Making the web a calmer place
I read a really interesting article over Christmas about how to design for people struggling with mental health and how those design principles and ideas can be adopted by any designer.
In the article Francis Rowland, a UX architect at Sigma talks about the website they created for Mind and some of the challenges they faced.
Over the years I’ve suffered with my fair share of anxiety and recently I’ve found that some features of modern websites have the potential to add to it. Thankfully I manage my anxiety with a few simple strategies such as mindfulness meditation but it has made me wonder how people suffering from more complex problems are finding the modern web?
There are certain features that I like to keep out of the websites I create simply because I’m aware of the impact they have on me. They include but aren’t limited to:
- Pop-up windows that reappear after being closed, sometimes on a timer and sometimes when the page is refreshed. I subconsciously find myself in a rush to find what I’m looking for before they reappear
- Pages that use infinite scrolling
- Flash style navigation that’s too clever for its own good
- Carousels where information slides away just before you can finish reading it
- Websites that want your location or want to send you notifications
- When content you’re trying to read on a smaller screen is obscured and restricted by pop-up windows and ads
- Too many calls to action and links
I appreciate that the web needs to develop and evolve but there are arguments to be had about whether some of these techniques are necessary or whether they’re just creating or adding to people’s cognitive problems?
In the early days of web design there was a real joy in just being able to get our content out into the world. I remember the first website I designed, it was ridiculously simple but it did the job and because of the limited nature of the technology at the time the information was presented in a straightforward, calm and focused manner.
Fast forward to 2020 and a lot of today’s web is a mess of links, ads, animations and overly complicated interface elements. Most of the time it adds up to a web that’s awkward and unpleasant to use. Worst still it has the potential to make us feel stressed and anxious and gets in the way of us doing what we need to do.
Years ago I was never far from a copy of Steve Krug’s wonderful book “Don’t Make Me Think”. That book became the single biggest influence on the way I design websites and it often gently reminded me to step back from design decisions and question what I was about to do. Was this feature for the good of the user or was I implementing it just because I could?
I think it’s more important than ever to embrace the common sense approach that ran through Steve’s book. A natural empathy towards users can make the web a calmer and nicer place to be.