The Design of Trust


By Aditya Dev Sood

I was asked about the relationship between design and trust recently, and I recalled the very first time I went to visit the Bangalore campus of a large multinational company.

I was not allowed in through the front and main gate, but had to go back to my car and then be driven a kilometer around to a small rear entrance to the complex. There I was asked for a government-issued form of identification, which fortunately I had with me. Then I was asked to look into the eye of a round oculus, which took an unflattering picture of me at an odd angle, which was then affixed to my jacket. Next, I was asked to enter a vertical coffin which pushed gasses into my face, analysed my own smell, and then loudly announced in my ear: “Scan complete! Enter forward!” Around the corner I could pick up my laptop bag and proceed, mildly irritated and routinely humiliated, for my business meeting.

If this is the way multinational — and now Indian — technology companies are going to treat their visitors, how can I help them, and how can they do any good in society?

My little anecdote is not even a footnote to the extreme deprivations that many others have encountered in all parts of the world in this post-9/11, T.S.A., enhanced-security world that began more than a decade ago. And my purpose in thinking about these topics through the lens of design is not to critique security agencies, their mandate and their policies, but rather to ask, perhaps naively, about whether and how they think about user-experience.

The mind-numbing and spine-chilling answer in many cases is that they do not. They are not allowed to think about it, or they are disabled from thinking about it, because the execution of all the minor, irritating, intrusive and belittling interactions that you and I undergo every single security line in every single airport, hotel, consulate and corporate campus, represent direct and uncritical translations of the instructions of security experts who devise these little rituals without any feedback from us. We are not the customers in this little service transaction, but its objects, and this is why these rituals never get any better. All the evidence would suggest that they’re only going to become a more invasive and pervasive aspect of our lives.

I’d be really glad for responses to this post as well as other thoughts and ideas for how design and innovation can promote or impact trust.

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