In a world where you will encounter thousands of carefully designed interactions every day, it is important to stop and observe how you arrived at this particular moment.
Specifically — how did you arrive on this page?
Your physical location isn't of great consquence as this is the web and you could be reading this before bed in Chennai, India just as easily as you could be reading it on your phone riding the bus to work in Toronto.
Your gender, race, age, and sexual orientation do not play a role nor do your politics — unless you follow me closely on Twitter.
You are likely here because you are on a quest for understanding — or perhaps you are merely curious about the topic of design. Either way, while there is definitely knowledge thirst, you probably didn't arrive here from a Google search because there are thousands of other posts online about interaction design that you could be reading.
You probably arrived here because of the transitive power of trust.
Perhaps you’re part of the New Pragmatic online community and the discussion there has prompted you to spend a few minutes with this material. Maybe you met me at one of my workshops or you are a former bootcamp student and that connection played a role in your visit. Some likely watched a video of me teaching and found your way here.
In short, you have likely found something of value on this site or an associated platform. Once we find value, the likelihood we seek out the source again skyrockets.
Regardless of the platform, once value is identified we seek it out. When value begins appearing with regularity, trust follows. The amount of trust is built slowly over time but always under scrutiny.
Any time we risk a loss, we put trust on trial. One potentially life-threatening situation most of us have encountered is the relatively simple task of crossing a street.
There are many factors that directly influence the amount of trust you are willing to extend to the environment around you when you take that first step into the street. Below are just a few of the considerations that weigh on your decision:
- How busy is the street?
- Is it a street with multiple lanes of traffic?
- Is there a stop sign?
- Is there a stop light?
- What is the weather like?
- Can I see clearly in both directions or is there a hill or curve?
- What time of day is it?
This set of considerations grows significantly if you happened blind, deaf, wheelchair-bound, or dealing with one of the many temporary impairments that we've all had (broken arm, assisting small children or older adults, etc).
Additionally, trust associated with one intersection doesn't automatically transfer to the next. Stop signs or lights might be present, but the value we associate with them is not constant. Some intersections you will begin crossing without much thought, only to stop immediately at the next, much busier crossing.
Like the aformentioned intersections, the trust extended to the products we interact with is shaped by many internal and external factors. Some of those factors are always beyond our control because they are specific to a individual user:
- Have I had successful interactions with this product or service in the past?
- Have I ever heard of this?
- Do I know anyone who has ever used this?
- Does this remind me of something anything I've had trouble with before?
Other factors that impact the transitive power of trust are well within our control:
- Does this product overwhelm me on first encounter?
- Is the design predictable enough that I can begin using it?
- Does the design look professional?
- Am I encountering information I was expecting to see?
While it is always easiest to win the trust of someone who has a friend that raves about your product, you still need to start by delivering value to the user. The easiest way you begin converting people into users of your product or service is to perform as expected and appear professional.
Performing as expected
We've all encountered bad websites or applications that were great in concept but terrible in overall execution. The site lacked a back arrow or the cancel button was hidden. Perhaps the navigation was difficult to understand or maybe the site provided bad feedback — or no feedback at all.
When a digital product fails to meet our expectations, the likelihood we will ever trust of that service takes an immediate hit.
Users expect digital products and services to load quickly, be easy to use, and deliver the service they claim to provide. This is not the peak of customer satisfaction, it is the floor — the bare minimum. Products that fail to meet this low water mark rarely survive.
Additionally, we grow immediately wary of services that bombard us with requests to turn on notifications, download an app, input our personal information, or surrender a credit card number.
When a user visits your site or service, they are already spending time with you. Find a way to deliver value to them, without seeking an immediate return. If you do this enough over time, you won't need to hard sell them to become a customer.
Circling back to the intersection discussion above, if the word ‘Stop’ is present and the shape is the same, would you trust a green stop sign?
Because of a lifetime of prior association, you would likely find the sign interesting but be driven to question whether it was effective. That's because most stops signs that you've encountered in the past have been red. In fact, it’s unlikely that many of us have ever encountered a stop sign that wasn't red. The presence of green on the stop sign would make it appear untrustworthy.
Our users encounter thousands of messages each day, carefully tuning what is and isn't trustworthy in their mind. Regardless of whether you work for a Fortune 500 company or a small non-profit, your organization will attempt to collect information like:
- Home Address
- Credit Card Numbers
- Social Security Numbers
- Family Background
- Employment History
- Medical History
Whether a user decides to provide this information often depends on how much they trust your site.
If your organization is easily recognizable, maybe a poorly designed site is overlooked. However, if you are a new operation that no one has ever heard of before, your chances of collecting a credit card number drops significantly. If the design of that site is poor, your chances are immediately reduced to zero.