Recently, I gave a talk on the intersection of trust and UI/UX at Tech In Asia’s Product Development Conference in Jakarta. It was titled ‘Role of UI/UX in inspiring trust from online users’. Our team started thinking deeply about this topic since 2015 while striving, as a young startup, to earn trust from lenders and borrowers in our attempt to enhance the business of credit and capital allocation. As our firm and efforts grew, we decided to tackle the topic of trust on its own. This decision led to several interesting findings. It also motivated iterations in our online presence. I hope that as I share our findings at Funding Societies|Modalku, we can learn together and I invite your feedback/comments along the way.

My fascination with trust originated from early on as a student in university as well, developing over time as I realised its importance. Credible companies with good teams and management lose business because they haven’t cultivated the trust needed when users visit them online. For example, an exciting startup that just launched in Singapore had its customer service representative contact me to request for my personal identification via Whatsapp. I googled her name, found no trace of her online. Can I trust this person enough to give away my identification document? What if this was a social engineering attempt? The site seems simple, is it legit? Questions like these delayed on-boarding indefinitely, and can be mitigated with proactive measures.

Alternatively, companies can prosper by designing well for trust. We have grown up being told by parents and teachers not to sit in strangers’ cars or live in their houses. But Uber and Airbnb have made these common in our times. We know design is a key element in this mindset shift.

Similarly, in our business of financing Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) digitally via crowdfunding, we also need to design for trust, which has eroded over time from traditional financial institutions due to several crises , occurring in bouts one after another.

Trust - from good ‘ol Google:

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Why do we need trust? There are many reasons, but primarily (and this holds for centuries), trust facilitates co-operation. By far, the best material I’ve read on the topic of trust is this book by historian Dr. Yuval Noah Harari, titled Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. The next section is a brief summary of what I found most relevant and learned from his work.

Cultures and universal order

In society, we behave according to certain standards, desire specific things and observe rules. All of these form a culture we inherently belong to. Cultures help millions of strangers cooperate effectively. Such cooperation was likely facilitated by three universal orders, which allowed potentially the entire human race and world to be governed by a single set of laws.

The monetary order — Entire world is a single market and all humans are potential customers

One of the most effective ways that trust has been facilitated is through money. People from different kingdoms, religions, gender, age, nationalities or beliefs are happy to trade pieces of paper or metallic coins to which values are assigned. Money has been the greatest improvement over the barter economy, and is truly the greatest conqueror. Almost everyone believes in it at global scale. Trust is the key concept from which money is possible; money in itself is a figment of imagination, but a complex system of mutual trust enables it to serve as unit of account, medium of transfer and storage, i.e. currency.

Increasingly, the concept of money itself is being innovated upon. New systems of trust are cropping up and giving the power to you (vs governments and large banks), the user, to opt into ecosystems in which you believe. This is happening thanks to cryptocurrencies, and deserves a future post of its own.

The imperial order — Entire world is a single empire and all humans are potential subjects

Historically, tribes co-existed in different parts of the world, several not knowing of one another’s existence. Collaboration was strictly localised and occurred in small groups. One of the earliest ways people worked together en masse was due to empires. Rulers and conquerors from the Akkadian empire to British colonisers arose through force or coercion across centuries, seeking to expand across the globe. Weaker empires became subsumed sooner or later by larger, stronger ones usually via war and/or political order. Empires fighting or fending off one another was a way of life for quite some time before an equilibrium was reached. A single global culture emerged where all humans share the same geopolitical, legal, economic and scientific systems.

The world is now divided into internationally recognised states where capitalist market forces shape economies, human rights as well as international law are recognised (almost) globally and experts from everywhere hold the same view about diseases and molecules in organisms. This current state of order facilitates cooperation and trust worldwide, allowing trade of goods and services at scale.

Universal religions — Entire world holds a single truth and all humans are potential believers

Religions too have grown universal in nature, accumulating followers worldwide. I believe we can quickly discern how big of a role religion plays in uniting us — be it during times of crises or in battles. Is there one Supreme power or many powers that reside over us? Based on your faith, your answers will differ. However, there exists an undeniable fact that religions inspire believers to trust and co-operate with one another in working towards common goals.

The march of history continues into the present

Our understanding of how trust has developed over time and across geographies is important because our collective histories contain several insights we can use to engage and retain our users online.   In today’s times, we spend more than 7–10 hours everyday plugged into our mobile phones or staring at desktop screens. Both Internet and mobile phone penetration are increasing across the world. 

Your time spent on a site is based largely on how much you trust it. 

Fonts, colours and images evoke emotions or trigger specific perception based on years of conditioning we have grown accustomed to based on the universal orders that swept across the world. 

Based on research and several conversations with UX practitioners, we found some practices useful in encouraging trust amongst our users. Here is a checklist of eight that we have put together over the past 1.5 years or so:

1. Use adequate typography

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Numbers show transparency, which enables trust. Fonts are just as important in setting the tone you want to portray. In the above, the font used is from the Serif family (Sans Serif in particular), which is associated with objectivity, stability and being progressive.

2. Choose colours based on the emotions you seek to evoke

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From our research, we found blue to be gender neutral in terms of preference and a colour commonly associated with trust. In addition, we consciously chose our logo to consist of several colours so we can tap into a range of emotions we would like our users to experience in different parts of their online journey.

3. Emoticons and gifs are vastly superior to plain text in online conversations

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Having our live-chat widget displayed prominently on web and mobile helped users trust us better as it signalled we are always there to listen to their queries. Moreover, interactions stepped up to a different plane when we switched from pure text to emoticons and gifs in our online customer experience. Conversations have become so much livelier, warm and more interactive, like talking to a friend. There were several occasions where lenders would be fuming because they lost out on an investment opportunity or were unhappy about late repayments from borrowers. Injecting a gif or emoji lightened the conversation, vastly helping our customer experience team as they explained actions being taken to encourage timely repayments or transition to our auto-invest feature . Interactions tend to be more positive and upbeat when emojis are used in a timely manner. There are no excuses for late repayments or delayed on-boarding but richer interactions make key differences in allowing for positive outcomes.

4. Allow users to experience your brand in regular flows

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Showing the interface through the brand increases level of connect with users. They become accustomed to the look and feel of your site and a sense of familiarity will pervade their minds as they comes across your material (advertisements, posters) offline or switch from desktop to mobile and vice versa.

5. Congruency across imagery

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Balance between real-life photos and illustrations is needed for a site to have right feel of originality and honest communication. As a rule of thumb, we advocate use of real-life photos where seriousness is needed such as customer testimonials while illustrations should be used where a light-touch is needed, for example in explaining processes.

6. Ensure Responsive Design

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In this age and part of the world (South-east Asia) — responsive design is essential. Many users in developing countries access the Internet mainly through mobile phones while in developed economies, users prefer the freedom to switch between desktop and mobile. Thus, your site needs to load well on both.

7. Optimise site performance

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Our research has shown that 47% of users expect a webpage to load in less than two seconds, 40% abandon the page if load takes greater than three seconds. For mobile, Apple recommends 400ms app launch time. Users lose patience fast online, as they have grown accustomed to speed. Their trust wanes too if the performance of site is bad. Words like ‘amateur’ and ‘unprofessional’ start popping up in their thoughts.   We found an exception to this in Indonesia though. Users tend to be more forgiving if site performance is not optimal, though they too drop off the site eventually, just that they hang on a bit longer.

8. Security = peace of mind. Portray it in all ways possible.

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Users expect their data and money to be safe. Colours that enable this perception include green and blue. Of course, actual measures need to be taken to ensure safety as well, such as annual audits, using HTTPS and so on. Our view is to do all of these and more, including selecting apt colours to portray peace of mind.

This journey is ongoing, your findings are warmly welcomed

There are definitely many more efforts that need to be cultivated to establish and maintain trust for users online. The above are just eight that we found particularly useful. Some of these are already live, and the remaining will be rolled out across our sites in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia soon. Stay tuned, we will also be sharing more over time, as we continue working together with Sidekick Studio for our efforts in UI/UX.

If you have suggestions or feedback, please feel free to email us at info@fundingsocieties.com. Also, do checkout nerds.fundingsocieties.com for updates on what our Product, Data, Tech and Mobile teams are up to from time to time. Meanwhile, here’s a quick checklist for you.

In Summary:

1 — It’s all about the numbers | use right font

2 — Colours matter a lot | evoke emotions

3 — Better conversations | rich interactions

4 — Branding elements | embed into experience

5 — Congruency across imagery | balance between photos & illustrations

6 — Responsive Design | key for increasingly mobile market

7 — Flow | fast site = reduced dropoffs

8 — Security | convey well

Pramodh is the Chief Product Officer at Funding Societies|Modalku.