Designing for Trust: How to Build a Relationship With Your Audience

Trust. How often do you think about this concept when working through a design project? Probably very often if you are associated with e-commerce, but what about other types of design?

Trust is a key component of user loyalty, and a reason why people come to your company or brand. While a lot of trust comes from past performance and a brand’s track-record, it also comes from the design. How a website, poster or package looks can impact how users feel about it and whether they take the leap from casual looker to brand loyalist.

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What is Trust, Anyway?

Every person who interacts with your design forms an opinion of the featured product, event, service or promotion. This interaction results in an opinion and memory for the user – do they trust or believe your message?

This “trust” is vital to future interactions with that user. Does he or she believe in what you do and will they return to your brand?

Trust can be broken down a few ways:

  • The brand follows the law and rules and is moral.
  • Information is correct and accurate.
  • The item in the design is and does what it is advertised to do.
  • The brand is secure and will protect personal information, which is vital for e-commerce or sales.
  • The brand or message is successful.

If you establish trust with the initial impression (the design), users are more likely to engage with you again in the future. If they feel you aren’t trustworthy, then the likelihood of future engagements or endorsements is quite unlikely. So establishing trust, is a key part of getting a user to actually care about whatever you are designing for.



The cliché a “picture is worth a 1,000 words” is so very true. And you have less than a second for that picture to make an impression with users. An academic study in 2011 showed that people form an opinion about a website in 500 milliseconds. So you better make every visual count.

So what creates trust in terms of visuals? Some of it is what you expect.

  • People like to see the faces of other people (and attractive people at that).
  • Images that are expected do work. People visualize words in their heads, it’s good if the images match your imagery.
  • The opposite can also be true. If your visual is in contrast to what’s expected, users can respond favorably. (But you have to do this well. Just drawing a purple tree won’t create trust; there’s needs to be an associated logic.)
  • The design should include images of your information/event/product in a realistic environment that is identifiable. (Make it real.)
  • Simplicity can establish trust because everything is clear and understandable. On the other hand, clutter creates chaos.
  • But a little complexity can be good. Limit it to a single visual, but make sure it is still understandable.

Text and Language


You can establish more trust with the words and language in the design.

It starts with error-free, concise and clean copy. The quickest way to make people question you is with an error-laden design. Grammatical errors, misstated information or claims and improper pricing will hurt your design more than anything. A good example of using language to establish trust is in news organizations. From printed newspapers or magazines to online versions, the copy (and presentation of copy) is what makes each story credible.

When it comes to the actual copy, create a sense of security with the words. Explain using simple text and plain language. (You don’t need to use a thesaurus for every word.) Highlight key information – such as times, date, places or prices – and make any disqualifying information (i.e. the small print) easy to find and read.

There’s one bit of text that can help establish trust like no other – contact information. A physical address, phone number or direct email helps your design feel real and like it was created by a person. (This is the big reason so many websites include footers.)

This style of upfront and honest communication is the secret to building trust.



Do people believe in what your design is selling? Show it. Include testimonials or showcase key customers on your site. This element of social proof will help potential customers connect quicker.

But don’t fake it. Use real customers and real comments. Try to get feedback that’s specific, genuine and honest. If you really need a trustworthy narrative, consider telling your story or the story of how you worked with a specific customer to really set the scene. These community stories and testimonials are important.

And don’t forget about social media. People are watching you there as well. Make sure to respond to comments engage in the community conversation if you are on social media. Not all of the comments here will always be positive, but the way you respond is what users will really latch on to. (If you make a mistake, own it.)

Color Matters


We have devoted entire articles to color psychology. But that’s because it really does matter. Blue is the most popular color in business because people trust it. Banks use it. Big companies use it. It is everywhere.

Think about it for a minute. Would you feel differently about American Express (above) if the company used an orange color scheme? It’s very possible that you would.

Consider color choices carefully. Remember your audience and what biases they come to you with – culture, gender, age, etc. These factors can help establish an innate base of trust … or not.



Finally, your design needs to come with an element of perceived security and privacy. Just think of all the places people enter credit card numbers and other personal information. Your design needs to make users feel secure.

Take the imagery of airbnb, for example. If you are going to stay in someone else’s home during a vacation, it needs to feel safe. This is important in terms of financial security and personal security. The images, text and descriptions for how the concept works are vital and without trust, no one would ever use the service.

Another equally important security feature is in the lock that appears during financial transactions online and use of HTTPS. Users want to know that information is moving across a secure portal and that they don’t have to worry about identity theft.


Think about all the other sites that are rooted in our trust. Dating applications and social media are built on the concept that each user is who they say they are and that the site will ensure that for you. The whole concept works solely on trust. Would you trust (above left) if it had the design of Sexy Executives (above right)? Makes you think, doesn’t it?


Is your design trustworthy? If not, what elements need a checkup?

When designing for trust, you have to think about your users and their expectations. Are you delivering? That’s the first hurdle. Now, you have the tools to jump it.