"Calm" UX: designing with care for mental health, accessibility and the environment

"Calm" UX: designing with care for mental health, accessibility and the environment

UX design.
6 m

The digital products we develop do have a significant impact on the psyche of users. However, even in this context, our society remains tense and frustrated. Perhaps it's time to step up and do better?

How can we, without even realising it, increase our users' anxiety levels? Can we create projects that promote calmness and relaxation? How can such projects affect our mental health and the environment? These are the aspects we'll be looking at in our article today.

So, what are we seeing?

You open a website and are greeted by a banner asking you to accept or reject the use of cookies. It can be a bit of a nuisance, but it's become standard. You click on it. But instead of entering the site, a window appears asking you to subscribe to a newsletter. But you haven't even been to the site yet, why do you need to subscribe? You close the window. Then the banner appears again, asking if you want to receive push notifications. No, of course not! Block notifications.

Is that it? No. Some companies even want to know your location. Content attacks you from all sides. Animations blink in front of your eyes. Promotional news is pouring across the screen. And maybe you'll accidentally land on a booking site that tells you there are only two rooms left and they'll be bought in minutes.

Aaaah! Your brain is ready to explode before you even read the first paragraph.

Are we really responsible for this?


We're usually so overwhelmed that we can't concentrate during the day and fall asleep at night. In her speech at the Config conference, product designer Bethany Sonefeld noted that "technology controls our time, emotions, and attention. It also changes us psychologically and socially".

And indeed, we designers are partly involved in this.

We often talk about how our society is in a state of anxiety and stress. But do we consider our own contribution to this?

We have to consider the mental state of users for our own good.

Yes, when we discuss this with our colleagues - designers, marketers, managers - everything seems so important. Of course, we want to increase sales. Of course, we want as many people as possible to subscribe to our newsletter.

But if we put ourselves in the shoes of users for a moment, we probably wouldn't want to use such methods because we don't like them wholeheartedly.

Marketing techniques to reject

There are many stressful marketing methods that are worth reconsidering. Here are some of the most common ones:

  • Banners about cookies.
  • Push notifications.
  • Excessive animation.
  • Newsletter subscription boxes.
  • Location requests.
  • Automatic audio and video playback.
  • Unnecessary complication of the booking process.
  • Ambiguous calls to action.
  • Email input field without autocomplete.
  • Incorrect opt-out wording, such as buttons like "No thanks, I don't want to be healthy" or "No thanks, I'm declining this amazing offer".

Or is it serious? Does anyone really think these approaches are successful?

Small and large obstacles are constantly in our way. This leads to long downloads, accessibility issues, addictive behaviour, overconsumption and nervousness.

Why do we even do this? It makes no sense.

For example, recently I was looking for furniture in an online store. A banner was steadily displayed on the screen, saying "Only two days left until the end of the promotion!". After a week, when I visited the site again, the banner was still there.

Do we really miss this?

Long day, urgent task or health problems

Imagine that you are having a bad day. You're stressed by the news, you have a newborn baby who cries constantly, you haven't slept for days, you're sick. Perhaps you've had an accident or need to see a doctor urgently. But the page doesn't load. Maybe you have a neurodevelopmental disability or diagnosis that creates problems with functioning, or you are experiencing burnout or depression.

These situations may be true for your user.

I'm not saying that all of these marketing techniques are wrong, but they should be used carefully, with careful consideration of the pros and cons. Sometimes it's the timing, sometimes it's the amount of information.

How to create calm websites, apps, and digital products?

A calm design does not mean boring or dull. It can be interesting, welcoming, and aesthetically pleasing.

Let's look at four key aspects of such design:

Healthy experience.

A calm environment.

Adequate communication.

Promoting well-being.

1. Healthy experience

Built-in settings

Ensure that users have the ability to customise the product from the moment they are introduced to it. This can be for anything from automatic video playback to notifications and data privacy. Never mislead users, and remember that default settings shouldn't cause people anxiety or frustration.

Basecamp offers the options "Always on call" and "Work can wait" at the onboarding stage. Users can mark when they should be disturbed and when they should not

Add a delayed sending function

Free your users from the need to write messages in advance and minimise stress by implementing the delayed sending feature. This will allow them to avoid waiting for working hours - they can write a message even late at night or on weekends without disturbing anyone.

Function for delayed sending of messages to Slack

2. Calm environment

Use animations carefully.

Fast, unexpected animations can be stressful for anyone, especially for people with mental disorders (autism, Tourette's, ADHD, etc.). Prefer micro-animations for buttons, overlays, illustrations, etc.

The Headspace app is filled with slow flowing animations that have a calming effect on the user's nervous system

Consider exit points.

Make sharing your feed a pleasant moment when you see "No new messages", or when you complete all the tasks in a language learning app and receive a congratulatory message from an animated cartoon character. These moments give us a sense of satisfaction. Another example is Slack, which offers users the option to leave channels they rarely participate in. This is a useful feature!

Avoid interruptions in interaction.

On most websites, you will see newsletter sign-up boxes, location requests, and other banners that are usually annoying. It is better to display them after the user has spent some time on the site. Make sure not to interrupt the interaction too often, as this can cause negative emotions, especially for people with cognitive disabilities.

Unobtrusive tips in the app Asana.

Help users focus.

Try to create a truly calming digital environment for your users. A successful approach is to have significant margins between elements, a short and clear input process, simple navigation, and no automatic video or audio playback. Do everything you can to allow people to focus on their core tasks.

3. Adequate communication.

Communicate in a friendly manner, even if the user decides to stop interacting.

Don't use aggressive methods to get users to cancel their subscription. It's their choice, and they have the right to make it.

Headspace's unsubscribe page reads: "Thank you for being part of our community."

Report the real deficit.

If the number of available products is limited, inform about it and indicate the date/frequency of replenishment.

Here's an example: There are only 5 pieces left. We expect a new delivery within 5 weeks."

Avoid manipulation.

Avoid using manipulative schemes and phrases such as "A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity", "Buy now or never", "The best deal you'll ever get", etc.

4. Promoting well-being.

Remind them to take breaks.

Help users tear themselves away from their devices after prolonged browsing or work.

Message from Headspace: "Your phone can do some really cool things. Now put it down and do something else."

Raise awareness of mental health.

Remind your users about World Unplugging Day, International Mental and Physical Health Day, and other similar holidays, and encourage them to ditch their gadgets for at least a while.

A reminder of Mental Health Month.

The advantages of a "calm" design.

Start with the mental health benefits: a calming experience that doesn't cause depression, frustration, stress, shame, anxiety, or other negative emotions. And that's exactly what we need in a world where mental health issues are becoming one of the most common causes of disability. Your design is one of the bricks that build a healthy society.

A calm design is also important for accessibility. An accessible website means clear scripts, easy navigation, and no distractions that prevent you from focusing on the main tasks. Be attentive to the needs of people with different disabilities, whether they are permanent, like having one arm, temporary, like a broken arm, or situational, like a child in your arms. The main thing is a holistic approach.

Don't forget that a calm design is also good for the environment. Such products leave a smaller digital footprint, use minimal data, and even encourage people to spend more time outdoors.

Finally, an effective and engaging digital product drives sales, and users will come back to it again and again, recommending it to their friends.

As mentioned at the beginning, everyone wins.

Analyse user scenarios that cause stress.

Although there are many stressful situations, we can work with them. A great tool for this is the user journey map. I have a great free template for Figma and Miro that you can save and customise to your needs. It already contains sections on environmental and social issues.

Remember the importance of users' time and mental health. But don't forget about the environment and the resources we have at our disposal.


актуальні статті.


Do you still have questions that need clarification?
We will call you back.
+38 (___) ___ __ __ *