I recently took a vacation to Florida and for part of the trip, a friend and I stayed at an Airbnb. We needed a place for a couple nights near Universal Studios that wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg. An Airbnb made perfect sense.
I’ve used Airbnb quite a bit. In fact, I used nothing but Airbnb for a two-week road trip I took through the U.S. and Canada last year. So it was eye-opening to view the experience through my friend, who had never used the service before. It made me reflect on just how much Airbnb’s business model relies on trust and examine just how it earned that trust with me.
Building Airbnb on Trust
Trust was central to creating Airbnb. For a society taught not to trust strangers, the idea of staying in the homes of people you’ve never met seems outrageous. But as impossible as it seems, Airbnb overcame that barrier to become a success in no small part thanks to thoughtful user experience design.
If you haven’t seen it, now might be a great time to watch Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia’s TED talk about the hurdles of starting the company.
As Gebbia says in the video, Airbnb had to “build Olympic trust between people who had never met. Could design make that happen? Is it possible to design for trust?”
The answer, Gebbia and his co-founders at Airbnb discovered, is you can absolutely design for trust.
How to Build Trust in Design
A large part of what I do every day is based on creating trust. It’s integral in every step as I work to promote brands, build audiences, and sell products and ideas. When it comes to user experience design specifically, trust is a huge part of the equation. So how do I create trust in what I create?
Keep it Clean and Simple
Whether it’s a website or a brochure, cluttered, complicated designs can feel overwhelming. Clean and simple designs make the user comfortable and give off an air of transparency. The more comfortable and informed a user feels, the more likely they are to trust you.
Consider Your Voice Carefully
The way in which you say something can make all the difference. Every brand should have a specific voice and style it uses in external communications. Make sure to consider elements that build trust when developing that voice. Brands that come off more friendly, open, and conversational elicit more trust.
Speaking of how you say something, nothing turns users off quite like a bunch of jargon. It’s often necessary to use industry terms, but be careful not to talk over your intended audience. Users who become confused or feel belittled will disengage or tune out entirely.
Be Creative, But Familiar
Nobody wants a cliche. I think most of us can agree on that. So while you should feel free to get creative and develop something new, you should also consider sticking in a few familiar elements.
Why do so many websites use the hamburger menu icon? Because users know what it does and what to expect. If the hamburger icon on your site downloaded a file instead of opening a menu, you’d break a user’s trust. Unless that’s a specific choice, you might want to cater to the familiar instead.
Give a Peek Behind the Curtain
Users love transparency. According to a number of articles (from the likes of Forbes and Inc), Millennials especially respond to brand transparency and authenticity. When I worked in news, we talked a lot about process writing — telling viewers how we put the story together. Give your audience a bit of information on your process. Why did you build that? How did you get started? What was your inspiration? Those questions might seem unrelated to your overall goals but could build the trust you seek with your audience.
Provide Ways to Get In Touch
We’ve all been there. You’re on a website. It seems a little sketchy. You’re nervous. If only the site had a physical address or phone number. You’d feel better about clicking that buy button.
You may think that adding an address or phone number opens a whole can of worms you don’t want, but it could mean the difference between a conversion and an abandoned cart. Don’t leave your users wary about whether someone will be there if they have issues. Give them a way to get in touch.
As long as you’re providing contact information, you may as well introduce yourselves too. Showing the faces of the people behind the brand can create instant trust. Better yet, provide a short bio with some friendly, personal information. If users feel like they really know you, they’re much more likely to trust you.
Incorporate Reviews and Testimonials
We’re entering a new era — the sharing and trust economy. Airbnb, Uber, TaskRabbit. They all use reviews and ratings to build trust. Without that, their business models would crumble. In the coming years, verified reviews and testimonials will become even more important when building a relationship with your audience and setting yourself apart from the competition. Give your users the opportunity to hear about you from others like them. Nothing you say yourself can match the weight and importance of a very happy customer’s candid review.
Airbnb knew exactly that when it perfected its review and rating system to build the utmost trust between hosts and guests. Designers built a system that allows hosts and guests to give honest feedback while overcoming natural biases. As Gebbia says in his TED talk, “I’ve learned that you can take the components of trust, and you can design for that. Design can overcome our most deeply rooted stranger-danger bias. And that’s amazing to me. It blows my mind.”
As I’ve learned in my travels and as my friend learned during our recent trip to Florida, trust has to be earned and, in a way, it becomes a type of currency. I rely trust to book Airbnb stays just as hosts use trust when choosing to accept my requests. Without that two-way system, it wouldn’t work. And without some exceptional user experience design built around trust, Airbnb wouldn’t exist today.
You can absolutely create trust through design. Airbnb and similar companies have already proven that. The question is, in a world becoming more and more reliant on trust to help users make decisions, are you giving it the attention it deserves? If not, you could be missing out on some amazing opportunities.