Designing Trust

Design |
By

a man peering at advertisements in a shop window

The onslaught of empty marketing and disappointing products bombarding people today means we are all more cynical of brands than perhaps ever before. Any time someone interacts with something you create, you are starting at a baseline of skepticism and must work your way up to a place of trust. One false move and you’re out.

Trust is harder than ever to earn but without it you simply can’t have long-term customer relationships. The answer to designing for trust isn’t catchier marketing slogans or the right shade of blue; it’s a change in mindset. Here are six ideas you can use.

It doesn’t hurt to look good

Anything visually pleasing has an instant advantage at gaining trust. The Aesthetic Usability Effect, coined by Nielsen Norman Group states that if something looks beautiful, people perceive a product or experience as more usable, even ignoring minor usability issues. Aesthetics are subjective, so a deep understanding of your audience is essential.

A related aspect of aesthetics influencing trust is cognitive fluency. If you make instructions easy to understand, then they make what they’re explaining seem easy too. This isn’t just about the UX of your app affecting your revenue. If a sentence is hard to read then you, as a brand, are perceived as difficult to deal with.

Consistency means you have your story straight 

A beautiful design system is only effective if it’s consistent throughout every aspect of the experience. Language needs a consistent style and appropriate voice and tone. Simple things like inconsistent grammar or spelling errors are easily avoidable, but they’re common trust breakers. Sweating all the details at every level is what makes the difference. Perception of security isn’t solved by a green padlock icon at your website checkout, it’s a holistic impression informed by every interaction up to that point.

Relatable = trustworthy

Ask yourself “what would this product be like if it was a person? Is it easy to hold a conversation with them?” So many factors influence what someone picks up as the personality of a brand. Just like when you first meet someone, first impressions are critical. If you’re designing a sign-up screen, that process is like a handshake. Images, language, and the questions you ask are all signifiers of who you are.

Success in designing a relatable, trusted experience comes from a deep awareness of audience and context.

Instead of trying to sound smart, show some emotion

We connect with emotions, not intellect. Laying on the four-dollar words won’t help your musings stick. In fact, using overly complex language is more likely to make you appear less intelligent. Communicate for impact with simple, emotional words and they will resonate. And remember, even if you’re writing for an audience of geniuses, everyone is most comfortable reading at an 8th Grade level.

Empower your customers

Accept that you have less control than you think. The more you try and rigidly control the narrative, the less relevant your story will be. Marketing teams pumping out “messaging” is now a primitive practice. Customers decide what your brand is and you need to give them the material by telling meaningful stories they can work with.

At Pilot, our definition of brand is “The intersection between the story you tell and what people choose to remember, believe and share.”

Above all, be transparent

Want to show that you’re not hiding anything? Don’t hide anything. Talk about your business processes, show your locations, introduce your team. Explain what you do with people’s account information. Tell your customers if something went wrong! Brand is what people talk about, so give them something to work with. Telling personal stories and showing vulnerability are incredibly powerful actions that inspire meaningful connection.

Designing for trust is a holistic practice

Earning trust through design isn’t an add-on, it’s a conscious approach to design, full of little decisions at every turn. Examining our motivations through these ideas should help make the little decisions easier. 

If you want to talk more about designing experiences that people instinctively connect with, get in touch.

Keep in touch

Subscribe to thoughts on strategy and design, plus whatever we’re up to lately.