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Stop stressing your users! For mental health, accessibility and planet earth.

There is so much frustration around in the web. Have you been stressed before by a website, an app, or a software? I bet, yes, because I know pretty much no one that hasn’t been stressed before by any kind of digital product. And I know I have been several times.

Let’s talk about how we stress our dear users, how to create calm design and how calm design benefits mental health, accessibility and our nature. Yeah, that’s right. It will also be about how we can reduce our digital footprint with stress-free digital products. It’s a win win win for everyone. So, let’s get into it.

If you don’t like reading, you can also listen to this.

Imagine …

Imagine you open a website and up front you get a cookie banner to accept or decline your cookies. Okay, done that. Then next up comes a newsletter pop-up. I don’t want a newsletter right now. I just want to see the content of this page. Then there comes another pop-up that lets you decide if you want to have push notifications of this website or not. No, I don’t want that. Then there comes a request for your location where you are and you’re like “Why? I just want to see that content on this page!” You finally clicked that away as well. And then content is sliding in from all sides. Everything is moving. Plus, you might be on a booking website that tells you only two rooms are left and they sell out in minutes.

Aaaaah! Your brain is buzzing and you haven’t even read the first paragraph of this website.

We’re often overstimulated, which is why we can’t focus during the day and we can’t sleep at night.

We have to stop this for our own sake. I know when we are sitting in our offices and talk to our business, design and marketing colleagues. It sounds great. Sure, we want to increase sales. But if we really ask ourselves on a personal side, we probably wouldn’t implement all of those things because we hate them as a user ourselves.

How we stress our users

So, all those cookie banners, all those push notification pop-ups, all those animations, newsletter banners, marketing bling bling everywhere, making it harder to book something for marketing reasons, call to actions not being clear and violating user expectations, processes being super complicated or audio and video auto-play. That’s probably one of the worst things that you can do. All those location requests, those email inputs without email autocomplete. Horrible.

Those little frictions everywhere. Super long loading times. Booking scarcity that is often fake, such as on Booking.com or on flight websites where you can see in the code that it’s fake numbers. Additionally, all those addictive platforms to come back for more. We know that especially about social media, but also about other platforms that try to make you addicted to their app, software or website. All this confirm and cancellation shaming such as “No, thanks, I don’t want to get healthy.”, “No, thanks, I don’t want to have this super amazing offer”.

Why do we do that? It’s insane.

Just recently I’ve been on a furniture website with constant “only two days left of this promo”. One week later there was exactly the same promotion. Let’s not do that.

Having a stressful day, an emergency task or a disability

Just think about your users and think about yourself having a hard day, being stressed from our current world crises, having a newborn baby that is crying and you haven’t slept in days. Being sick and needing medication. Your eyes are swollen and your nose is just running.

Maybe you had a car crash and need a tow truck. Maybe you are neurodiverse and have anything related to ADHD, to dyslexia, to Tourette, to autism, whatever there is. Maybe you’re at work and your work software is constantly changing something so your automatism doesn’t work the same way, like the click path.

It’s just frustrating and stressful.

I don’t say that all of those marketing techniques are all wrong. But it’s about timing. It’s about the amount of information.

It’s about healthy usage and also the correctness of it, including trust that the shown facts are actually true, like not displaying fake numbers just to drive people into buying or booking something.

Hot to create calm and stress-free websites, apps and digital products

A calm or stress-free design doesn’t mean to create boring and lame websites, apps or software.

It can be more enhancing, loving, beautiful and aesthetically pleasing because it reduces the stress of it all. Let’s get into four different categories that you can de-stress your design with.

Enable healthy usage

  • Build in preference settings, especially notification settings to enable users to mute for a certain time or intervals (during night, during day, during holidays, for just one day or week). Ask in your app at first what notifications users really want to get. Make sure to act on their mental health, not your attention desires.
  • Provide exit points, such as “All caught up” stop when scrolling on social media as well as “Load more” buttons. Allow users to disengage from your product with a sense of completion, as Duolingo does with a checked check list and “Good Job, see you tomorrow”.
  • Send push notifications up until a certain point. When the user never interacts with those notifications, ask whether the notifications should stop. Duolingo does that with sending a final notification of “We’ll stop sending you notification. They don’t seem to be working right now.”.
  • Implement a “Send later” feature. Slack has this option to send schedule messages. It ensures to not pressure others to answer late at nights or during holidays.
  • Integrate pause and save features, such as pausing tasks in an app or software.

Ensure a calming environment

  • Never use video and (especially) audio auto-play. Ensure that they have to be clicked.
  • Integrate pop-ups after spending some time on the page and more on the periphery of the screen instead of in-your-face. Trello and Asana do that very well.
  • Use animations carefully and slow paced as it can trigger (especially for people on the autism spectrum, with Tourette or ADHD). Better use micro-animations, e.g. for celebration, on buttons, opening overlays, explanatory illustrations.
  • Choose clear and easy click paths.
  • Allow space in your designs, nothing crammed together.
  • Display well readable text (size and color) in clear structures.
  • Show descriptive and easy to follow error messages.
  • Integrate calm design screens in between (app splash screen with soothing animation or calming screens in long checkouts).
  • Implement focus modes for work software, magazines (such as Offline Only by Chris Bolin), checkouts, learning experiences.
  • Go for short onboardings, that might even be split up. Start with easy tasks, delay hard tasks.
  • Be more aware of stressful user journeys (car crash, emergency tasks, needing assistance, anything for new parents, financial, high priced products and services).

Communicate in a healthy way

  • Show love in your confirm and cancellation screens. Headspace cares for their cancellation screen and say thank you for having been part of the community instead of shaming the user for leaving.
  • Communicate with care and love, e.g. when donating for a service or during checkout.
  • Communicate whether your service is available or booked out on the first page (e.g. a hotel, seminar rooms, event, service, etc.).
  • Integrate only helpful and true scarcity instead of fake limitations.

Promote well-being

  • Build in features that promote well-being, reminding people to get fresh air, go outside, step away from their devices. Headspace sends push notifications to put down the phone and go outside.
  • Show the screen time and let users know when it might be time to stop.
  • Raise awareness on days such as he International Day of Unplugging.

The benefits for mental health, accessibility and the planet

The benefits for our mental health is this calming, soothing experience that doesn’t trigger episodes, overwhelm, frustration, stress, shame, anxiety, an untrusting society. We don’t want that. I don’t want that. In a society that is stressed immensely already, mental health being in many countries, the number one for sick leave and occupational disability. We need to care for mental health, calm design and de-stressing. Your design is one way of doing it.

The gains for accessibility lye especially in using less animations, having clearer processes, easy click paths, no pop-ups that disturb or even block the website. That happens very often, by the way. Pop-ups and banners that block navigating through the website with your keyboard or a screen reader. Then this person cannot use it at all. Really care for permanent, temporary as well as situational disabilities. Permanent disability of having just one arm, situational disability of having a baby in one arm and only one other at spare. Really think about accessibility in a holistic way and make it easy to use your product or service.

The payoff for the planet is, for sure, less heavy content and all those data monsters, all those auto-plays, intense animations and everything that, when we do it less, concludes in a lightweight website with a smaller digital footprint. Lightweight websites, lightweight software, lightweight apps, whatever you have. Plus, not sending any push notifications or reminding people to go outside and closing down their app, putting down your smartphone. That’s the best of it all, because then we’re not sending anything. There is no requests and nothing that goes from one server to the other and nothing going through those telecommunication networks. Perfect. That’s the greenest we can all do in the end. Not sending anything, being in focus mode, muting push notifications. All of those things help in the end to use less energy and to emit less carbon.

Respect people’s time and mental health. Respect our planet and the resources we have.

Love,
Sandy

Hi, I’m Sandy, the author of this blog and a UX/UI Designer with 10+ years of experience. I founded Green the Web in 2019 to share my passion, ideas and vision of a sustainable web with change makers like you. Let’s connect on LinkedIn or on Instagram @greentheweb to discuss and share ideas.