Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Designing for trust

Recently I was briefed to develop an entirely new online brand and customer experience that would convey trust. It sounds like a reasonable requirement given that so many websites (particularly eCommerce and social networking sites) rely on the basic premise of trust to engage new users.
However as soon as I started thinking about what trust 'looked like', I began to have a failure of imagination.
I had to break down the concept of trust into what it really meant in the context of an online experience.
Key drivers of trust online include:

  • Privacy - my personal details and identity are secure and will not be misused
  • Reliability - the product/service will work the way I intend it, without error (including my own)
  • Honesty - what I see is what I'll get, no hidden fees or nasty surprises  

Sure, there are all types of design devices to reassure customers of the above three attributes. For example:

  • Privacy - include a privacy statement, include security payment gateway badges, credit card icons
  • Reliability - ensure the site is usable, thoroughly tested (usability, ethical hacking, load & performance) and conforms to web standards and common browsers/platforms. More than this, provide good online customer support in case anything goes wrong or the customer has questions.
  • Honesty - transparent product/service descriptions, good photography, customer reviews and ratings, delivery times and return policies.
But only some of these things, through user centred design practices, are in the control of the designer and I still had to create a new brand (including a name, a logo and a tagline) that would stand alone as a symbol that could be trusted. To add to the challenge I had to demonstrate that it was a trust-worthy brand experience through testing it with the various audience segments.
After months of customer research, iterations of design and user testing, we finally had a new online brand and site design that audiences trusted slightly more than either the existing online brands that it was replacing or competing with or any of the alternative designs.
It wasn't my favourite design and it probably won't win any design awards, but audiences felt that it was an honest and accessible brand. From a design perspective, I guess you'd say it was predictable, but that's not such a bad thing when trust is the most important goal.

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