designing-sites-for-sensitive-subject-matterEvery website is built using the same basic components and coding themes, but not every site employs those components and themes in the same way. For example, a casual personal blog site might not care as much about security as an ecommerce site. It is important when designing and building sites that you take the industry and the needs of your client’s clients into consideration.

This is particularly important if the site serves a particularly sensitive industry like medical sites and addiction websites. For example, if you are building a site for a clinic that wants to offer patients online access to their records, in addition to the standard site security protocols you will also need to make sure that your coding ensures that the client meets HIPAA security standards and goes the extra mile to protect patients’ privacy (source: SUMY designs).

This is just one example of how designing and building a site for a sensitive subject or industry is different than building a boilerplate personal or business website. Here are some more…


We have already talked about HIPAA standards, but let’s dig a little deeper. After all, even if a site does not provide access to medical records, taking patient privacy seriously is incredibly important and you want to facilitate those privacy standards as much as possible. For instance, suggest that your client uses a secure contact form to reach out for more information or to schedule an appointment. This, as opposed to a standard mail-to link or phone number, will increase your client’s site’s engagement by quite a bit.

Scheduling Functionality

When someone’s business is in the market of helping, treatment, and service, they are going to need to meet with their clients. This hasn’t always been something with which a site designer has to concern herself. As society’s dependence on the internet has increased, their phobia of picking up the phone has followed apace. If the only way to schedule an appointment is to make a phone call, your client will lose business (source: Capterra). Instead, encourage them to include appointment setting functionality with their site build. Show them how these programs sync securely with their own appointment setting and calendar functions. Include response functionality that allows people setting appointments to choose whether they want confirmation and reminder phone calls, texts, or email.

Ability to Act Quickly

Do not limit communication access to those secure forms. If your client is running a business that serves clients dealing with addiction, you should also include a mechanism for those clients to get immediate access to someone who can help them. For example, Forterus Treatment Center offers a secure live chat option (source: Forterus) for those who can’t or don’t want to wait for someone to call or email them back.

Educational Approach

The standard business site template includes a few pages–about, hours of operation, testimonials, etc. Often, code-wise, these can simply be carbon copies of each other. When building a site that trades on sensitive issues, you need to be prepared to build a site that is easy for them to update themselves. For example, building in blog functionality that your client can access on his or her own is an important part of these websites. Yes, this might eat into the amount you invoice them for every month, but still: it is in your best interest. Why? More than anything else, these businesses traffic in education.

Markets like addiction and medicine have to update their sites all the time to make sure they are delivering up to the minute science and support options to their clients. If they have to call you to have you update their site for them every time they want to post an article, they likely won’t be your clients for long. And, of course, you will want that blog function to be as secure as possible.

Don’t Fear Leading the Way

Designers are used to clients telling them what they want their sites to look like and how they want their sites to function. They are used to following these directions and maybe offering a small bit of advice here or there, but mostly they have resigned themselves to the role of ‘code monkey.’ When your client is building a business within a sensitive market, however, you need to be ready to step up to make sure that your client’s clientele is protected and that your client won’t be tempted to cut corners in the interest of getting a site up quickly.

Yes, ultimately, the decisions will be theirs. Still, make sure that privacy and convenience points we’ve talked about here are a part of your conversations and brainstorms.