Trust and design go hand-in-glove

EY Design Studio's Stephen Megitt on which digital elements are more vital than ever (and others that can go to the next level).


Trust is currency, and maintaining it counts – especially as COVID-19 pushes more and more of our interactions to digital. Even so, succeeding in this changed environment isn’t as simple as flipping a digital switch.

To work well, digital solutions must walk a fine line between looking safe and feeling safe. That means blending technical trust signals with thoughtful brand experiences. None of us can afford to view trust as a tactical add-on. It must be built methodically and deliberately at every stage of a solution’s design.

Cultivating digital solutions that are both fit for purpose and powered by trust begins by asking these three questions:

What’s our audience worried about?

When you understand what keeps your audience up at night, you can proactively solve for it through design. More than 60% of people find the pace of technological change too fast. This year, Canada tied for the second spot among countries where trust in tech saw the greatest year-over-year dip. And that was before we started to see an uptick in cyber threats tied to the global pandemic – a reminder that these concerns don’t go away just because consumers also have something else to worry about.

Being empathetic in design means accounting for the full range of emotions audiences feel while interacting with your digital experience – including fear. Let go of what you want to push out. Seek to understand your users’ fears, and design two-way online engagement from there. Dive deep with your discovery phase. Don’t abandon critical pieces of the design thinking puzzle, like defining key personas and mapping user journeys. Validate, validate, validate your thinking before you take things to market. If you’re not in tune with your audience’s concerns in this moment, not much else you do matters. Even if you’re trying to move fast. 

Is our design sending the right message?

This spring, ecommerce sales doubled over the same period last year, hitting forecasted growth rates five years sooner than expected. That means your brand equity is now shaped by the trustworthiness of your site.

On the one hand, this is about getting the table stakes right. When everything in life feels upside down, even the simplest visual cues become top priorities. From that small but mighty lock symbol, to the clarity of the language around your verified payment system: these matter more now. Copy that reminds users of your satisfaction guarantee and storytelling that brings products and services to life (without the benefit of a conversation) have become your competitive edge in a noisy online marketplace growing noisier by the day.

On the other hand, it’s also time to up your game. Whether you were already active in ecommerce or you’re jumping in feet first now: investing in experience design as a solution to compel users to keep taking action is everything.

Could an avatar help someone understand how a pair of jeans will fit and build their trust in the process? Could video simulations enable another buyer to trust that the saddle on that high-end bike will feel just right? Can augmented reality help people picture new furniture in their home without ever leaving the safety of their couch?

Old assumptions about what you can or can’t do with your digital experience won’t work in a new normal. Let them go. Start reimagining what’s possible. Embrace every interaction as a chance to not only confirm someone’s in a safe place, but to cultivate trust in the product, service and you as a vendor.

Is our big picture view big enough?

I can’t help but remember a story I once heard at a conference. A homogeneous group of designers used a generic police icon to indicate “help” on an interface. It took bringing the design to a wider, more diverse group to realize not every audience associates police with help.

A wider perspective ensures the right things are designed in the right way to build trust. Cross-discipline teams that cover a range of expertise – from human-centred design to cybersecurity – can help ensure you’re connecting the dots around trust at every stage of your design. Especially in the midst of this global crisis, we can’t afford not to bring all the right people to the remote-working design table. Penetration testing and vulnerability scanning are industry standards for a reason; they’re vital. But they mean more when developed and executed at the heart of a team that brings diverse perspectives to overall design.

The more we know about end-users, the easier it is to tailor solutions to their specific needs. Understanding user concerns around technology and trust, and proactively mitigating for them through every design phase, can drive better engagement at the execution stage. Companies that relentlessly commit themselves to trust now might just put themselves ahead of the curve when we shift gears to recovery. Will trust fuel your digital success, or hold you back?

megittStephen Megitt is executive strategy director at EY Design Studio.