Design Strat
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Design Strat

Trust: the Brand Behind a Tech Product

Trusting a piece of technology is similar to trusting a human

Humans are complex creatures. Understanding how we can trust a piece of technology leads us to understand that complexity. First, trust is subjective, so we can only measure by finding out what leads to trust. Second, humans are not always rational, so it’s difficult to rationalize trust. Therefore, we cannot limit our understanding of trust to the product only. The brand is very likely affected, too.

We can start from understanding how we trust a human. The subjectivity of trust have been studied by many scientists, and it mostly comes down to three dimensions: ability, integrity, and benevolence. You trust a person for ability, because you know this person’s skills will help you meet your needs. You trust a person for integrity, because it’s easy (predictable) to deal with a transparent, honest person. You trust a person for benevolence, because you know this person commits to you for what he/she promises you to help.

Start with the Product

To trust a non-human or a piece of technology, only the two dimensions are left: ability and integrity. We can put benevolence aside for now, because benevolent machine is another discussion. To put it shortly — in order to trust a piece of technology, users simply want something to work well (ability) and work as expected (integrity).

For an example of how it-works-well and it-works-as-expected are translated to a specific technology, we can look at Stanford’s Web Credibility Guideline. It works well: expertise of organization; information accuracy; regular content update; easy to use and useful. It works as expected: show real organization behind the site; show how trustworthy the organization is; make it easy to contact the organization; avoid errors. Specific to a website, they discovered another dimension of trust: visual display. An appropriate visual design and non-intrusive ads lead to trust.

Since we’re talking about a consumer technology product, we need to discover the third dimension, which is related to the commercial nature of the product. The third dimension of trust in a highly competitive market is value. Customers want to get a good value for their money. This makes pricing important.

We can define the two dimensions by generalizing the website example above. It-works-well covers the technology, and it-works-as-expected covers the ecosystem in accessing the technology. The system needs to work well (robustness and usability), the whole ecosystem needs to work as expected (minimal surprises and good customer support). For value, it is the right functions (utility) for the price.

Consumer technology products (source unknown)

Use Customer’s Voice

The three dimensions of trust can be turned into customer expectations. We can rephrase such expectations by using a customer’s voice like below:

  1. I can afford the product, it’s not a crazy price (price)
  2. The product is easy to use, not confusing to me (usability)
  3. The technology is robust, it does what it promises me (core technology)
  4. I access the technology with minimal surprises (supporting technology)
  5. The customer support is always there for me (service)
  6. The product helps me achieve what I need to do (utility)

Who’s responsible for which one? #1 is business/marketing, #3 and #4 are engineering, #5 is operation, #2 and #6 are design. As a designer I try to ensure #2 and #6 are true for customers, by asking the following two questions:

Why do customers need the product?
How do customers use the product?

However, designers don’t work alone. Product Design is not a stand-alone activity. One of my former employers set a good example by not working in silos. Instead, each team leader was asked to reflect on what their team can contribute toward all expectations of customers obtained through the branding research.

If I were a design leader in a consumer tech company, I would respond to the six customer expectations as follows:

  1. (price) Ensure that the combination of price and utility is considered a good value. Work with marketing team to ensure that the pricing is human friendly. Make it easy for customers to budget their expenses when they need to buy the product.
  2. (usability) Continue to observe the How, from opening the box until actually relying on the product usage. Improve as necessary. Delight customers beyond ease of use.
  3. (core technology) Ensure that the collaboration between designers and engineers is solid. Designers need to communicate user requirements as insightful as possible to engineers. Engineers need to communicate technical feasibility to designers. This is a continual cycle.
  4. (supporting technology) Work with engineers in order to design how to communicate errors and surprises in the various ways customers access the product. E.g. purchasing through a website, connecting with another technology, getting through a government regulation, etc.
  5. (service) Work with operation team in order to design how to respond to customer’s need for support on multiple levels. Use the countless customer feedback to learn and reflect on the product and service.
  6. (utility) Continue to dig the Why. Based on the understanding of what customers really need, create new values together with business team.

The Cycle of Trust, Adoption, Value

What do we eventually get if we continue to dig the Why? Value will be more than just value for money. When it comes to a commercial product, beyond just a stand-alone technology, value plays an important role in adopting the product. A behavior (in this case product adoption) is a combination of motivation, ability, and opportunity. While price is related to the ability (monetary) of the consumer, value is related to the motivation of the consumer.

Source: “Consumer Behavior” by Hoyer & MacInnis (2010)

Until here, we are confident that trust is one of the strong factors of product adoption. By working on trust, practically responding to the customer’s voice, we will eventually get more product adoption.

What is value then? It is what someone believes as good or important. If consumers consider the price, the utility, the usability, the technology and its access, the service are all important and meet the good standard according to what they believe, we’re on a highway to more trust and adoption!

That’s from the consumer side. What about the producer side? The company, represented by the brand, needs to work on meeting the values of the customers. That rings a bell, doesn’t it? Trying to meet the values of customers is an act of benevolence. Remember that the three dimensions of trusting a human are ability, integrity, and benevolence. Like a human, a brand can practice benevolence.

Translating from a person’s benevolence we discussed at the beginning of this article, a brand’s benevolence is “empathetic commitment to customers”. Practicing benevolence is a matter of dedication by the organization to improve the utility for the price, the usability with delights, the technology with a convenient access, while providing a reliable service.

Focusing on value leads to more trust. More adoption. More value. It’s a cycle. And by understanding this cycle, benevolence emerges in the picture. We complete all components of trust!

How to gain trust is easy to understand, but not easy to practice. While as a designer we can work on the product, as a leader of a consumer tech company we need to work on the brand. My contribution as a designer, by responding to six voices of customers, seems to focus only on the product. However, by focusing on the product we can build the path to gain more values leading to more trust.

Two recommendations for consumer tech companies:

  1. Break down silos, so the work of each team affects other teams seamlessly. This leads first to a better product and later to a better brand.
  2. Organization wide, develop a practice of empathetic commitment to customers. This creates benevolence, the humane component of trust that otherwise not available if we only focus on technology.

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