Building Trust Through Design

Trust and privacy have always been the cornerstone elements of the internet — even when we were still plotting away on Geocities websites and trying to figure out what the internet was going to be.

It seems like we all did well at holding our cards closer to our chests. Yet as social media started coming into the picture, it became easier to part with our personal information. First it was email addresses. Then it was names, followed by birthdays. 

Not too long after that, it became natural to sign up for a Facebook account. We all gave Facebook our information without thinking twice about it. It’s interesting to see how people behave like this now, because we simply can ask a question, put it on well designed page and almost always get an answer.

As graphic designers, we have a newfound responsibility. It used to be the designing a poster didn’t require us to ask for a name, email address, or a credit card number. But websites do.

Because of that, we need to start adding some new responsibilities to our day jobs. 

It starts in those boring planning meetings. I know they aren’t fun, but being part of the process from the start matters. It means working with photographers, social media experts, and developers. We need to all be on board with what the product is going to be, how it’s going to work, and the goals it needs to reach before a pixel is even put into play on screen.

Next, actions that users make need to be simple and clear. It’s amazing how many websites miss this mark. Being able to back out of something or delete things feels like it’s going to the wayside in design processes. 

Recently, I signed up for an account on a website where I wasn’t sure whether or not I wanted the service. Being the perfectionist person that I am, I ended up deciding that the website wasn’t for me and wanted to delete my account.

It goes without saying the process to do so was completely frustrating.

Dark patterns are a part of this on almost every website. I know the goal is to only discourage users from performing a negative action. I don’t see this as building trust at all.

It’s not a fair or honest form of design. These days, users make a lot of important decisions. It could be as simple as providing an email address all the way up to inputting a credit card number. In either case, these things need to be taken with the utmost care.

If you’re using a dark pattern to collect these things, it’s too easy to get people to do something that they may not realize they’re doing. As a result, you could end up putting yourself on the hook for a lot of different things, including bad PR — which I think everyone would agree is never a good thing.

To cycle back to those planning meetings: the most important thing is that we have to speak up. Designers have the ability to look at the world through a different lense than others do.

If we’re working with somebody, they might be very close to a project or they might be looking at it with their own set of goggles. It’s up to designers to kind of broaden that view a little bit, especially if something sounds out of place or isn’t going in a good or honest direction.

It’s our responsibility to speak up. It’s too easy to go with the flow and assume that it’s all going to work out. But let’s be honest, especially when you’re building something, the start is the easiest time to step up and say, Hey, we need to do better at this.”

Over the next few months and years, privacy is going to be a bigger deal. When companies like Facebook are getting grilled by governments in the media, more people are going to start paying attention.

As designers, we have a part to play in all of this. I hope this episode inspires you to make a positive impact towards trust and privacy in the work you’re creating.

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