So much is currently being said about designing successful user experiences that it's easy to get lost trying to find the right experience design solution for your project. Should you choose to follow a lean process? Do you need a robust discovery phase, or will that underwhelm the client with what they already know? Should you design for mobile first or go responsive?

There are many ways to approach UX, and it's easy to understand why there are so many principles and tools when you consider that “experience” is an all-encompassing notion when it comes to modern product design. Unsurprisingly, you could stock an entire bookstore with titles applied to “good UX.”

While it's great that this much information exists—the profession and the world benefit from an open dialog and greater sharing on the subject—before you get lost in the weeds, I'd like to let you in on a secret I realized over the course of 20 years of product, client, and agency work.

"Do you trust it?"

This all you really need to know to design great human experiences.

That seems too easy, right? Technically it is too simplistic. We still need managers, designers, strategists, researchers, and everyone else that typically gets involved in designing a product. And the fact remains, we need something to ask the “trust question” against. But if that something already exists it becomes easy to ask yourself: “Do I trust it?”

Trust is a very powerful utility in user experience, as it’s part of our “system one” brain. This means it’s on par with the fight-or-flight instinct. We constantly judge trust without trying to or acknowledging that we're doing it. Trust requires almost no cognitive load, no distraction, no delay. When we don't trust something, however, we pause what we’re doing or thinking and our brain shifts to “system two,” which then has to investigate further and decide what to do.

"Do I trust this?"

“No. Alright, then what should I do now?”

Think about word association exercises: if you trust them you can discover some really enlightening things about how you feel on a specific topic. If you don't trust the exercise, your responses take longer and you end up weighing your options, wondering if you said the right thing. You’re trying to fix your answer to create the trust you’re lacking.

Simply put, trust is the “good” in good experience design. Good experiences are ones that don’t distract us from the flow, and flow happens when we aren’t questioning if we should trust what we’re seeing, hearing, or doing.

Simply put, trust is the “good” in good experience design

Don't be fooled though, trust as a high-level function might naturally seem to only apply to high-level questions like the branding of a product, but it can also be applied to fine detail, like the name of a button or the color of a typeface. And that is the tricky part of trust. At every step of design, from discovery to deployment, you have to check the level of trust by asking yourself these kinds of questions:

  • Do you trust the market research, or do the users just want a faster horse?
  • Do you trust your stakeholders, or are they worried more about losing their job than the quality that will come from taking a risk?
  • Will users trust the first screen enough to create an account, or will creating one set the impossible expectation that your experience will magically win their trust later?
  • Are the error messages on the forms trustworthy? Is the typeface? Is the color?
  • Does the page load fast enough? Will you trust that it hasn't frozen or crashed?
  • If you click a link do you trust where you'll end up? Do you even know where you are in the product?
  • Eventually we all need help. Do you trust what is offered?
  • Before being asked for feedback or an email, ask yourself, do you trust that it will matter? If the answer is no, the relationship could be permanently damaged.

The list goes on and on, but in the context of this article only one question remains: Do you trust me?


Illustration of rock climber courtesy of Shutterstock.