Elaine Heinzman

Content Strategist and Information Architect

User Experience in the Face of Trauma

I’m a very lucky person. I haven’t experienced anything that would qualify as a major traumatic event, and my life isn’t generally a series of inconveniences. Plenty of other people don’t have that kind of good fortune. And since I’m in the business of user experience (UX), I want to use this blog post to explore something I learned about at a recent UXCamp event that I attended: the less frequently considered usability strategy called trauma-informed UX.

Trauma-informed UX most immediately affects people during or after a traumatic experience, but also during a relapse. These are users who come to an organization because they need help dealing with trauma, including:

  • Survivors.
  • Patients living with a serious disease or injury.
  • The loved ones of survivors and patients.

The main secondary audiences include:

  • The greater communities that these survivors and patients will return to.
  • Medical, law-enforcement, legal and social-services workers serving survivor and patient and populations.
  • Donors and financial entities that provide support to these workers.

Trauma-informed UX also should consider those who’ve previously experienced a traumatic encounter with an organization that was supposed to help them. A straightforward example would be a crime survivor who’s had a negative interaction with their local police department or emergency room. A less-obvious example that The Marshall Project recently wrote about: juveniles once held in California detention facilities.

In an online survey, California’s state and community corrections board asked formerly incarcerated children and their families how the state could improve juvenile detention. In addition to “the childishly predictable [comments] — I didn’t get the bunk I wanted; they punished us all as a group,” survey respondents provided thoughtful and detailed recommendations including “more vegetables, more dental care…, [and] an easier system for sending academic transcripts from school to jail and back.”

I love that corrections officials asked for feedback from their users so the state could better serve these families and their communities. Individual interviews are my preferred UX research tool, though in this case, it would have been too expensive and time-consuming to do interviews.

Regardless of the tool you use to get user feedback, with a trauma-informed UX process, there are additional and more delicate considerations that you must address:

  • Are you dealing with a user population that needs to worry about physical or digital surveillance?
  • Can you streamline the experience to give traumatized users more control of the time they spend dealing with your organization?
  • Is a website, an app, or an SMS-based experience the best way to serve users who are concerned about surveillance and time?
  • What legal requirements must your organization meet? This can include patient confidentiality or client anonymity.

While you’re doing user research for a project that will serve users affected by trauma, or getting user feedback after the project launch, focus on speaking to those who already have healed they’ll be more open to sharing their experiences because they’re not currently living the through the trauma.

What other nuanced usability considerations have you come across?

Alan Gunn


Search Results Pagination Look Odd? Try Pagination with Sortable Headers

I recently came across some client reports that, when initially run with search criteria, looked correct and displayed properly. However, that all changed once a user selected pagination. book turning pages

The search results soon began to look like nothing I’d searched for, and after a few clicks of Next and Back I could produce errors. When I drilled into the code, I found that the results were ordered by date, but the pagination used the ID of the record. Using the record ID would have been fine if we were only displaying a dump of the data and ordering it by ID, but to have a functioning useful report, this did not work.

I needed a way to order by any report column header, and for the pagination to keep intact the ordered by results as a user moved between the pages. After some quick research I came across the SQL Server function ROW_NUMBER(), used in conjunction with OVER(). This was exactly what was needed to accomplish the report column sorting and the pagination honoring the order throughout the pages.

The result: Users were now able to paginate results, as well as sort by column heading, making for a logical display.

Have you found any tips or tricks for search results?

Jaime Quiroz

Front End Developer

Building a Responsive Navigation: Big navigation on small screens

UI problem solving on mobile devices can be quite a challenge when it comes to navigation. A simple Google search for “Responsive navigation” will yield countless possible navigation formats that web developers have used so far.

We’ve recently taken on some responsive projects where we had to make some fairly large navigation work on mobile devices as well. One site in particular is The Catholic Health Association of the United States: http://www.chausa.org.

A long vertical navigation accessible through scrolling is what we aimed to accomplish in this case, allowing the user to navigate to just about any page on the site right from the home page.

Taking this a step forward, I’ve set up a demo of how this concept can work with an expanding navigation.

The main thing about approaching this setup is using a fixed navigation behind the content with an overflow-y: scroll rule. No third party JavaScript plugins required (other than jQuery) to add or remove some classes and handle the toggle of the sub menus.

The scrollbar itself is hidden by the overlapping content that’s pushed off to the right.

By toggling a class on the body, the content gets pushed aside to reveal the hidden navigation. The content doesn’t fully leave the page but remains somewhat visible for two reasons:

  1. It slightly overlaps the navigation behind the content and will hide the unwanted scrollbar from view
  2. it serves as a trigger to pull the content back into full view when clicked on

Since we are dealing with big navigation in this example, the content is fixed on the screen and does not scroll along with the navigation. Doing it this way makes it less distracting for the user. It also ensures that it stays in view in the event that the navigation becomes longer than the page itself.

No JavaScript is involved in the sliding of the content away from view, it’s just a simple CSS transition on the ‘Left’ property of the content container.

The +/- button is used to reveal additional sub menus in the navigation. This treatment gives the user two options on a given item with sub menu. They can:

  • click on the text to go to its landing page, or
  • click its expand button to see additional options within that section.


Have you worked on a big project optimized for mobile? Please share if you have!

Kelly Browning

Director of Strategy

Big British Breadcrumbs: A New Look at Website Navigation

When content hierarchies get deep and complex, traditional navigation models can turn into a confusing mess.  Some large content websites from the UK are working the problem by adapting breadcrumbs to play a more significant role in navigation. Here are three examples, starting with the most subtle and progressing to the most bold, of British breadcrumb tweaks in action.

The Crumb Stands Alone – GOV.UK

This is by far one of the most subtle tweaks in the lineup but I still felt it was of note.

gov.uk screenshot

  • These big breadcrumbs are the only primary navigation system at gov.uk;
  • Their large size gives them more visual prominence and makes them easier to click;
  • The current page title isn’t included in the breadcrumb trail.  This makes them cleaner and more inviting.

A breadcrumb-only approach has its downsides, as Paul Boag writes in his Smashing Magazine article, Navigation for Mega-Sites. I agree that the biggest weaknesses of is the difficulty of lateral movement through the site.  The next two sites avoid that limitation by including traditional primary navigation menu, as well as prominent breadcrumb navigation.

Crumb Tease – BBC Sport

Next in the lineup, we have BBC Sport, where a single breadcrumb element is given lots of visual punch and helps to provide a sense of place within subsections that aren’t visible in the primary navigation menu.

screenshot bbc sport

  • A single crumb is followed by tabs.
  • This approach is used only when the parent topic is so specific that there wasn’t room for it in the traditional navigation bars.
  • The initial breadcrumb functions as a section label.
  • The breadcrumb-style arrow visual relates the section label to the items that live within the section.

Exploding Breadcrumbs – The Guardian

Now for the most extreme breadcrumb navigation in the trio, The Guardian.

screenshot guardian

  • Breadcrumbs are used as local sub-navigation.
  • The breadcrumbs are color-coded based on parent topics (for instance, red = news).
  • The initial breadcrumb acts as a section label, and subsequent crumbs indicate subsections.
  • Like BBC Sport, the crumbs are followed with additional navigation.  But instead of tabs, the Guardian presents the links in a gray navigation bar.

Bonus part:  Usually there is no left navigation, but when a user reaches “the end” of the breadcrumb path, voila!  A big list of related links appears, inviting more browsing.

Fresh Bread

Web designers across the pond have shown how breadcrumbs can be reconsidered in their relationship to an entire navigation system.  No longer just a trail of tiny, stale links to be ignored unless you’re lost, breadcrumbs can be made fresh and appealing, and perhaps more useful than before.

I’ll be considering new uses for breadcrumbs in my own design efforts, doing usability testing, and adding updates to this post as I learn more.

In the meantime, pass the crumpets!

Have you seen other sites with nifty breadcrumb/navigation treatments? Please share!