beyond accessibility. Accessible design tends to focus on just creating experiences optimized for people with physical disabilities. We’ve got to consider the diverse range of cognitive, emotional, and psychological challenges folks might face, too. According to the World Health Organization, more than 1 billion people live today with mental and neurological conditions. Inclusivity means making sure everyone feels seen and heard.

Disabilities come in many forms. Our solutions should reflect that diversity. In today’s digital world, everyone relies on the Internet for work, assistance, entertainment, and communication. It’s eye-opening to think about how those with cognitive differences navigate the online space every day. Understanding those perspectives can make designers appreciate the digital conveniences they often take for granted if they don’t share their challenges.

For example, since the 2019 pandemic, 28% more people are experiencing anxiety on a regular basis. So many online experiences can exacerbate existing anxiety. At the same time, the internet can be a solace and a stressor for those grappling with it. Designers must be mindful of time limits and notifications that might trigger anxiety and make the online experience more daunting.

Depression can cast a gray shadow over in-person as well as digital interactions. People dealing with depression might see the online world in a different light due to contrast perception issues. Designers must acknowledge this and create digital environments that accommodate various cognitive states.

Conditions like bipolar disorder and ADHD present unique challenges in our hyper-stimulated world. Designing with these folks in mind means going beyond flashy attention-grabbers and creating interfaces that promote focus and clarity.

So what does it look like when you decide to tailor your web design for mental health? Here are some specific changes you make to your online designs to help make your content more accessible to people with mental health considerations: 

Sensory Sensitivity Features:

When someone arrives at what you’ve built, it’s possible they’ve had a hard day. Maybe they’re already feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or anxious. As they’re using your site or application, you want to avoid adding on to what could already be a debilitating mental state. Incorporate settings that allow users to adjust sensory stimuli. Providing control over visual and auditory elements can prevent sensory overload and anxiety triggers. These  settings can include:

  • Sound volume on videos or other media.
  • The brightness levels of the screen or colors.
  • Animation intensity where it applies.
  • Options to mute or reduce background music, sounds, and visual effects include warnings or alerts for potentially distressing content and allow users to opt-in or avoid such material.

Progressive Disclosure of Information:

A good user experience consists of control and clarity. Give your users control over how to make their experience on your site or application more relaxing. Prevent overwhelm by allowing them to take on information at their own pace. Doing this isn’t complex or time-consuming, but involves thinking through how someone may interact with what you’ve built.

  • Implement a progressive disclosure approach to present information gradually, avoiding overwhelming users with excessive details upfront.
  • Offer clear navigation paths and hierarchical structures to guide users through content at their own pace, reducing cognitive load and anxiety.
  • Provide options for users to access additional information or resources on-demand, empowering them to delve deeper into topics of interest without feeling overwhelmed.

Mindfulness and Relaxation Integration:

When the rest of the world can be so anxiety-inducing and stressful, we tend to appreciate and remember experiences that counteract that. If someone is prone to or already experiencing a cognitive load and your website alleviates some of that stress, they will likely be eager to return. 

If appropriate, consider integrating features that promote mindfulness and relaxation directly into digital platforms, such as guided breathing exercises, meditation sessions, or calming visualizations. If your digital experience requires extended amounts of time, offer reminders or prompts for users to take breaks and self-care. Provide access to mental health resources, support communities, and crisis intervention services within the digital environment, ensuring immediate assistance and support for distressed users.

So, what can we do to make digital spaces more inclusive?

Look at projects you’ve launched or in-progress ones. Ask yourself the following questions to see where you make improvements.

  • Do I offer immediate human support for those who need it?
  • Do I embrace negative space to reduce overwhelm?
  • Do I use animations sparingly to avoid causing distress?
  • Do I provide easy exit options so that no one feels trapped online?
  • Do I strike a balance with friction to empower users without overwhelming them?
  • Do I keep things simple and straightforward to prevent information overload?

Web design for mental health is all about putting the user’s well-being first. By empathizing with people across the cognitive spectrum, we can create digital landscapes that work for everyone. What is our goal as designers? To build bridges between the digital world and human experience, fostering connection, understanding, and empowerment along the way.

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