Discover more from The Accessibility Apprentice
#10. Designing for ADHD.
Welcome to today's (belated) World Mental Health issue of "The Accessibility Apprentice", where we discuss designing for people with one of the most wide-spread neurodevelopmental disorder.
10 October is the World Mental Health day, and “The Accessibility Apprentice” celebrates it (albeit a few days later) with an issue on designing for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
We will discuss what ADHD is, why considering the needs of users with ADHD is critical for the product’s success, and what designers need to keep in mind.
This is a very personal issue of “The Accessibility Apprentice”, my accessibility–centred newsletter. Feel free to share it with your colleagues, friends, and other people, and learn how to build accessible products together.
A problem at scale
I was born with a mental impairment, but was only diagnosed as an adult, at the age of 27. By then, I had built a career in digital design, moved countries four times, drastically changed my life multiple times. All without knowing, the nagging, annoying sensation that wouldn’t let me focus had a name: attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
Many know ADHD as something kids who can’t sit still get diagnosed with, but the problem does not concern children only. There are almost 400 million adults living with ADHD worldwide, and considering how many more are yet to be diagnosed, the actual number of individuals suffering from the attention deficit is much higher.
People with ADHD struggle to focus on completing tasks and have troubles controlling impulses, although the impairment may manifest differently. Some, like me, would feel restless when they’re not preoccupied with something rewarding, like solving a puzzle. Others will find it hard to snap out of the focus state.
Regardless of how ADHD manifests, it severely impacts how we consume and process information, react to stimuli, make decisions, and live our lives.
Considering the number of people living with the disorder, it is safe to say that every product has at least some users with ADHD, diagnosed or otherwise. Understanding their problems and challenges will not only help deliver a more pleasant experience to them, but will benefit non-ADHD users as well.
Challenges and concerns
Living with ADHD (at least in one of its variations) is like juggling burning kegs whilst being tied to four horses, pulling in different directions.
Our constantly under-stimulated brain is grasping at every opportunity to switch its focus. Sticking to one task at hand is an impossible challenge: everything is a distraction, begging to tend to it, everything is exciting, nothing is enough to keep our eyes on.
The world filled to the brim with content fighting for our attention is a planet-scale torture chamber. We do not process information the same way others do: we hop from one stimulating bit to another, often forgetting what we were up to in the first place.
There are many things that terrify people with ADHD. Personally, my list of anxiety inducers is rather lengthy. My brain perceives them as monoliths, heavy-duty tasks that require sufficient concentration — something it cannot space.
Unstructured, messy information;
Abundance of options: from mega-menus and advanced filters to infinite feeds;
Long paragraphs and text without proper formatting. Technical and professional jargon;
Flashy colours, bright visuals, throbbing lights;
Bureaucracy, especially forms.
Although other people’s experience living with ADHD may be different from mine, there are some patterns that are easily identified here. Following a few simple design principles can help relieve these pains and, subsequently, make the experience more pleasant for non-neurodivergent users.
This is rather obvious. Strive to create calm, soothing environments, and avoid overstimulating your users.
Individuals with ADHD would appreciate a clear structure of information. We are not particularly good at grouping things together or keeping them neat and tidy. Do not make us struggle more than we do.
Content is king, but even royalty can be overwhelming. Large unformatted chunks of text will only send our brains one signal: time to find something more exciting.
Keep your user motivated by rewarding intended behaviour. A tiny gesture of appreciation for completing a small task will keep your user motivated to continue exploring your product.
No alarms and no surprises
Not everyone appreciates surprises. Don’t scare your users by giving them something that do not expect to see, even if you mean well.