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How to Build Trust Through Design


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We’ve all seen the pin: “it takes months to earn a customer and only seconds to lose one.” The idea is generally true, but in the digital world, you don’t always have months to work with while trying to build relationships. Earning a customer often hinges on one very quick encounter in which your audience makes a split-second decision about your brand. In that moment, you must know how to build trust. Design can help.

I never knew design could have such a big impact. Love this! | How to Build Trust Through Design @marketmox

Appeal to your customers’ basic needs.

Here, we need to peek at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Abraham Maslow was a cool cat that explored the psychology that fuels desire, and released a paper including his famed hierarchy in the 1940s. He said, as humans, our most basic of needs must be fulfilled before we will pursue other, more advanced, desires. One of those most basic needs: safety.

While I’d 100% recommend you take a deeper dive into the Hierarchy of Needs, we can work with this one detail alone. Applying Maslow’s findings, we can state that when a potential customer experiences your brand online, they must first feel safe and secure before pursuing other desires. Those “other desires” may be clicking a call to action, completing a form, purchasing your product or even engaging on a social network. Whatever the outcome, there must be a sense of safety first.

When a potential customer experiences your brand online, they must first feel safe. Click To Tweet

In design, we create that safety through trust. Most designers will tell you that trust is built through great design — but that’s entirely subjective. What makes great design? What does a trustworthy design look like? How do you know?

As a marketer and user experience designer, I challenge you to twist that a bit. Consider, instead, that trust is built through expected design. We’ve already mentioned time and time again that you should know your audience. Ask what it is that they expect when engaging your brand online. For example:

  • If you run a doctor’s office, bright and bold colors are probably alarming. Cool, calming tones and soft visuals will help to create a relaxing, trustworthy experience.
  • That soft, airy visual probably will not work as well for a towing company. Industrial styling with bold primary color palettes and strong, blocky text are more typical in this industry.
  • For a grocery store, more organic color palettes, friendly typography and neutral styling help to create mass appeal.

In each scenario, we can build trust by enhancing a visual that is already reasonably “accepted” within an industry. We can leverage the sense of security that already comes with these visuals and transfer it to your own brand by using existing style inspiration.

Consider first impressions and general perceptions.

When a potential customer first encounters your brand, what it is that they see? Answering this seemingly straightforward question can be a bit harder than you expect. Is it a messy storage room? A disconnected social media stream? What about thoughtful blog posts? Or, a kind smile and greeting?

What your customers see first and the perceptions they share with others can significantly impact the trustworthiness of your brand. Even online. If you greet your audience with disorganized content, wild animations and a general lack of consistency in your brand — it’s a solid assumption that they will find it more difficult to trust your business than a brand with a more mindful best foot forward.

Design is genuinely fundamental. Because of its visual nature, design is consumed and processed nearly twice as fast as written content. That fact alone makes it imperative that, even if design is not your primary focus, it be heavily considered while building your online presence.

Design is consumed and processed nearly twice as fast as written content. Click To Tweet

Be predictable. Use common UX patterns.

As in graphic design, using common user experience patterns associated with your brand will help to create a sense of safety and security with your audience from a UX and UI perspective. Consider this:

Have you every been through the checkout in a store and been asked something out of the ordinary? Most of us know the process well. Pick out your items and wait in line. When your turn arrives, drop your items onto the belt and wait for your total bill. The cashier will tell you the price and give you instructions to swipe your card. You swipe, sign, take your receipt and you’re off. But what if the cashier asks you a question? “This is on sale, would you like to buy 2?” “Can I sign you up for our rewards card today?” That disruption in the process you know and expect will unconsciously put you on edge. It might make you suspicious. Or, it will create discomfort or a sense that the situation is unreliable.

That’s what happens when you put a weird user experience pattern in front of your digital audience. Suddenly, an experience they thought they knew doesn’t behave in the way they expect. They can’t trust what will happen next. So, they leave.

Be genuine and honest in your copy and images.

Whether you’re applying graphics to a website, social network profile, display ad or beyond — honesty in your copy and images will make a world of difference in building trust among your audience.

In images, accurately represent what your customers can expect from your product or service. For example, if you are selling miniature figurines, ensure that users can determine the scale of your product easily. Or, if you are promoting an upcoming crafting class, use imagery that accurately reflects the types of materials to be used on site.

Honesty in your copy and images will make a world of difference in building trust among your audience. Click To Tweet

In copy, be clear and concise while also making real claims about your brand. Make sure that your statements accurately reflect your brand’s personality and key selling points. Being true to both will help to ensure your audience that they can rely on you for factual information.


Designers and marketers will agree that basic steps for how to build trust begin with a trustworthy visual. But, the strategies for building a relationship of trust with your audience are virtually limitless. Use these suggestions to guide you, and tweet @marketmox to let us know what strategies have worked best for your brand!

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