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UX Design
6 minute read

How to Design for Maximum Product Trust

We make split-second decisions about whether to trust people; the same is true about trusting digital products. Companies can develop product trust and loyalty online by using design to signal that a website or app is safe and secure.

We make split-second decisions about whether to trust people; the same is true about trusting digital products. Companies can develop product trust and loyalty online by using design to signal that a website or app is safe and secure.

How do we decide whom or what to trust? Why is trust important? Its importance in society—in relationships, business, and government—has been debated and studied for ages. One thing is clear: Consumers are unlikely to spend much time—let alone money—on a digital product in which they don’t have full confidence. A 2020 study by global PR firm Edelman finds that more than 80% of customers say that concerns over personal privacy make it crucial for them to trust the brands they engage with. At the same time, it takes only one-twentieth of one second for users to form an impression about a website. Designing for trust from the outset will go a long way toward assuring users that an app or website is worth their time, attention, and money.

Design for Consistency

Design consistency establishes trust on many levels. At its most fundamental, it reassures users that they are interacting with the site they intended to. A consistent look and feel suggests that your company is organized and that its workers and systems are competent.

An increasing number of companies provide design systems, template libraries that govern all elements of design and development—from what color palette to use to how tall to make icons to what voice and tone the content should assume. Even without a design system, though, designers should make sure to formulate a set of rules and stick with them. Make call-to-action buttons the same color across all pages, for example, or make sure that calendar forms look the same on all parts of your site.

Coinbase is an example of a company that uses consistency across its many products.

It’s also crucial to design with user expectation in mind, considering the mental models users have developed over years of online interactions. Do they expect to find the shopping cart in the upper right-hand corner of the page? Do they expect to see links underlined?

Still, consistency is more than just color palette or logo. It extends to everything, including how a user moves through the site or app. For instance, the mechanism for navigating between screens should be the same throughout. Delivering a reliable experience also ensures that users won’t have to learn how to interact with the site every time they visit.

UX and UI designers must think holistically about the entire customer experience—or CX—design. How does their work fit with the company’s broader vision of what the customer journey should look like? Does it align with the company’s expectations for the customer journey as a whole? In order to create a consistent, trustworthy design experience, UX designers must involve key stakeholders and answer these questions from the outset.

Avoid Dark Patterns

The term “dark patterns” was coined more than a decade ago by British UX researcher Harry Brignull, an expert in psychology and cognitive science. The term refers to the many ways—and there are many ways—that design can be deployed to trick a user into doing something unintentionally, usually taking advantage of the fact that people tend to skim and not read carefully. Some examples:

  • Making it nearly impossible to unsubscribe from a service or opt out of receiving future emails.
  • Using the “x,” a universal symbol for closing a window, as the element that downloads new software.
  • Creating dark backgrounds and hard-to-read buttons.
  • Placing an extra item in a shopper’s cart “accidentally.”

These techniques may earn a company clicks and even extra revenue in the short term—perhaps even in the long run. However, if the overall goal is designing a product intended to foster trust, dark patterns should be left out of the design equation.

Be Transparent About In-app Permissions

When designing the UI for in-app permissions—say, a dialog box that asks a user to grant access to their phone’s camera—be clear and direct about why the user should click “Yes.” How are these in-app permissions essential to the experience of using the app? Offering an explanation can encourage users to grant their permission; one study found that users are 12 percent more likely to click “Approve” if they’re told why they should.

Also, design the interface so that permission requests appear directly after a user initiates an action, so the purpose is clear. A restaurant app could be programmed to ask for a user’s location only the first time they search for places to grab a bite nearby. The context should make the benefits of granting permission obvious.

Hold Yourself Accountable

Companies large and small must have communications plans in place to connect with users following an outage or, as is increasingly likely, a data breach. After an incident, companies usually deploy communications and PR teams to respond to customer concerns; designers can collaborate with them to design email templates, notifications, and social media posts to update users on the situation.

Designers should also create an online environment, such as a dedicated web page, to communicate the issue with transparency, including how it happened, who has been affected and how, and what will happen next. Make sure this explanation—or a clear link to find it—is visible in multiple places throughout the site or app.

Ensure Third-party Features Follow Brand Guidelines

Developers embed third-party features in an app or site to offer users more functionality. Embedding a chat or payment app in a product, for example, means not having to worry about designing those features from scratch in addition to perfecting your core product. But when integrating these pages or apps, it’s important to make sure the design is a clear continuation of the brand and product. A customer might not want to interact with, say, a customer-service chat feature that is obviously powered by an outside vendor. Providing a visual cue via the logo or otherwise confirming brand presence can go a long way toward reassuring users that the app they are using is the one they intend to be on and is secure.

Nudge Users to Secure Their Accounts

In behavioral science, a nudge is an indirect reminder designed to influence behavior. Designers can encourage users to protect their data by devising creative ways to offer these nudges. For instance, since 80% of data breaches can be traced to weak or reused passwords, designers can implement a password-security strength meter on a sign-up page to encourage users to create stronger passwords. Or they can send reminders to have people enable dual- or multi-factor authentication on their accounts—one of the best means of protection. Some companies, like cryptocurrency trader Binance, show users an undismissable flag that won’t let them proceed until they set up two-factor authentication. With clever, creative design, a company can actively secure its customers’ data and demonstrate that it is taking its customers’ privacy and safety seriously.

This security nudge combines iconography, color, and microcopy to communicate the urgency of protecting user data.

Trustworthy Design Can Signal Success

According to a study described in Harvard Business Review, customers are far more likely to take a risk (for instance, make a purchase or share private information) online if there is a high degree of trust. These days, users have more reason than ever to be wary of digital products. Hackers attack computers every 39 seconds; data breaches exposed 36 billion records worldwide in the first nine months of 2020 alone; the statistics are alarming—and seemingly endless. Studies also show that people’s decisions about where to place their trust are based less on a logical decision-making process than they are on intuition. Since it takes only an instant for a customer to have this instinct, following principles of trustworthy design can go a long way toward instilling confidence in a user.

Further reading on the Toptal Design Blog:

Understanding the basics

Creating a product that displays trustworthy design is vital to success. By designing for consistency, avoiding dark patterns, ensuring third-party features follow brand guidelines, being transparent about in-app permissions, and nudging users to secure their accounts, designers can create products users trust.

It takes only one-twentieth of one second for someone to form an impression about a website. Digital products must display trustworthy design in order to attract and keep users.

Certain design features instill confidence in users. Retaining a consistent look and feel across all components of a product; avoiding deceptive dark patterns; and regularly reminding users to secure their accounts can go a long way toward cultivating product trust.