How to take the stress out of online design

For National Stress Awareness Day, MERó co-founder Andy Culbert talks about de-stressing the UX experience through design.

Digital stress is now ‘a thing’ according to health specialists; and technology’s relationship with stress is this year’s key theme for National Stress Awareness Day (today November 7th), highlighting how consumer’s digital experiences could actually be stressing them out.

And we’ve all been there – trying to get on with our daily lives with the constant ‘ping’ of notifications because we’re always connected. Or given up in a huff saying ‘oh forget it’ as a website fails to give us the information or products we want in our busy time-stretched lives.

But what about brands and businesses where customers are already at a heightened level of stress because they’re unwell and need to get help or want to log a complaint. Can a website or mobile app’s design help to create calm and alleviate the pressure felt by its users?

Me and the team from digital-first design agency MERó tackled this very issue when designing a new customer portal and app for one of the world’s biggest private healthcare companies,; here are the key ways brands can relax and reassure their users through digital design techniques.

A new study in 2018

A new study in 2018 (the largest known study of stress levels in the UK) revealed that 74% of respondents had experienced ‘overwhelming stress’ in the past year. For me this highlights that catering for stressed out customers is something most digital designers now need to build into their work; considering how stress influences the end user (both mentally and physically) during the design process is more important than ever.

Stress can lead to extreme changes in personality, limiting a person’s ability to cope with processes they would usually find normal or easy. For example, a person experiencing stress is likely to be impatient, indecisive and distracted – they’ll have less tolerance with site errors or confusing design elements.

Tasked with the design of a full-service portal and app for a private healthcare brand, where users can do anything from renew their policy to book a hospital appointment, we knew that some people would be interacting with the app at a very stressful point in their lives. They could be mid-diagnosis, managing an existing medical condition or attempting to communicate with a medical professional. How this heightened state of anxiety would influence their responses, therefore, had to be a major consideration in every design choice.

In-depth research showed us that the designs had to be reassuring; guiding users and providing answers or information in a clear, easy, digestible and informative way.

And in the same way a person may alter their tone of voice and vocabulary when trying to calm a person in distress, there were some clear tactics we could apply to mitigate negative responses.

From this research three key take-outs formed our creative approach.

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