Neuroinclusive design

For neurodivergent people

Just like biological diversity, neurodiversity refers to the wide variety of ways people process information. This often leads to a unique perception of the environment, with both strengths and challenges. Neurodiversity is not a medical condition, so neurodivergent people aren't necessarily disabled. It's an umbrella term that means their brain processes information in a specific way. However, some of the impairments neurodivergent people face can be recognised as a disability. 1 in 7 people in the UK have some form of neurodivergence, among which:

  • Autism
  • ADHD
  • hypersensitivity
  • dyslexia
  • high intelligence
  • being left-handed

Neuroinclusive design addresses certain challenges often associated with neurodivergence, just like architects and interior designers do. In a real or digital space, it's possible to take sensory overload in consideration, a common ennemy for most neurodivergent people. But it's not the only thing you can do online. So here are some designer tips to improve the user experience of neurodivergent individuals.

Principles of neuroinclusive design

Align your text to the left

Left alignment is the easiest way for readers to go through your content, especially for long pieces of text. Unless you're using a screen reader, that's what you're seeing on this page.

Justified text is aligned to both left and right sides of the page. Spacing between each word will depend on how many words fit onto one line. So that constantly changes from one line to the next. This can lead to strange looking lines having huge spaces between the few long words that can fit onto this line. You might argue that we do use justified alignment in print, and you're right. But that's because people go through each page and manually adjust the spacing to get rid of the huge gaps. With the variety of devices and screen sizes online, we simply don't do it.

Centre alignment is great for titles but is hard to read for long paragraphs. With each new line you read, for a brief moment, you'll have to find where the next line begins. That's particularly annoying for people who already struggle to focus their attention or make sense of letters. If you really have to use it, try not to go over three lines of text.

Use varied icons in lists

Because some neurodivergent people struggle with attention or spatial orientation, a web page can be hard to navigate. You can help them by giving them visual cues. For example, try to break big blocks of texts into several sections, and prefer lists when you can. You can also use different icons in lists, rather than bullet points. It'll help neurodivergent people to differentiate each line faster.

Avoid metaphors

For some neurodivergent people, including autistic people, unspoken rules of social conventions can be hard to comprehend. That also applies to certain forms of humour like sarcasm, or metaphors. So in your writing, it's best to avoid what you think is implied, try to be clear about it. And if you really want to use a metaphor, simply explain it. You'll help everyone understand you well.

Neuroinclusive design for ADHDers

If you're interested in neuroinclusive design, particularly around the subject of ADHD, I have a case study for you. I worked with the team at Inflow to review their visual identity and build their site on Webflow, specifically for people with ADHD. Thanks to their expertise, I learned a lot about neuroinclusive design and have a few more tips to share.

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