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Design as a Trust Signal

Don’t underestimate the power of design to evoke trust in your audience.

Clients looking to purchase B2B services evaluate firms based on a number of factors that, when considered side by side, can make for reasonably straightforward comparisons. These include price, ability to deliver, estimated timeframe, available resources, and perceived quality of work.

Yet at the heart of every purchasing decision lies a critical component that can be more difficult to quantify: trust.

At the heart of every purchasing decision lies a critical component: trust.

While trust has always been one of the most important factors in B2B purchasing decisions, the rise of the virtual workplace and increase in significant business transactions taking place online instead of face-to-face further increases the significance of trust. According to a study by Source Global Research, 87% of clients feel that trust has become a more important part of their purchasing decisions due to the impact of COVID on the business environment.[1]

Building Trust, Sight Unseen

It’s possible to build trust with potential clients without personal interactions.

Professional service firms seeking to accelerate their growth and profitability will succeed in using their online presence to evoke trust with B2B buyers. Yes, personal interactions remain significant and important, but in today’s virtual landscape the most successful firms will learn how to elicit trust without reliance on personal gravitas or charisma.

It’s possible to build trust with potential clients without personal interactions.

Trust Signals for a Digital World

There are a number of different ways to communicate your firm’s trustworthiness. Individually, each can be effective in moving a client’s “trust meter” to a greater or lesser degree. When taken together, these trust signals provide a powerful basis for belief in your services. These include:

Shared Expertise

Openly sharing useful insights and other content that your audience finds valuable is one of the best ways to engage potential buyers and earn their trust.

Online Visibility

Simply being visible online will give you a leg up on a lot of your competition. This holds true for both companies and key leaders.

Client List

Demonstrating that respected names have trusted you is the digital version of asking your friends and colleagues for recommendations on who they’ve worked with.

Speaking Engagements

Securing a speaking engagement indicates that someone believed in you enough to give you a microphone. It also can provide useful content that can be disseminated online.

Associations & Memberships

Membership in a respected organization signals credibility, especially for associations where the standard for entry is higher.

Credentials & Certifications

Relevant qualifications are indicators of your capability, signaling to potential clients that you have the chops needed to accomplish the job.

Reviews & Recommendations

Many buyers won’t even consider working with firms that don’t have multiple positive reviews posted to third-party platforms.


Industry accolades demonstrate that your work is not only adequate, but high quality and attention grabbing.


Well-produced video content, especially video that features key leadership in your firm, provides a personal and emotional appeal, giving clients a good sense of how capable your leadership is.

While all of these trust signals can be helpful for inspiring confidence in your brand, there is one that has a greater impact than all of the others combined–and for firms that want to be esteemed as industry leaders, it’s imperative to get it right.

Design: The Most Powerful Trust Signal

Great design is the single most significant trust signal for any brand seeking to thrive in today’s digital marketplace.

Don’t get me wrong. You have to --get your messaging right--. And you have to have solid services, people, and processes that deliver value to your clients, otherwise you’ll be quickly found out.

Great design is the single most significant trust signal for brands seeking to thrive in today’s digital marketplace.

In a digital-first world, viewers’ perception is largely influenced by your firms’ online presence. Design is the presentation layer that wraps all your messaging and brand together–and it is a substantial piece of what you are communicating about your company. Your audience will not read every word you write, but they will form an impression of your brand very quickly based on what they see.

Design comprises a substantial component of what is being communicated.

In fact, research shows that users will begin to form an opinion about a brand within 0.01 milliseconds of landing on your website![2]

But what is it about design that makes it such a powerful trust signal?

Design Has the Power to Make You Feel Something

Brands that elicit trust know how to use design to move their audiences. It’s simple psychology—people are more inclined to trust someone (or a company) that elicits a positive, emotional response. You're more likely to trust someone who makes you laugh, inspires you, or moves you deeply.

Good design has the power to evoke emotion. Wide seascapes, subdued colors, and subtle typography may instill a sense of peace and calmness. Bold headings with high contrast and succinct messaging can communicate confidence and inspire belief. Dark and immersive design might lend a sense of intrigue and special mission, while bright and airy designs may feel hopeful and optimistic. While great design isn’t defined in any one way, they share a common trait—that all great designs make an impression on the viewer.

Design as The Great Organizer

Design isn’t just about what “looks nice”. Design is about communication, and the way information is designed plays a major role in how that information is understood. Design organizes content, so that consumers are quickly able to comprehend importance, sequencing, supporting elements, and asides. The best designs guide audiences through a story, with clearly defined lanes, and well-defined on and off ramps. Good design instills a sense of security and comfort, like listening to a virtuoso singer who is so good you have complete confidence she’ll hit all the right notes.

The best designs guide audiences through a story, with clearly marked lanes and readily apparent on and off ramps.

When users encounter a well-choreographed design experience, they are put at ease, and that sense of security and well-being contributes to trust. There’s a certain assurance that thoughtful design brings, a trust instilled through order and clarity. That feeling, especially when coupled with an emotional response, is then naturally associated with a brand.

Design Shows You Care

Brand collateral such as brochures, business cards, advertisements, and websites are all primary touchpoints for a professional service firm, and often the first points of contact for potential buyers. Like passers-by in front of a shop window, what visitors see there will largely influence whether they decide to open the door and step inside. When what they see is attractive, well-lit and inviting, they gain confidence that what they’ll find inside has been given the same level of care.

As a new college graduate, I applied to rent my first apartment with scant credit history. I can remember the property manager, as he was walking me through the parking lot to view the apartment, asking me which car was mine. I realized later that he was likely taking a good look at my car to see how well I took care of it, and whether the inside was clean or a mess. He knew that if I was conscientious enough to wash and maintain my vehicle, it was a signal that I would likely apply the same diligence in caring for the apartment.

When you take the time to ensure that your own storefront (i.e. your website) is clean, organized, and attractive, buyers take it as a signal that you’ll apply the same standard of care to the projects and initiatives that matter to them.

Design Attracts

A basic attribute of high-quality design is that it is attractive. Put simply, it looks good. While far more goes into evaluating whether a design is “good” or not, at its basic level, good design is attractive.

At its basic level, good design attracts.

Of course, design can be subjective. What people find attractive will be largely influenced by internal factors related to who they are and their upbringing, as well as by external societal and cultural stimuli. (The best designs are created with a clear understanding of who the target audience is.) But whether or not a design holds together can be evaluated based on objective design standards, and when taken as a whole make for a greater or lesser degree of “attractability”.

Studies show[3] that attraction influences trust in human behavior. The same is certainly true when applied to the business environment. While it used to be that businesses with slick, modern offices housed the nicest buildings in prime locations garnered the highest points with potential clients, now that more and more business interactions are moving online, companies are being judged by the attractiveness of their virtual spaces.

Design is the Ultimate ‘Cool Factor’

Whether you want to believe it or not, we’re all influenced by what we perceive as “cool”, whether we’re sitting in our home office, hustling at a Silicon Valley startup, or working in the C-Suite of a major corporation. Everyone wants to be perceived as relevant, current, modern.

As with fashion, initial brand perception is largely a function of design. Brands distinguish themselves by their look, which reinforces their brand name. For professional service firms, design can signal to a potential buyer that they are current and savvy, part of the “it” crowd.

Great Design as Table Stakes for Professional Service Firms That Want to Grow

Here’s the thing: most professional service firms settle for mediocre design. It’s everywhere. Buyers and other potential business partners are not moved. In a sea of options, these firms look just like the rest; uninsp ired and boring.

Good design is impactful. Bad design is distasteful. Mediocre design is ubiquitous.

By contrast, the successful firms of the future will recognize the power of design to instill trust in their audience. They’ll invest in getting it right, knowing that brand perception means everything when growing a business.


  1. https://www.thevisibleauthority.com/blog/10-consulting-trends-for-2022
  2. http://credibility.stanford.edu/
  3. https://news.rice.edu/news/2006/rice-study-suggests-people-are-more-trusting-attractive-strangers
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