February 26, 2016

In Web Design We Trust

Within only half a second of it loading 75% of your website’s visitors will judge your company’s credibility almost solely on its design. They develop a first impression before they even have time to read the content, with the design counting for 94% of this impression.

Clearly the design of your website has a massive impact on how your brand is perceived and whether people will stick around and convert. But why does design matter so much? And what can you do to improve your perception and inspire trust with your visitors?

Why design is so influential


If you can find what you are looking for quickly and easily it means the website has been designed well with usability in mind. Think of the last time you needed information on something, more than likely you started the search on Google, clicking on links that looked like they would have the information you’re after. On those websites how long did it take you to find that information? Was it quick and easy? Was the layout clear and legible? Was it obvious how to navigate and move between sections? Design is all about presenting a message, good design makes it easy to understand and navigate, helping you to find what you need with ease and clarity.

The proper balance between aesthetics and organization and elements of layout, typography, imagery and consistency contribute to the perception of your site and whether it is a successful design or not. Usability and the user experience are the most important considerations. If your site is confused, complex, disorganized, illegible or ugly visitors will quickly leave. It’s not rocket science, you wouldn’t tolerate a bad experience, and neither will anyone else.

Cognitive heuristics

The psychological reason design is so influential, and why it invokes certain responses, comes down to cognitive heuristics. These are the mental shortcuts we use to make judgements that lead to decisions. It is an approach to problem-solving, learning or discovery that speeds up the process of finding a solution by easing the cognitive load of making a decision. Things like rules of thumb, stereotyping and common sense are heuristic methods. Another example is that when someone with the appearance of authority tells us something we are more likely to believe them.

Next let’s understand cognitive heuristics in web design.

Prototypicality and visual complexity

We are psychologically hardwired to trust beautiful people, and the same goes for websites. So what does a beautiful website look like? Google attributes it to two factors: prototypicality and visual complexity.


There is a basic mental image you create when you think of something, an imaginary template for how things should look and feel. Like if you hear the word ‘church’ you probably think of a stone building with a pointy roof and a cross on top. We are constantly trying to decode the world into relatable terms and avoid unexpected surprises that might threaten our mental and egoic position. This mental expectation even applies to web design as we anticipate the experience depending on what we are looking for online and our previous experiences.

Visual complexity

Complexity also plays a key role in how we make judgements. Google’s researchers found that simple websites are perceived as more beautiful. Complexity relates to cognitive heuristics and prototypicality as complex websites require our eyes and brain to work harder in order to decipher, process, relate to and store the information we are looking at. This requires more cognitive effort and is therefore harder, as opposed to simple designs that are easier to understand – using less mental energy.

Prototypicality and visual complexity are interrelated. Complex sites are seen as being less beautiful, even if the design is familiar. And if the design is unfamiliar users are more likely to judge it as being ugly, even if it is simple.


Designing trust

Common issues to avoid

Some of the most common problems that hinder user experience and hence impact trust include:

  • lack of information
  • irrelevant information
  • ‘busy’ interfaces
  • small fonts
  • too many steps
  • too much clicking and scrolling
  • too much reading
  • little or no original content
  • difficult or disorganized navigation
  • too many ads
  • no clear purpose
  • the content is hard to read


Prototypicality teaches us that users like to know what they can expect, that’s why transparency improves trust. Visitors arrive at your site with several questions, by having a clear privacy policy, FAQ and contact info you can proactively answer them. Hiding additional costs or how user data is handled and not providing contact information can breed mistrust. When people are required to provide personal information it’s important they know their data is safe, especially for online purchases. Another aspect of transparency is allowing customers to interact and leave content, such as through reviews or testimonials, this demonstrates confidence in your brand.

Other techniques to build trust

1. Badges

Implementing badges or emblems to promote money back guarantees or quality assurances quickly shows authoritative value and worth.

2. Client logos

Showing off logos from satisfied clients is an excellent way to build trust and show your experience. When business owners see that you’ve helped other businesses achieve success they want to get in on the action.

3. Payment logos

Identity theft and credit card fraud are everyday occurrences in the digital world and people are getting wise to dodgy portals. If you are selling through your website and require sensitive payment information you can ease the minds of your visitors by securing with and displaying official payment logos such as paypal or mcafee secure. A SSL certificate is another influential way to ensure security and increase trust.

4. About page

This may not seem necessary, but it can go a long way to building trust with your visitors. People prefer to buy from people, not faceless entities, and you can express your identity through a strong ‘about us’ page. Adding personal touches makes your site seem more approachable, making customers open to buying from you.

5. Show your face

Similar to the above point if you are willing to show your face people are more inclined to trust your business and what you have to say. Professional photos and personal descriptions show that you stand by your business and builds personal recognition and trust.

6. Social proof

Actions of the group reinforce the actions of the individual. Placement of your social media following proves your success and goes a long way to building trust. If you have 10,000 people connected with you on facebook it immediately establishes authority and credibility and says a lot about your business. Implying you’ve been around for a while, you have useful content and information and you won’t disappear overnight. Social proof also appeals to that psychological desire to be included. Also in this category are testimonials, which add another human element that helps to break through the reservations people have when browsing online. When you show that you’ve solved similar problems for other people and can see their positive experiences you are more likely to trust the business.

7. Useful info

Other useful information includes things such as free tips or how-to guides. People have come to your site looking for information so if you offer valuable, helpful insights it inspires trust and openness. Building trust and establishing authority in your industry go hand in hand. This also contributes to growing relationships with your customers, a key to long-term success.


Trust is often the difference between a visitor purchasing or leaving. To create a website people will trust it’s important that information is accurate, relevant and easy to find, combined with a coherent and simple layout and navigation. Trust decreases as usability declines and by improving usability you will also increase conversion.

You need to know your audience and what they value and tailor your design to them. Create a user-friendly environment, increase transparency and visibility and employ the techniques mentioned here and it will help you stand out in the marketplace, build relationships with your customers and achieve success.