As part of neurodiversity celebration week, we’re taking a look at how neurodiversity impacts UX, and how we can make our design process neuro-inclusive


UX Design is a practice which puts users at the centre of everything we do. If we have one primary goal, it’s to make the user experience better for all users.

Key areas in improving user experience are accessibility and usability. In order for a service to be usable, it must allow an intended user to accomplish specific goals in an efficient and satisfactory manner. In order for it to be accessible, it should be usable by anyone, regardless of their age, race, gender, or ability, including individuals who describe themselves as neurodivergent.

What is neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity is the term used to recognise that cognitive ability naturally varies across individuals. It is estimated that as many as 20% of the population may be neurodivergent, a group that includes those with Autism, ADHD, anxiety or mood disorders, dyslexia, tourettes, or other mental health challenges. That means that in the UK alone, over 10 million people could benefit from neuro-inclusive design.


Cognitive UX

The human brain is like an incredibly powerful computer. It has vast amounts of storage, and phenomenal computing power, but even the most powerful computers have limitations. When we attempt to receive too many inputs all at once, it can be overwhelming. In user experience terms, we refer to this as cognitive load.

As we browse the web, watch TV, use smart phones… our brains are exposed to a lot of stimulation. When we navigate interfaces on these devices, we’re asked to remember a lot of information as we attempt to accomplish tasks. The more that is asked of us as users, the more difficult or frustrating an experience it becomes.


Cognitive demands

There are many ways a service can make cognitive demands of the user.

Learning curve

What does the user need to learn to use the service?

If we can match the service to real world conventions, we can make it more familiar and intuitive to the user. It should use familiar phrases and concepts, and present information in a logical order.



How much focus does the service require?

Aim to keep the design as simple as possible. We should prioritise functions that help the user achieve their primary goals.

If the user is interrupted, what is the cost?

Give the user the freedom to control their journey. That could mean giving them a means to undo, redo or cancel, and avoid trapping them in the journey without an exit, or support save and resume on longer journeys.

Decision making

Is it clear what decisions the user will have to make? How critical are they? Is the outcome of those actions communicated?

When a user interacts with something in our service, the consequence of that action should be clear.

We can reduce the burden placed on the user by practising continuous communication; carefully disclosing important information throughout the journey to help guide the user without overwhelming them.

Where decisions need to be made, we can offer context, or comparisons of the options to help the user make an informed decision.



Does the service require the user to recall a lot of information? Does it assist them in that recall?

Where possible, we should minimise the amount of information we ask the user to remember. If the user is required to remember information, we can assist them by making it available and visible, and offering them just-in-time help.


How is information communicated? Is the language and tone appropriate to the intended audience?

Information should be communicated with the most clarity in the fewest words. Where a service contains a lot of information, it can be helpful to provide readable summaries for complex content. We can also break content into manageable chunks, and support it with visuals and diagrams.


Designing for neurodiversity

How do we design to be neuro-inclusive?

We can start by considering the demands above. Identifying the cognitive demands of our service, and designing solutions that are empathetic of those demands, can greatly improve the experience for all users.

In fact, many of the principles of designing for Neurodiversity are simply principles for designing for usability. They will help all users, but can be especially important in taking a neurodivergent user from an acceptable experience, to a delightful one.

Further to the demands above, there are some basic heuristics that are important for all users. Let’s have a look at ways to reduce the cognitive load, and adapt to users with varying cognitive profiles.

Know who you’re designing for

Every user experience process starts with understanding and empathising with your users.

By taking steps to understand our users, through interviews, surveys, field studies, we can gain a better understanding of the individual challenges those users face.

Only by understanding the users can we really begin to solve the problems they’re facing.

Offer different ways to interact with content

We generally assume most people interact with our content via a computer or touch device. In reality, there are multiple ways a user can interact with content, in both directions.

We can provide different ways to consume content, such as videos, or audio readings, but we also must be careful not to overwhelm the user with things like background audio or busy animations.

Even those reading text content may like to adjust the font size, or the contrast. We can also provide different ways to input content, such as touch, mouse, keyboard, voice.

Giving users control of these empowers the user to consume the content in a way that suits their needs.

Provide clear and concise instructions

Instructions should always be written in plain language that is easy for your user to understand. Try to avoid using jargon, or idioms, and consider adding visual cues like icons or arrows to help guide the user.

Make sure the content flows logically, is broken into manageable sections with appropriate headings, and avoid over-using fonts or formatting.

Simplify the journey.

There is an often used quote attributed to Albert Einstein - “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler”.

Sometimes our journeys are complex. They don’t always have to be simple, but they should strive to be made as simple as possible, and reduce the effort required by the user.

Iterate and improve

Continually evaluating the user experience and refining it based on feedback can help identify frustrations and minimise them.

Including neuro-divergent users in your testing is equally as important as including them in your research. Whether it’s early prototypes, or finished services, including a varied group of user abilities will allow for a greater range of feedback.

Educate ourselves.

Educating ourselves about neurodiversity can help us empathise with those users, and the challenges they face. Below is a list of resources that offer insight into neurodiversity.

Katrin Suetterlin: Content Design for Neurodiversity

Katrin is considered an expert on designing for neurodivergent populations.

Making Content Usable for People with Cognitive and Learning Disabilities

W3C guidance on creating content for neurodiversity

10 Usability Heuristics for User Interface Design

Neilsen Norman offer 10 general principles for interaction design that should apply to all users

How to talk and write about autism

Working with journalists and producers, the National Autistic Society has produced guidance to help discuss autism in an accurate and sensitive manner.


Insight on the confusion around what autism is, what causes it and how it affects people

Neurodiversity Celebration Week | Resource Hub

A collection of resources from across the internet and from people

Neurodiversity Hub

A range of resources for students and young adults, parents and carers, employers, university staff, aspiring entrepreneurs, architects & building designers and senior secondary school students.