Inclusive design. Designing for people with anxiety.

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Geschreven door Mitchell Leber

Inclusive design. Designing for people with anxiety.


Inclusive design. Designing for people with anxiety.

  • Mitchell Leber

Ow nooo! Heart palpitations, gasping for air and sloshing armpits! Sounds familiar? Don’t worry, I’m not going to talk you into a full-on panic attack. But did you know that lots of people suffer from anxiety disorders? They keep running into the same sort of fears. You can describe fear as knowing that you have turned off the gas stove, but something doesn’t feel right. Because of this feeling, you turn the car around and you double-check.

Praise the Lord! Nothing went wrong. 🙌

Anxiety is a common problem. Did you know that 19.1% of adults suffer from anxiety disorders? When trying to accomplish something online, they often fear that they’ll be doing something wrong and feel stupid. Reassuring them reduces stress and helps to retain those users. Otherwise, they are likely to give up during a difficult process.

Many anxiety disorders qualify as official disabilities. Whatever the cause, anxiety, depression and concentration problems can have a major impact on internet use for users who deal with it. These problems on the web can be difficult to understand for people who have never had to deal with them. That is why in this article I share some methods to properly design for users with anxiety disorders.

Spoiler alert!
For some of these methods, you won’t even need to be a designer… 😉

Tick-tock on the clock ⏰

At long last! Your favorite band has scheduled a concert nearby. And you can’t wait to purchase your tickets. Online, of course. Once on the event website, you hit the ‘purchase’ button. Wait, what!? Your ticket has been ‘reserved’ for 10 minutes? Does that mean you’ll only have 10 minutes to complete your order? Gasp! You’re about to lose it… 😱

For most people, 10 minutes is enough to finish their business. But have you ever clicked back and forth to make sure you’ve filled out all fields correctly? People who suffer from anxiety disorders tend to do this more often than others. Some even compulsively so. A time limit like that may freak some of them out. Sometimes so bad, that they’ll just give up. 

Certain websites intentionally give the feeling of urgency. Some people need that nudge to take action, but for others, it also generates unnecessary stress. And don’t we all have more than enough of that in our lives?

If you want to meet the WCAG 2.1 guidelines, then timing is even a requirement. Timing Adjustable; Give the user the option to switch off, adjust or extend the time. You then also need to let users know about timeouts. Take your time…

So, please remove unnecessary time limits and count-down timers. Can’t find a way around it? Then give users enough time to complete their tasks without feeling pressured. Take Netflix, for instance. They offer the option to switch off the count down timer that indicates when the next episode starts.

I love it when ya 1, 2, step 💃

Confusing labels, vague instructions, being sent from page to page, not knowing how many more steps follow before you’re done… Everyone loves a good treasure hunt, right? Well, guess again. Everyone will probably find it annoying. But people with anxiety disorders might get all sweaty and shaky. Particularly when filling out online forms.

Users suffering from anxiety disorders dread slugging through forms like these. They can feel overwhelmed by an overdose of information or when something starts to feel complicated. 

There is an easy fix, though! Keep your forms simple, clear and pretty. Keep distractions to a minimum and use easy and simple terms. Don’t let your users guess about the next steps or certain time schedules. And don’t make them feel insecure about the consequences of their actions. Does your form consist of multiple pages? Then clearly show where in the process your user is, every step of the way. 

“What did I need to fill out in this form again?”.

Quick fix: If you like it, you should’ve -put a label on it-. 💍

The WCAG 2.1 has specified criteria for forms as well. 

Labels of Instructions’ and ‘Identify Input Purpose’ encourage clarity in forms, while ‘Consistent Navigation’ and ‘Consistent Identification’, encourage predictability and intuitive user experience.

So… Call me… maybe? No thanks. ☎️

Aw yeah, you just got the newest phone! But you don’t quite yet understand some of the new features. Time to reach out to customer care and get help. Unfortunately, even with your new phone, you’re not fond of making phone calls to people you don’t know. It even makes you feel anxious. Which makes it even more frustrating that even thát flashy new phone can’t make your anxiety magically disappear.

So you set out to find a contact form or an e-mail address of your provider. After all, messaging and e-mailing are much more your thing. Say what now!? Your service provider only offers support over the phone? You give up, because calling is stressful for you. Bye-bye excitement about your new phone. Hello, anxiety! 👋

This feeling of helplessness that users can get, is often caused by things we don’t agree with. When you’re setting out to cancel a subscription, for instance. Or when you’re trying to remove an account. And when the self-help options to do that online, are hard to find. Or when, like in the example above, the only way to contact a company is by phone.

Make sure important information is easy to find. Prioritize key tasks, functions, and information within the content and the layout. And support users by offering them several ways to contact you. Offer them the support they need to complete an action. 

No time to wait! 🏃‍♂️💨

Accessible and inclusive design is on the rise. So:

  • Get rid of unnecessary distractions.
  • Keep reassuring your users they’re doing things right.
  • Keep things simple for people who are already struggling.

Let’s take the steps needed to also make people with anxiety disorders feel welcome. This way you make a visit for this group to your website, application or webshop easy, breezy… beautiful. 💅

Want to talk about Inclusive Design?

May be done by telephone or by e-mail of course, but visiting us is even more fun!

About the author

  • Mitchell Leber

    Mitchell Leber

    Digital Designer

    After finishing my internship at Level Level, I stayed on as a Digital Designer. As a designer I try to create attractive and cool designs. I do this together with people, for people, which is something I love to do. I have a ‘passion’ for creating accessible and friendly designs.

    Go to the team page of Mitchell Leber

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