Blog Insights
Design Series: Communicating Trust Effectively

This is the second in a four-part blog series, Building Trust and Credibility Through Design, based on a webinar led by Forum One’s Vice President of Design. Watch the webinar

Once you’ve begun to understand your audiences needs, the next step is to start communicating trust effectively. Trust is the bedrock of any mission-driven organization, and effective communication is key to building and maintaining that trust. So how can the products we design help convey reliability, transparency, and integrity to the folks who will use them in the end?

Instilling deep trust: A lesson from climbing

When I first started indoor rock climbing, I was extremely skeptical of anyone that was belaying, or supporting me, as I climbed up a 60 ft wall. These people are holding your very lives in their hands—you have to be able to trust them with it. You typically think of rock climbing as more of a solo sport, but it’s really based on the trust in a partnership and the support of a wider community of climbers. 

While I’m still very much an amateur, even I am keenly aware of how important it is to have your gear set up correctly before any action happens. Once you’ve established trust with your partner through this safe foundation, your communications to your climbing partner then have to be clear, short, (and sometimes loud) to make sure you’re accurately conveying the message. You establish credibility when you then, in turn, listen carefully to make sure that they’ve understood and are ready to get started. 

In design, the biggest mistake I’ve seen teams make is to only allow the product to communicate in one direction. How can you truly know that something resonates with your audiences if they can’t tell you anything about it? And are you paying attention to all the right cues?

Techniques that Create Credibility

Clarity, authenticity, and inclusivity are essential for communicating trust effectively. Here are some techniques that we like to use:

Feedback Loops

Designing feedback mechanisms encourages open communication with audiences. When climbing, you have to both give and get verbal confirmation to start climbing. Actively listening to feedback about your designs and responding transparently demonstrates that willingness to engage and improve, which strengthens trust over time.

Contact forms and comment sections are great ways of designing features that will get you key info to improve your designs over time. And your users will appreciate that you’ve done it.

Clear and Consistent Branding

Consistency in your design elements such as logos, color schemes, and typography creates a cohesive brand identity. On a rock climbing wall, you can expect consistent patterns in the color theme or type of hold you’re using to go up a certain path. Similarly, in design, a consistent visual identity across all of your communication channels then instills confidence and reliability in your organization.

If you’re about to or have just undergone a brand refresh or rebranding, now is the time to think about establishing a design system! These are like the digital extension of your typical print-focused brand guidelines. A design system should be scalable based on your needs as an organization to support consistent branding across your channels.

Transparent Information Architecture

Much like climbers need to clearly mark their routes to understand how to ascend a wall, thoughtful design of information architecture can ensure that the content you add to your experience is organized in a logical and easily navigable manner. Clear navigation paths and intuitive user interfaces make it easy for audiences to find information, which promotes transparency and trust.

For example, Forum One recently worked with partners on an update to the website for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). The site was outdated in appearance and did not effectively portray the agency’s mission and resources, After reviewing their content, we noticed that there was also a lot of outdated and underused content across the site, as well as valuable material in unexpected locations. Together, we worked to organize key content into major topical areas, each of which aggregates tools, resources, and other content types on that area. The redesign also created a resources and tools library for quick access to the most important material to address security issues.

Honest Visual Communication

Just like a route map for a climber, visual elements such as imagery, icons, and infographics can be used to communicate complex ideas and information in a clear and honest manner. Avoiding misleading or manipulative visuals reinforces the organization’s integrity.

For example, we recently partnered with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Tangled Bank Studios to support the launch of their new “Wild Hope” video production, which highlights the heroes and successes, small and large, of biodiversity preservation.

Throughout the mobile-responsive WordPress site, we’ve peppered in imagery and icons that reinforce the mission of the brand itself. We worked closely with our clients to ensure that the images utilized across the site supported the mission of the series.

Authentic Storytelling

Design can be a great tool to tell authentic stories that resonate with your audiences on an emotional level. By incorporating real-life examples, stories, testimonials, and even user-generated content, you can humanize the organization and then build trust through those genuine connections. Climbers love a good recounting of their awesome ascents! And if you’ve seen any of the Netflix documentaries about outdoor climbing, you’ll notice how intriguing a topic like this can be to even a newcomer. Use that real-life hook in your designs.

Data Visualization

Charts, graphs, and interactive dashboards are an accessible way to present data and statistics visually, which in turn, enhances transparency and credibility in your organization. Clear and visually engaging data visualization allows audiences to understand complex information more easily which fosters trust in your organization’s expertise.

The team at NYU Grossman School of Medicine’s Department of Population Health came to us a few years ago with an idea: to provide a broad set of health metrics for the largest US cities to policymakers and community leaders to help solve intractable health issues.

We launched City Health Dashboard in 2018 and have been developing and expanding on the concept since then. 

The core of the site is the ability to see relative performance on the metric against both national averages, other cities, and between neighborhoods in cities. Scale charts and maps provide that visual representation that helps audiences engage and establish credibility.

The NYU team has used these visual tools to support educational presentations and consulting projects, engaging larger numbers of constituents in this complex data than might be difficult otherwise.

Next: After working to understand user needs and communicate trust, the next part in our series explores strategies for maintaining engagement through design, to foster a sense of community and loyalty among your audience.

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