I saw this article posted on the NN/g website talking about a hierarchy of trust, similar to Maslow's pyramid of needs, in that basic needs have to be satisfied before higher levels of needs become relevant (e.g. you won't care about saving humanity if you are hungry to the point of starvation).

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Thinking about the article and how the examples of satisfying basic levels of trust before building up higher levels of trust, I am wondering if this really applies to the way we are designing and building websites. It seems like these days people want to be able to sign up to an account using as little details as possible, and also to sign up using other accounts that they have already so I seem to see the behaviour of users as wanting to skip that interaction used to build trust and skip straight to some instant gratification by being able to access content as quickly as possible.

The question I would like to ask is: Is the way we are designing websites (and the way users behave) reflective of this model, or if we are actually skipping (or substituting) a few of the building blocks of trust it due to social networks and other ways of acquiring this trust?

  • 1
    This is a very interesting discussion, but I don't think it can be answered. First, it has many dimensions, second, even in its simplest way it will be primarily opinion based. Personally, I hope this question keeps open and I tend to think your second option is the closest to truth in general. +1 to keep this question open!
    – Devin
    Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 1:30
  • @Devin thanks for the support, but any ideas on how to make the question more objective and easier to answer? I tried to refer it to the aspects of adding users and providing information, but perhaps I need better examples?
    – Michael Lai
    Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 1:36
  • "people want to be able to sign up to an account using as little details as possible" - isn't that an example of users not trusting the website? Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 8:07
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    well, see the answer by Ameen Akbar: you can easily see there's a clear differentiation between websites and apps. Also, the graph speaks about financial, yet I highly doubt this applies to all cases, many people trust (or don't trust) sites with no financial information required at all, it's just a dimension. Plus, sensitive financial information will definitely be out of the scope of social media logins, so you can't compare both (unless it's apps, and to some extent). Nevertheless, IMHO your question seems to revolve more around privacy than trust, so maybe that's why I see it a bit broad
    – Devin
    Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 16:53

3 Answers 3


Trust is relative

Building a relationship with users is relative to the needs of the project. Setting up a bank account is likely to require more trust than buying toothpaste at Walmart. Many people who shop at Walmart are practically self-loathing customers, but they keep coming back for the perceived savings or convenience because "it's not that big of a deal".

Pressure as a shortcut

It's also possible to jump stages of the process by creating real or perceived pressure. For instance ...

  • By staging the collection of data later in the checkout funnel, some customers will complete the process despite distrust simply because they've already invested more time than they are willing to abandon.
  • More distressingly, mortgage applicants may be highly suspicious of lenders but will still provide considerable amounts of sensitive information with the hope of being qualified.

Outside factors

It's also important to remember that very different factors may contribute to the development of that relationship depending on your product and market. Trust may be impacted by socio-political trends, economic conditions, or historical beliefs without (or in spite of) any efforts by the organization.

Case in point, I once worked with a company who spent years eroding their quality and customer experience. I spoke doom and gloom about the eventual impact of their abuse of customers, but gained little traction. Only much later did I fully appreciate the considerable historical good will artificially inflating their profit margins.

You can’t control everything

The fact remains that a "brand" (which may also be a category of products or services) exists in the user's mind. The hopeful experience designer's ability to impact that reality varies greatly from one project to the next.


We sometimes touch this area when designing user flows for new features. Some examples

  • forced login or allowing the user to use the product as a guest user. In apps it's more likely to make the user sign up before using the app as apps tend provide more personalized features.

  • The level of trust users already have when downloading an app is more compared to when viewing a website. One reason for this is that things like rating, reviews and number of downloads gives the user a sense of trust before deciding to download the app.

  • for social login yes, it's become a must have, even tho in reality facebook for instance pulls a lot of social information about the user.

  • In e commerce websites, it has been proven that including PCI certification and Norton logos will improve conversion rates.

Maybe I'm going abit off topic but overall it seems that APPs seem to have gained more trustworthiness compared to the web. This might be because the internet has a longer history with more ups and downs and the impression of being a jungle out there with things from malicious web viruses to online scams.

  • Also, you might accidentally land on a website by clicking on a link on another website, but downloading an app needs an active decision, so more cognitive load and therefore it correspondingly infers a higher trust.
    – vsz
    Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 7:36
  • Also, anybody can kick up a web site at very low cost, whereas getting an app into the app store at least nominally puts it through a vetting process. Some of the trust is taken care of by the app store maintainer. Apple seems to have a better track record than Android, if we are talking mobile apps; the process and how it's enforced is how they were able to build up trust in the first place. The downside is that impatient developers and users are trying to find ways to bypass or shortcut the process.
    – tripleee
    Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 8:56

Trusting vs. skipping doesn't have to be an either/or choice. When I see a site that uses Facebook/Google OAuth rather than its own handrolled security, that increases my confidence that they understand good software design practices and will do the right thing in other cases where they're managing my data.

  • Absolutely, and perhaps this is the intention for many designers/developers but at certain levels of trust I feel like designers are taking the user's trust for granted and wanting to skip it without doing so appropriately. I actually feel the opposite way about large corporations being able to manage my data securely and sensibly because they are bigger targets for hackers and government intervention.
    – Michael Lai
    Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 22:07
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    It depends. By using Facebook/Google OAuth, you're relying on the trust of the user in these services. OP seems to have this trust, but I don't. I find social-login-only sites suspicious; it creates implicit distrust because it makes them appear willing to share data with third parties. Commented Apr 12, 2016 at 12:21

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