Tips to avoiding sensory overload with your site

A major reason I’ve totally skimped out on keeping up with blogs is because the design made it difficult for me to read/concentrate. Because sensory overload is an active aspect of my day-to-day life, visiting blogs becomes this scary activity—I don’t know whether you’re going to implement every color of the rainbow and then some, if you’ll use default serif text, or if your site will be plastered with things that move.

It’s really daunting (more so than Wesley or screenwriting).

Anyway, some of these may be basic design/rules tips. If they are, just take this as me emphasising them.

1. Implement adequate line spacing.

Text needs breathing room. I call it “double spacing”, ’cause I’m so not knowledgeable in what the official term is, but if you can’t fit a 3-pixel-deep line between each line of text, it’s too close. Sans-serif fonts don’t tend to have as many issues as serif fonts, but text needs breathing room. I don’t really know how to make this clearer.

2. Try to avoid popups.

Popups are scary, especially if you’re not expecting them. People also dislike popups, and they don’t even work. I don’t know how many people are familiar with flashing lights prompting the need for epilepsy warnings, but popups are similar for people who deal with sensory overload on a daily basis. We only have so many spoons.

Coming face-to-face with a popup is like walking down a hall you’ve been down several times and suddenly walking into the wall. Perhaps your mind was on something else, but you’re still aching either way, and you might bruise later.

P.S. Those new exit popups that come up when the mouse moves for the address bar? Equally surprising and terrifying. Like, unless I’m told POPSUGAR has removed their popups, I will probz. never visit that site again. It’s too much.

3. Consider your colors.


If you must use many, please stick to a maximum of five. If you can subtly work rainbow colors into your blog, all the more power to you! As I’m writing this, Kristine’s current layout doesn’t portray how she’s managed to work lots of color into her blog without coming off too strong, she has a page of her previous layouts.

Too many colors can be distracting and take away from the content. Additionally, if you have #fff on #000, #000 on #fff, or some light grey on #fff or an off-white-like color, it’s hard to read—blinding, really.

5. Use as little movement as possible.

GIFs are cool and fun, and they’re okay if used here and there, but…they’re distracting. If you have an image in your sidebar of, say, a bee buzzing from one side to another, I’m going to stare at the bee—and I’ll likely leave without even finishing whatever you typed.

The same goes for carousel testimonials and/or featured posts, and the marquees. Firefox’s “reader view” is great, but it’s not available on all websites.

6. Offer transcripts.

Something I really love about the Food Blogger Pro Podcast is that they have a transcript of every episode. It may not be perfect and there are usually typos, but at least it’s readable.

Sensory overload extends to sound.

An overview of a day in the life of me in terms of sensory overload: all at once, I hear

  • the sound of my computer;
  • the sound of my keyboard clacking away as I type (if I’m typing) and/or my mouse clicking (if I’m clicking);
  • the wind outside;
  • my fan, though it’s on its lowest setting and not loud enough for others to really notice it;
  • the garage door opening/closing, or just in general if someone is coming or going [to this house] (my room is toward the front of the house;
  • precisely where cars or trucks park out front—and whether it’s a car or a truck;

in addition to other sounds.

When I’ve headphones in, and I’m listening to someone’s voice, I’ve still got those sounds going on. I can’t tolerate the earphones that cover all my ears, because while they work well to drown out a lot of the noise, I can’t tolerate that feeling on my head. It makes me cringe and feel like I am in a harmful situation I can’t escape from.

I don’t have any others to offer, and…it’s kinda funny this landed/ended on número 6?

But these are my biggest dilemmas. :s

Here’s a lovely video by Emily Osment about sensory overload:

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Comments on this post

Amy’s gravatar

I try to only use colours in my header image, and for my header tags, because I prefer for it to be about the writing. I’m not a web designer, I’m more of a writer, so that’s probably why.

And pop-ups are the worst. There’s a plug-in that allows you to ask people to subscribe on exit from your website. I’d never subscribe if someone did that. In fact, I’d probably never go back again. I think people are generally intelligent enough to know how to subscribe to a blog without being slapped in the face with a sign.

I love that Emily Osment song. Haven’t heard it in years though!

Liz’s gravatar

Right? I feel like a link in a blog post about a newsletter, or a form on the sidebar, works just fine. But the more subscribers, the more people want. I’m finding there’s no satisfaction. I’ll eventually have one, but it’ll likely be mostly family—because I was joking one day and said, “What? I should start, like, a monthly newsletter to check in with people and let them know what’s up?” and my grandmother, quite simply, replied, “That’s a great idea!”

So…womp. Got myself into that by accident.

I love Emily Osment! I have both of her CDs and listen to her songs often. <3

Kya’s gravatar

Line spacing or line height is something that I like to have plenty of room with. When the lines are too close together it can be hard to read. >.<

Jade Rachel’s gravatar

Most of those tips do sound like basic common sense but it’s interesting to hear how they impact on you

Louise’s gravatar

These are some great tips. Though it’s unfortunate when people design their websites in really loud or garish ways, and refuse to change things because their opinion is right. (Probably the same type of people who believe invisible illnesses don’t exist…)

Georgie’s gravatar

I like Kristine’s use of rainbow colours as she has done in the past, and I gotta admit, I have seen other subtle and nice examples on the internet and I really like how it’s done. I wanted to incorporate more colours into my layout as I had previously done on Heartdrops (that typography one I called R&R and the one before that called Life is, I think – not to mention that one with the milk carton), but I have used my colours quite boldly so two was definitely enough. ?

Sometimes I feel like my senses are very sensitive. My eyes are, actually – I cannot stand really bright lights inside, even general office lights mess up my eyes. I have to wear sunglasses when I go out, and when I drive I wait until the sun fully sets before I take my sunglasses off. My eyes are also really sensitive to air conditioning. They are so sensitive that sometimes it becomes painful. It really helps, not to mention from an accessibility point of view, for websites to have adequate contrast and large enough text. There are also other accessibility guidelines by the WCAG that are related to mobility impairment, not just visibility impairment.

I think it is obvious that I did a great job on your theme for you not to experience sensory overload. 😉 😉 PS. You could even run an accessibility test on your website to check how it does according to the WCAG. ?

Liz’s gravatar

Kristine’s use always comes to mind first. I also think of Darnielle, but I don’t know her current URL, or whether she has a current one.

I don’t see well at night, and…I feel like getting those eyeglasses that turn into sunglasses and eyeglasses the next time I get glasses, or at least inquiring about them, because the sun is really blinding to me, as well.

Haha, I ran a test on 6birds, and it failed. :p The reasons it failed, though, seem really dumb. >.< But I didn’t read all of them.