Website Accessability for People with Anxiety Disorders

You may think that an organization develops a website to best fit your needs. However, oftentimes the website designers focus more on what the organization wants to get out of you, instead of focusing on what you want to get out of the website. This can often negatively impact those with anxiety disorders.

Keep reading to learn about:

  1. Why some websites contribute feelings of anxiety to users
  2. How some websites take advantage of users through the use of dark patterns
  3. How to create a more user-friendly interface that will improve the accessibility for those with anxiety and panic disorders.

Why some website design elements contribute feelings of anxiety to users

David Swallow collected information from people with anxiety disorders from discussion forums, message boards and social media about how the UI and UX contributed feelings of anxiety and panic.

Aspects of website design that can lead to anxiety

Urgency

Users felt pressured when there were persuasive notifications and time-limited transactions. These create a sense of urgency, like the users had to take action.

Unpredictability

Liking an Instagram post from 47 weeks ago with an accidental double-tap, or having a checkbox be “Check is you DO NOT want to receives emails” instead of “Check if you DO want to receive emails” are examples of the unpredictability and inconsistency a website-user may experience that can contribute to anxiety.

Powerlessness

Hiding key information in hard-to-reach places also impacts the anxiety of users. When information such as account-deactivation or contact details are hidden, the user feels powerless to resolve their task.

Sensationalism

Instead of the design, sensationalism refers to content of a website that is used to provoke you at the cost of the integrity of the truth. Users found that there was a lot of fear-mongering and media bias on sites that created anxiety within them.

How some websites take advantage of users through the use of dark patterns

According to darkpatterns.org, dark patterns are deceptive tricks used in websites and apps that make you complete a task you never meant to. The task could be anything from going to an external link to giving up private information. Dark patterns are very unpredictable and often make users feel powerless.

Examples of external links

Here, the classic “download” buttons are actually advertisements to external links.

These fake download links use the same green rectangle that looks like the actual download button, utilizing the accepted symbol of the green rectangle to deceive you into clicking the wrong one.

Another example of a dark pattern is shown in an app, “Two Dots”.

Screenshot from “How Dark Spots Trick You Online” by NordVPN YouTube Video

The app uses the pattern of the green buttons to “pavlov” you into clicking “Buy Moves” instead of clicking the x that brings you to the next level of the game.

These examples utilized dark patterns to make users click an external link, but other uses of dark patterns have users give up private information.

Examples of releasing private information

The Norwegian Consumer Council created a report entitled Deceived by Design which highlights the dark patterns and overall exploitative measures and used by Facebook, Google, and Microsoft that nudges users to disclose as much information as possible.

From “Deceived by Design” by the Norwegian Consumer Council

This Facebook popup requires users to go into “Manage data settings” to turn off ads based on data from third parties. If the user clicks “Accept and continue”, the setting is automatically turned on. Privacy should always be the default, and here it is not.

These dark spots hide information that the user is unaware of, and it makes them feel powerless to correctly select the options they want to. Changing the options and wording of the buttons is unpredictable and inconsistent, which is why dark patterns can cause anxiety in users.

How to create a more user-friendly interface for those with anxiety

Now that you know all of the impacts that web design can have on users with anxiety as well as different types of dark patterns, let’s discuss a few good ways to improve the accessibility of a website for those with anxiety.

Stop the clock

An antidote to urgency.

To counteract the feeling of urgency, designers should never include unnecessary countdowns or time limits. At the very least, the time limits should give a reasonable amount of time for the user to complete whatever it is they’re doing.

Manage expectations

A resolution to unpredictability.

To resolve unpredictability, make information clear and concise so that users understand what will happen next when completing a service.

Remove (or apply) friction

A remedy to powerlessness.

Removing anything that stops a user from completing a task will greatly improve their feeling of powerlessness. Removing barriers to reaching the information users seek, as well as adding confirmation pages that allow users to review their answers and change them empowers people to complete their tasks.

Keep it real

A solution for sensationalism.

It might be difficult to balance presenting difficult news without causing any unnecessary panic. There are guides that encourage writers to be responsible and truthful when conveying headlines, like the UK mental-health charity Mind which provides a guide to reporting on mental-health issues that highlights the role of overly dramatic headlines and sensationalist terms in promoting fear and anxiety.

“Design is what mediates our interactions with the internet. It’s the language we read it in. It’s not too much to ask that that language be comprehensible and honest.”

NordVPN’s “How Dark Spots Trick You Online” YouTube Video

This Post Has 13 Comments

  1. Maggie,
    I like this blog post because I’ve never put thought into this topic. I also like it because I related to it so much. When you discussed Two Dots, I actually laughed because I have played that game and I have pressed the “Buy Moves” buttons soooo many times. It was so annoying!
    I also like how you mentioned the urgency aspect of some sites. I see this a lot on shopping sites, where the items will only stay in your bag for a certain amount of time. However, the type of site that I get this urgency anxiety most is on ticket purchasing sites like Ticketmaster. It’s always a horrible experience between waiting in line to get the ticket, then having five minutes to complete the checkout process.
    I found a cool article about designing sites for people with cognitive differences. I read some tips on designing for people with other mental disorders than anxiety. For example, the article mentioned those with inattention issues (e.g. people with ADHD). The article states that if a website has too much motion going on, then people with this issue can be easily overwhelmed and distracted on the task at hand. Thought it was interesting because I had never thought about it. ( Link to article: https://alistapart.com/article/designing-for-cognitive-differences/ )

  2. Hi Maggie!

    I loved this blog. I personally have never really considered, or realized, how certain aspects of websites or different apps could affect people with anxiety and this blog shed good light on that topic. Right off the bat, what I noticed with the four web design aspects is how common those issues are and how frequently we see them. I think it makes it clear that learning more about this information is something more companies need to be doing. The dark patterns link triggered me, lol! I hate when all of the external links pop up when all I am trying to do is read a basic article. The sequential order of your blog was also written nicely, ending with how to create an effective blog for those with anxiety helped tie it all together and helped me understand what to pay closer attention to moving forward with our project and any work I may do in the future. Design wise, I thought that your frequent use of images, heading size and color, and the large sectioned out quote at the bottom of the page helped aid in readability and accessibility for the blog as a reader. I found an article by the Nielsen Norman Group that breaks down how to create accessible design for those with disabilities that I found really interesting. My favorite quote within it is at the beginning and it states that we need to, “encode meaning rather than appearance.” Here is the link if you’d like to check it out: https://www.nngroup.com/articles/accessible-design-for-users-with-disabilities/

  3. Maggie,

    When I opened the blog page and saw what you had written, I was immediately intrigued. I had always thought it was just me that would overreact and get frustrated with certain websites, but your post has opened my eyes to the fact that this is a real and consistent problem, which I don’t know if that makes me feel better or worse. I personally find it really despicable that there are sites and apps that take advantage of users through scheme-y designs like the ones that you have mentioned in your post. I hate to admit that I’ve actually been moved to tears by the frustration I’ve encountered trying to navigate some websites or apps, though I can’t remember off the top of my head which sites/apps those were, (probably because I’ve effectively blocked my terrible experiences from my memory). I can say that the amount of times I’ve accidentally clicked on a purposefully misleading “buy now” option in an app is more than what I can count on two hands. I suppose I understand that it is a company’s way of attempting to make money off of its consumers, but it is a dishonest way to do so, especially since they have to set things up misleadingly as the only way to actually get consumers to buy, as they would not make the decision to make a purchase like that normally. In terms how you’ve set up your post, I really appreciated the images that you chose to use, as they perfectly demonstrated the points that you were writing about. I really like the dark pattern website you provided, as well as the other resources you’ve descriptively linked. You used headings very effectively, and your post as a whole was incredibly enjoyable and informative to read through. When researching this topic a bit more, I found an excellent article that talks about what exactly anxiety might look like in individuals, and 5 things that web designers can do to make their sites better to navigate for those who do have anxiety. That article can be accessed here:
    https://uxdesign.cc/5-tips-to-help-people-with-anxiety-navigate-your-website-e20ab4bbdb1d

  4. Hi Maggie,

    I really enjoyed your blog post, and I think all the information was well organized and easy to follow. I learned so much about how websites can give users anxiety and make the anxiety worse for those already living with an anxiety disorder. While I have recognized some of the website design aspects you mentioned in the post, such as the time limit and the the dark patterns, I never thought about how they can give users anxiety or make one’s anxiety worse. I typically just ignore these design aspects. However, I have bought things on impulse because of the time limit, which is usually like 10 minutes, especially when there is a coupon involved. I understand how these things can give people anxiety. I think the most interesting point you mentioned in the post was part about privacy and how privacy should always be the default. Even on social media sites like Instagram, privacy is not the default. A user has to place their account on private, but when creating the account, a user is automatically on public. I never thought about how this effects the privacy of a user. With today’s technology, I feel like privacy is an even greater concern because of all the ways are lives are public through social media sites. I found an interesting article that is worth reading about how social media sites manipulate our privacy choices. https://www.wired.com/story/facebook-social-media-privacy-dark-patterns/. Its crazy to think about how much is out in the public about ourselves.

  5. Hi Maggie,
    I enjoyed reading your blog post. I found it very informational, and a great additional source for the website design project we are completing. Designers must be conscious of those with mental health disorders, so learning more information before we design our own website is great. I like how you addressed designs that trick users into clicking outside of the website. The “Buy Now” links definitely create anxiety for users. I think your blog had great visuals, especially the Dos and Don’ts of designing. I was so interested in this topic that I did some research on my own. This article actually used the same visual and gave similar advice. Great job on being thorough and constructive! https://developer.paciellogroup.com/blog/2018/11/a-web-of-anxiety-accessibility-for-people-with-anxiety-and-panic-disorders-part-2/

  6. Hi Maggie,
    This was a great blog post. This is an incredible resource as we move forward with our own websites. Accessibility is something I feel I can always learn more about. As you talked about the fake links and dark patters, I recalled some of my own experiences with these. They did in fact make me anxious, confused, and frustrated while using the website. This is a feeling I want to ensure does not arise when people are on the website for my group’s cocktail bar. It is upsetting that such popular social media websites incorporate these “traps” when we think we can trust them (since we use them regularly). This web article I found discusses how to spot and avoid these dark patterns on our daily, everyday websites. At the end of the day, education is our most powerful tool to avoid these tricks. Take a read!
    https://www.wired.com/story/how-to-spot-avoid-dark-patterns/

  7. You broke this blog post up really well with all the subheadings and images. It is really easy to browse and see the different sections and point of the post. I have never thought about this aspect of web design! I can imagine that most people haven’t, either. Even beyond websites, when most think of accessibility, disabilities like blindness, deafness, paralysis all come to mind, but mental disorders are rarely thought of. I don’t have anxiety or depression, but I can remember so many websites that would be a trigger for me if I had one of those. I came across this article https://alistapart.com/article/designing-for-cognitive-differences/ that takes web accessibility for mental disorders beyond anxiety and looks at how people with ADHD, bipolar disorder, etc. It really makes you think!

  8. Hi Maggie!
    You did a really great job with this blog post! The organization and presentation of information was well done, but what really caught my attention in the blog was the content, particularly because I had never thought about the topic before. All of the causes for anxiety in web design made sense to me because I have experienced them, and your incorporation of visuals and examples for each of these causes really helped me to recall my own personal experiences. It feels like the struggle for privacy on the internet is one that will never end, and it is not aided by websites like the ones you discussed who set up tricks and traps for their users to accidentally share their private information. Although, privacy on the internet is a topic that is discussed often and in immense detail, so I was actually drawn to the topic about powerlessness. Powerlessness is just as common within websites, but I feel that most people are unaware of its presence and just “deal with” it as they use the internet. In regards to powerlessness in website usability, most low-production websites have this feature because of inconstancy within their design, thus making it hard to predict where to find certain elements/information on the website. This article (https://www.uxbooth.com/articles/consistency-key-to-a-better-user-experience/) does a good job of explaining how to avoid this type of powerlessness through using effective design elements. Although it may not relate to some of the larger types of powerlessness that are purposeful (such as hiding the account-deactivation button that you mentioned), having a clear and concise design elements within a website can eliminate the non-purposeful powerlessness.

  9. Hi Maggie,
    I really enjoyed reading your blog post this week! I liked how you summarized what content you would be discussing in your post right from the start. It was a nice way to get an idea of what your blog post would be covering. I also appreciated the way each tip for creating a more user-friendly interface tied back to one of the four aspects of website design that can lead to anxiety that you described earlier. It was a really nice way to organize the post and made it feel really connected! The concept of powerlessness was something I saw especially within my usability test. When the participants couldn’t locate information hidden within the website, they expressed feelings of frustration and confusion. I also have noticed sensationalism in our current climate and the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in regards to misleading headlines, making it incredibly difficult to decipher the truth. I found an interesting article that described an unofficial diagnosis called “headline stress disorder” that was coined by psychologist Dr. Steven Stosny following the 2016 presidential election. The article describes how “headline anxiety disorder” is caused by overwhelming amounts of headlines, often upsetting, negative, or panic-inducing (https://www.bustle.com/p/what-is-headline-stress-disorder-heres-how-to-protect-yourself-from-anxiety-about-the-news-cycle-9611772). It made a lot of sense in the context of your post when considering sensationalism and the anxiety-inducing effects a panicked or over-exaggerated headline can have. It was an interesting article to read, especially when considering the current climate and overwhelming amounts of panicked headlines and news about COVID-19.

  10. Margaret,
    Let me start by saying that I like the start of your post and how it gives an insight on what is to come. One of the subjects that resonated with me the most was in the “Aspects of website design that can lead to anxiety” section. It caught my eye especially the Powerlessness aspects. “Hiding key information in hard-to-reach places also impacts the anxiety of users. When information such as account-deactivation or contact details are hidden, the user feels powerless to resolve their task.” This caught my eye, because it gives me anxiety. I do not like that I have to search or look up how to do something such as deleting an account. I can see how some companies might make this more hidden because they figure that users may give up. This is similar to the affordance’s activity. One of the affordances that was mentioned was hidden affordances, which essentially means when something is there but its hidden.
    The topic that you chose for your blog is something that most people need to be aware of. It not always that people bring up website accessibility for people with anxiety disorders. Some anxiety disorders can be qualified as disabilities. There is an article called Designing for Cognitive Differences by Brandon Gregory. The article talks about designing a site for people who has anxiety and depression. I found the article to be eye opening. When designing a site anxiety and depression may be overlooked when it comes to user’s experience. https://alistapart.com/article/designing-for-cognitive-differences/

  11. Maggie,
    I thought that your blog post was well organized, but more than anything I found it visually appealing in the way that the images were organized and appeared to be extremely useful. Every image seemed to be put in place to serve a certain purpose. The section of the post that outlined the aspects of a website that can lead to anxiety really put into words something that I feel like a lot of people have a general idea of in their mind but don’t consistently and actively think about. It’s extremely important to establish trust from users when developing a site, and avoiding the types of elements that encourage anxiety help to do that. I also think it was very interesting that you showed off the annoying pop-up and otherwise deceptive tactics that certain websites use to encourage suspicious or malicious linking, a thing that I believe annoys everyone but continues to occur. These tactics seem to ruin trust in a website, and are therefor generally anxiety inducing. It’s interesting to learn about creating websites with anxiety disorders in mind, as when people think of accessibility they generally don’t consider this aspect. I found this post regarding establishing trust for your online marketplace when you have little to no previous sales interesting. https://www.shopify.com/blog/customer-trust-new-business It’s a nice look into how to begin establishing a relationship with new customers when you are just starting your online shop.

  12. I really love this post! As someone who has really bad anxiety, I understand everything you covered. I didn’t realize it until now, but I do experience a lot of these symptoms when going to online stores. Such as clothing stores the have promotional pop-ups when you enter the site. It causes me stress and I feel like I have to do it or else there will be consequences. The time aspect also makes me impulse buy at times. While I definitely am responsible for pulling out my wallet, I feel pressure to buy something because I won’t get another chance. Other than the content of your blog, the format is well done. The infographics add the the ending when you discuss what should be done to accommodate those who have anxiety. Here’s a link to a website that discusses websites and how to help users with anxiety: https://uxdesign.cc/5-tips-to-help-people-with-anxiety-navigate-your-website-e20ab4bbdb1d

  13. I absolutely love the three initial bullets you have describing the content of your blog. It is almost a blog-like abstract which I find so helpful. A pre-lude to the content and organization actually makes my anxiety lessen once I know the unknown – so you’ve already accomplished your topic in the first paragraph! Great job! I think you nailed it on the features that cause anxiety in users – unpredictability is a big one, I think I’ve already shown in the beginning of this comment. I enjoy how you connected each solution to the problem areas. This communicates a clear, if not cyclical, link among your entire blog. I have read this article on how social media, outside of just websites, has effected people’s mental health. https://www.verywellmind.com/social-network-use-and-social-anxiety-disorder-4117143 Particularly this article talks about how social media has effected those with social anxiety. I think this is relevant to your topic and to today’s world while we are all virtual, that does not necessarily diminish social anxiety.

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