“To be persuasive we must be believable; to be believable we must be credible; to be credible we must be truthful.”—Edward R. Murrow
Users approach most products with an expectation of honesty. Things should do what they say, behave in an expected manner and reinforce their decision to use this product/service/website. The interface is your opportunity to gain their trust and confidence while helping them make sense of what they can and cannot do. The proximity of actionable items to corresponding descriptive text, the tone of your copy, the labels on form elements—all of these things are the means by which we build subconscious level of credibility with the user.
Whenever elements of the interface are confusing, misleading or even suspicious, the users’ trust will begin to erode. When even the slightest hint of bad behaviour sneaks in, the user has already begun to withdraw from further interaction.
Phishing scams have been around for ages, and many people have been educated as to what to watch for and things to avoid. But phishing is the extreme end of this spectrum. The greater concern is when people and companies begin to misuse emerging designs and technologies in order to quietly dupe the user, leaving them feeling like they have been “had” and tainting their inclination to try new things. A recent experience I had illustrates this very well.
The other day, someone I know very well posted something on Twitter that intrigued me. So I clicked the link and came to a little page with a large “Start Quiz” button. There was a silly set of questions and finally I arrived at what I thought would be the big reveal. Instead, I was barraged by a large popup that read, “In order to retreive your results you must be logged into Twitter. We will redirect you in 5 seconds or click the button below.”
Okay, I have seen this before. A rather sneaky way of trapping the user, but what really caught my attention was the seemingly innocuous microcopy right below that most people would read right over:
"When you sign in, we’ll have you follow us. You can alway unfollow us. :) We will automatically send out one Tweet with your result. You can delete it immediately though :)"
I was shocked, but before I knew it, I was redirected to the Twitter access page. I chose to grant it access, mostly because I was so horrified that I had to see what else could be going on. I was redirected—not to a page with the results and an option to post it to Twitter—but one of the most subtly deceptive pages I have seen in a long time.
The title talked about calculating the result and encouraged me to share it with people. In fact, they were so kind that they pre-selected 12 people to
spam share with and two buttons that read: “Select All” and “Send Invites and see my result!”
Send invites to what? I thought this was getting shared on Twitter?
I checked to see where these links were going to take me. Neither of them were links, instead they were inputs on a form. A form? For what, I wondered? I scrolled down to the bottom of the page to find the same two buttons and a true link that said, “Continue to results”—which I almost clicked. I searched for a way out. There was a link to what looked like my account settings page, which I clicked in an attempt to abort this whole scam. Unfortunately, the system was set to spit out the Tweet no matter what I action I took on the page.
It was at this point I found myself genuinely outraged. I thought about how easy it would be for people to subconsciously blame Twitter (or Facebook, etc) just by association. I thought about how many people were tricked into spamming their friends and followers. I thought about how unlikely I am to ever trust something like this again.
And so we return to the point of this article: build honest interfaces. Build trust into the very fabric of your product. Evaluate your design choices by asking yourself, “does this element mislead the user in any way?” If it does, take steps to align the interface with the expected behavior/action.
The integrity of the interface reflects how much you value your users.