The Design of Trust (Continued)


By Aditya Dev Sood

My last post on the design and trust focused on security checks, a particular and extreme kind of interaction, which would seem to diminish trust, while also evoking disaffection. There were several interesting responses, but here I’d like to deepen our inquiry to consider whether the concept and practice of design always has the effect of increasing trust. Is there some general rule of that kind, which has somehow gone unnoticed?

Think of a hotel room, a swish felt jacket, a humble ballpoint pen, the packaging of soap, a garden faucet sticking out from a parapet wall. Each of these objects has received formal and informal design attention, the better to make it do its work, and to allow its future user to understand what that work is. The configuration of the object is itself implicit recognition of the existence, need, being of its end user.

A former colleague of mine who worked in the area of user experience struggled with this linkage, between the recognition of the needs of the user and the discipline of design. He argued that because India was an extremely hospitable society, it would therefore excel in the area of user experience and usability engineering. I’m not sure that the attribute of hospitality varies that much between cultures or that Indians are in fact all that especially hospitable, but his curious linking of the virtue of hospitality with user-experience design seems to need further interrogation.

What can be said is that design for user experience represents a cognitive and social act of mutuality that furthers the connectedness between those creating contexts and experiences and those actually using, consuming or experiencing them. This kind of work, it seems to me, cannot truly be done in bad faith — which is to say, just as the doctors at Auschwitz were not acting in their capacity as doctors, design for bad or negative user experience is simply not design at all, but some bizarre corruption and implosion of the imagination.

Moreover, the very activity and process of design can have trust effects. In the process of ethnographic inquiry, through the involvement of end users in codesign workshops, by testing and validating prototypes, the creators of products and services have multiple opportunities to interact with end users and build their knowledge and social connectedness with the end user community. The use of social media tools, cell phone cameras and online communities to offer continuous feedback and response to those providing the service in question can all also enhance and inform the way in which such services are provided.

This would suggest that user-experience design and participatory processes can have a tremendous impact on how power is operationalized in the context of everyday interactions, upto and including security checks, but also including along the way mobile servies, civic utilities, urban infrastructure and many other services and infrastructures are provided. Participation, which has now become a dominant concept in the theory and practice of design, might therefore have the secondary effect of building trust between those providing goods and services and those being served.

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