Not only is the digital product space incredibly crowded — with user expectations higher than ever — but it’s also teeming with personal data. Our devices and apps know a lot about us, from our credit card information and fitness data to our location and search history. As people become more aware of the data that companies are collecting from them, their willingness to interact digitally with a product will largely depend on whether they trust it.
Design is one of the key factors that determines if a user will trust an app or website enough to interact with it: Does the user trust the onboarding experience and feel compelled to sign up for an account? Do they feel confident in where they’ll end up after clicking a link? Do they feel secure enough to provide their credit card information? And once they do, how sure are they that whatever item they’ve just purchased is actually on its way?
Designing for trust is critical to the success of a digital product. For instance, the elements of a user interface often indicate whether a product is safe or trustworthy. If an app or website looks and feels untrustworthy—especially if it involves a financial transaction or the exchange of personal information—a user will simply pass over it in favor of a competitor that comes across as more credible, even if it has weaker technology behind the scenes. The products with a better user experience but inferior technology will always win.
There are a number of ways in which a product can gain a competitive advantage by building trust with users through design:
Simplify the onboarding process. There are many pitfalls within an onboarding process that can quickly turn potential users into part of the 75 percent people who download and immediately uninstall apps every day. These include prompting users to sign up too early in the process, requesting too much information upfront, and not properly educating your user about the product. All of these missteps can lead to a user experience that breeds confusion, skepticism, and mistrust.
Avoid spooking your users by asking for minimal information during onboarding. Later, as user trust increases over time, so will their willingness to share information.
Provide visual direction. When a user visits a website or launches an app, they want to know where they are and how to get where they want to go next. The lack of sound navigation paradigms leads to confusion and frustration, which ultimately makes a user trust a product less. Good design promotes credibility through clear navigation, communication, and consistency within the user interface. This can be accomplished through signifiers (such as common navigation patterns and recognizable icons) that make your product more familiar and easier to use—and therefore more worthy of a user’s trust.
Don’t leave users guessing. A user needs to trust that your product actually does what it says it’s going to do. If they attempt to add a pair of jeans to their online shopping cart or transfer money to a friend’s account, they shouldn’t have to wonder if their action was successfully completed. Using fail and success states, for example, communicates that information back to the user.
By offering a clear indication when an action is taken, you keep your user aware of what they’re doing throughout the entire experience, thus helping them feel more confident in your product.
Be transparent with in-app permissions. If a user knows what you’re going to do with the information they give you—especially if it provides value—they’ll be more inclined to give their permission. So tell users, framed in the context of the value it provides, why you’re asking them to do something like share their location or allow you to send push notifications. And only include permissions that are absolutely necessary. By being upfront and honest with your users, you’ll be far less likely to lose their trust.
“Privacy means people know what they’re signing up for—in plain English and repeatedly.” — Steve Jobs
Avoid dark patterns. Perhaps the worst design offense is the dark pattern, a user interface designed to trick people into doing something against their intentions. Dark patterns can manifest in a number of ways—such as making it difficult for a user to cancel their account or using color to trigger a certain action with an associated cost. Whether it’s by hiding key information, visually misleading users, or taking advantage of people’s natural ability to make mistakes, dark patterns instantly erode trust.
Prototype your user experience sequence to test if you’re making it incredibly natural for a user to take a desired action—and incredibly difficult for them to accidentally take an action that goes against their intentions.
Whether you’re launching a new product or reevaluating one that’s already established, designing for user trust is fundamental to success. By building trust into the design, you not only gain more users over the competition, but you also enable your product to gain more insight into your users over time as they feel more comfortable and become willing to share their data.
No matter what—whether it’s an e-commerce platform or a banking app—when you ask a user to interact with your product, you ask for their trust. You need to design a user experience that demonstrates you deserve it.