‘It’s intentionally dark’: how one art director is visualising OCD in web design

Anastasia Kuznetsova envisages the aesthetic of OCD

Created by Ready Set Rocket’s executive creative director Aaron Harvey, Intrusive Thoughts is an educational resource set up for pure obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) sufferers, launched after Harvey struggled to find help in battling his own mental health demons. The project empathises with and calms its audience not just through advice-laden copy, but through the aesthetic of the website itself.

The Drum spoke to the platform’s designer, art director Anastasia Kuznetsova, about communicating the feelings and fears that OCD sufferers endure via graphic web design and art direction, despite never having experienced the disorder herself. Her reworked version of the website goes live on Friday 13 October.

How did you get involved with redesigning the website?

The collaboration happened very naturally after a few conversations with Aaron about wanting to create a platform for OCD sufferers. I wanted to get involved in something outside of my day-to-day work that allowed me to use my skills as a designer for good. The project had a powerful mission and a brand that I could help build from the ground up.

What is your personal history with mental health?

I myself am not an OCD sufferer and knew very little about OCD going into this project. I think a lot of the misconceptions that we try to diffuse on Intrusive Thoughts were misconceptions I had myself before learning more about the disorder. I had no idea that there was this secret world of OCD that didn’t manifest itself in physical compulsions.

What was your initial brief? How much weight did Aaron place on the website's aesthetic design?

The initial brief was to create an educational resource that helped OCD sufferers understand their condition and feel empowered to seek proper treatment. We knew we wanted it to appeal to a younger audience, both through design and tone of voice, and provide an experience unlike any other in the mental health space.

For that reason, aesthetics and narrative played a huge role in how we approached the design.

How did you approach this project initially when the brief first came through?

The first step was to gain a better understanding of the disorder by having conversations with Aaron, and reading and watching videos and articles submitted by sufferers and professionals alike. The next was to dive into the online mental health space and gain a better understanding of what we were operating within and against: what were competitors doing? What were relevant non-profits doing? How could we carve out a unique visual and tonal point of view?

I watched a lot of videos from sufferers when I first started the project. Listening to their thoughts and experiences was incredibly eye opening and drove a lot of the creative decision thinking. You realize very quickly how scary this disorder is for people, and how distressing the experience is.

The other piece was looking at platforms that did a good job of speaking to a younger generation. The Truth [anti-smoking] campaign was a big source of inspiration because it created a movement you really wanted to be a part of. I wanted to find that sweet spot between having a look and feel that was cool but also came from a point of view that was empathetic to what the sufferer was experiencing.

How would you describe the site's finished aesthetic?

I’d say it’s intentionally dark. It doesn’t sugar coat the disorder or the experience. It’s empathetic through art and copy, and it’s ultimately hopeful.

How important has the experience been to you as an art director?

​I’d have to say that it’s been my favourite project to work on to date. Aside from being solely responsible for the look and feel, and receiving minimal feedback, it’s been amazing to put something out into the world that makes a difference for people. And then on top of that, seeing the reaction from sufferers themselves is incredible.

What would you say to those in the creative sector who also suffer from mental health issues?

Now is the time to dive into the conversation and participate in what feels like a growing movement. There are a lot of people out there who are suffering, many of them, in silence. Intrusive Thoughts is just one platform helping people feel a little less afraid to come forward and open up. There’s still a ton of work to be done.

Katie Deighton

Katie Deighton is The Drum’s senior reporter - creative and video based in London. She produces, films, presents and edits the title’s editorial video output, including series such as On The Scene, Ad Breakers and Why I Left Advertising, and manages its coverage of the creative sector. She also reports on the intersection between politics and marketing, as well as the third sector and fashion.

All by Katie