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Want to know what it comes down to for lots of folks out there? Sim D'Hertefelt, author of an interesting study on trust, states, "The feeling of security experienced by a user of an interactive system is determined by the user's feeling of control of the interactive system."1 Or, in Grok-talk, they feel secure because the process is easy!

Don't take my word for it. Read what regular consumers have to say about their feelings of comfort and trust when online purchasing is a positive experience:

"It tells me what to do and it's clear even though I am not familiar with computers. I feel confident that I'll get what I want and that nothing strange will happen. I don't mind giving my credit card number in that case."

"I feel secure about giving my credit card number because it's simple. I trust it because you see what you get. There is nothing hidden or obscure."

And here you thought security was all about technical issues such as 128-bit encryption, secure transactions, authentication, digital certificates and secure socket layers. Sure, they matter, although we still don't know how these things contribute to feelings of trust (128-bit encryption is only good for the duration of time it can't be hacked … and what sort of untrustworthy environment is it that requires 128-bit encryption anyway? … you can see how these things might work against trust).

But for the customer, this stuff doesn't seem to be the crucial issue. What they most want is to feel in control of the online process. If they feel in control, get what they want and are fulfilled, they are more likely to conclude with feelings of trust and security. Just what you want them to feel.

So think about designing for trust. Put your user in control. D'Hertefelt has these suggestions:

Make sure your interactive system is comprehensible. The client needs to know what can be accomplished, how to accomplish it, and confirmation that it actually has been accomplished.

Your system must be predictable. Will your customer know, with a reasonable level of certainty, what is going to happen when she or he clicks on something? In a medium lacking strong interaction design standards, this is a challenge, but look at what is successful. Windows works because every time a drop-down menu appears, it behaves the same way, consistently and for every user.

And music to my ears, D'Hertefelt says the system must be flexible and adaptable. "Not all users will execute a task in the same way. A user will feel in control of an interactive system if (s)he can choose the way a task is executed instead of having to figure out how the system requires it to be done." Sound at all familiar? It should by now!

Sure, trust has lots of components. But it's cool to learn you can improve trust a whole lot just by simplifying your design and process. The math is simple: cleaner des ign + clearer process = increased trust = increased purchases. And isn't increased purchases what you're after?

1. "Trust and the perception of security." Sim D'Hertefelt,, 3 January 2000. We've been touting the broad-spectrum value of usability, but this little study discovered usability's association with feelings of trust and security through a task and content analysis job. The findings are limited, but very thought-provoking. All quotations are from this article.

© 2000 Future Now, LLC

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