Privacy

Why Designing for Trust is More Important than Ever

The extraordinary events at the start of the year involving Trump, the Capitol, social networking giants and messaging apps, pushed concerns about data privacy to the forefront of the public consciousness.

Not only was the American public rocked by the physical threat of an angry mob, but the storming of the Capitol also highlighted how data can be a liability to national security, free assembly and the right to live a life unmonitored. The rioters left detailed digital footprints that documented their locations, movements, messages, political leanings, and even financing. 

Such a large security breach – both digital and physical – made the world think. How exactly did hundreds of people gain access to the Capitol building? How much private data was compromised? How did the perpetrators organise it? And how were they brought to justice?

Our smartphones provide intimate records of our daily lives, from where we shop, who we date, how many steps we’ve taken today, whether we’ve visited the sexual health clinic recently. The public is hyper aware that their data is being harvested by multinational media companies. These companies possess omnipotent powers to observe our every digital move, monitor our speech, sell us stuff, and even erase us from existence on their platforms, a la Trump.  

None of this is new, but a succession of news stories have jolted Joe Public out of his complacency, and we can be sure that website visitors and app users are approaching opt-in forms and consent forms with a healthy dose of caution.

So what does this mean for user experience designers who need to build trust between a brand and its target market? 

How data security became a tangible concern

We largely experience worldwide events through digital screens, watching in near-enough real-time as events like the Capitol riots unfold. But people are increasingly asking how private and secure this digital landscape is. Can we move through it freely or is there always a price to pay?

This isn’t the first time online privacy and security has sent shockwaves around the world– remember Cambridge Analytica and The Social Dilemma, the infamous Ashley Madison hack, the NHS data breach? These are all warning signs of a digital age that’s moving too fast to moderate and keep safe. 

What a difference a week makes

Global events in 2020/2021 have given way to huge transformational change. Covid, the Black Lives Matter protests, the U.S election, and now the concerns around data privacy in the wake of the Capitol storming have transformed the world in a relatively short time. 

Let’s look at the timeline:

04 Jan 2021: Whatsapp updates privacy policy, asking users to agree to allow more data to be shared with Facebook.

06 Jan 2021: Trump uses social media to mobilise an assault on democratic values

07 Jan 2021: Influencers including Elon Musk suggest alternative messaging apps to Whatsapp. 

09 Jan 2021: Twitter and Facebook ban the President from their social networks, demonstrating the vast power that tech giants hold over public discourse

11 Jan 2021: Signal reaches #1, Telegram doubles its downloads

15 Jan 2021: Whatsapp delays the rollout of its new policy until May

The new normal: Healthy scepticism

So where are we now? Have you downloaded Signal or Telegram?

We’ve likely all been affected by these events, consciously, or unconsciously. Misinformation, echo chambers, and political polarisation can breed mass confusion and distrust. 

And that’s what this mass exodus to Signal signifies. Our digital society is potentially at the beginning of an uprising against the Facebooks and Whatsapps, Googles and Amazons. The tech giants will need to tread carefully this year to navigate an emerging scepticism about the power they wield over the public. 

Beyond the philosophical and ethical ramifications of these shifting tectonic plates, is there a digital response? Surely. User experience is at the front of this as it’s the gateway and interface into all that we take in. 

As an experience design consultancy, what is our learning?

Designing for trust

Designing for the user’s emotional security is key. We must design every interaction to earn the user’s trust. From cookie acceptance notifications, to purchase journeys, to account creation, and newsletter sign-ups: All of these touchpoints need to be designed with transparency and simplicity in mind. 

Here are some ideas to take into 2021 and beyond...

Personality and heritage as an antidote to mistrust

Human storytelling should be at the heart of a brand’s introduction. We trust individuals more than we trust corporations. If a brand captures its history through warm and transparent storytelling, expressing the spirit of its people, it is more likely to earn trust with its consumers.

Taking only what we need

Sign-ups don’t have to be complicated multi-page, multi-stage journeys. We know that high user load in form filling directly correlates to drop-off based on impatience alone. But it also has the knock-on effect of users questioning why all of this data is needed. Taking only what we need shortens the process and leaves less room for suspicion.

No duping

The days of hidden opt-out boxes and double-negative wording in agreements are gone. If users expect that you are tricking them, it’ll be very hard to win back their trust. Clear sign-posting with simple language works best to help the user understand their options and make the choice they want.

Professional, functional, secure checkout

A clean and simple checkout journey with review stages, error handling, the right prompts at the right time, and confirmation messaging keep users feeling secure. Signposting security technology when payment is involved puts the user at ease.

Empathetic design

It’s not enough to simply design for the user’s needs: we must design for their emotions, too. Consider the frustrations or concerns they have as they navigate a digital world that has the potential to compromise their security and privacy.

Opportunity in the face of scepticism

Never underestimate the intelligence of your users. The flipside of being suspicious of big media is that consumers may place more emphasis on real relationships with brands that make them feel safe. As with human relationships, if you play that safe, you may just get loyalty for life.

Technology
Jason A

Published by Jason Ahn

Senior UX Designer

Jason is interested in technology and its cultural and philosophical impacts on society. He trained as an engineer, worked as a management consultant, and has been in the UX space for a decade designing in the agency, finance, and tech sectors.