Is Your Website Trauma-Informed?

In the field of user experience (UX), we often talk about designing for delight. We focus on how good we can help a person feel when interacting with a website or other technology. But in some cases, website design and content choices aren't about delight at all. They might be about relief. Or they could be as serious as life or death.

I'm studying how to improve websites serving domestic violence (DV)/interpersonal violence (IPV) survivors. How can these websites meet the complex needs of this group of people? There are neurological, social, and physiological effects of trauma and interpersonal violence. Plus, there are safety and privacy issues in these situations.

Looking at the websites of organizations that serve survivors has led me to these questions:

  • Are the websites helping survivors feel empowered to take the next step toward help?
  • Or are the websites aggravating the symptoms of trauma itself?
  • So...what would a trauma-informed website look like?
Here's a screenshot of the current North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence homepage. We are addressing the UX issues and also thinking about survivor-sensitive features. A grant from the staffing agency Aquent makes this possible!

Here's a screenshot of the current North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence homepage. We are addressing the UX issues and also thinking about survivor-sensitive features. A grant from the staffing agency Aquent makes this possible!

The US government offers some direction on being trauma-informed in general. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the US Government (SAMHSA) has Six Key Principles of a Trauma-Informed Approach:

  1. Safety
  2. Trustworthiness and Transparency
  3. Peer Support
  4. Collaboration and Mutuality
  5. Empowerment, Voice and Choice
  6. Cultural, Historical, and Gender Issues

Some of these principles overlap with those of UX. For example, trust is often critical to share personal or financial information with a website. It's important to be trustworthy both to be trauma-informed AND to have great UX. Plus, a positive user experience can feel empowering. A poor one can feel overwhelming and disheartening.

I'm exploring how these SAMHSA principles combine with those I've learned in my UX career. I'm hoping to translate these principles into action items to make websites trauma-informed. There are also a number of survivor-sensitive features that are necessary for service agency websites. 

Becoming trauma-informed and user-friendly may not require a costly redesign. I suspect it's often about making smarter design and content choices. With a UX and trauma-informed lens, we can improve survivors' experience.

I'm speaking at the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault conference in May. I'm not going there knowing all the answers. But I'll share what I've learned so far about making a website trauma-informed. This work is important for the safety of all people suffering within violent relationships. 

I'm all for designing for delight, but I'd love more people to help on this more serious issue too. Please get in touch if you want to join forces for good.