New Talk "Designing for Trust: How China's Free Lunch avoided The Curse of Kelvin" and Notes from Media Evolution's The Conference
Free Lunch is a non-profit in China that uses a crowd-sourced reporting and monitoring system to gain donor's trust. The system is filled with inefficiencies and redundancies, but it's very good at getting people to donate and participate. How did it accomplish this? Instead of designing for efficiency, Free Lunch was designing for trust. In a historical parallel, the measurement of electricity consumption in the 19th century reveals that accuracy in measurement was compromised to gain consumers' trust in devices. Both Free Lunch and and electricity measurement reveal that making products/services more usable may require us to prioritize the user's need. Several design principals should be considered when designing for trust.
When I agreed to particpate in Media Evolution’s, The Conference, in Malmö, Sweden, I was still fresh out of my fieldwork in China. One of the biggest issues ethnographers encounter after spending years and years in the field is that they become myopic. They begin to think that their fieldsite is super special and that they are witnessing a phenomenon that has never happened in human history.
I think my fieldsites are awesome - I love all the places I research. But the important thing when doing global fieldwork is to find the connections between places. So I wanted to give a talk that would help me step into another place - a historical space.
In psychology, it is said that we repeat the same trauma until we understand why we do it. I think history works the same way. We repeat the same processes until we understand why. One of these processes is our obsession for efficiency. I was led to a really amazing book by G.J.N. Gooday, The Morals of Measurement: Accuracy, Irony, and Trust in Late Victorian Electrical Practice. After reading it, I started to dig into the history of electricity and saw all these parallels with what I was witnessing in China - that what users need are systems that they can trust, not necessarily the most efficient systems.
Principles to consider when designing for trust
During the last half of my talk, I discuss several core principals that need to be considered during the design process. These prcinciples are most relevant for those of us who create participatory and social media oriented platforms because these communities collapse and or unable to form without trust:
- Lower the threshold for your users to establish trust. Make it easy for them to judge the veracity of information sources.
- Conduct a thorough ethnographic study on how users conceive of information & trust. Because conceptions about what information is varies depending on cultural and social contexts and understanding this affects the design process.
- Ask what user-centered values you want to bring into the service and product design such as transparency or familiarity.
- Treat these values as healthy constraints for innovation, not against innovation
- But at the same be clear about what values are being comprised. Understand that some design compromises are only appropriate for certain contexts. Compromises in efficiency may make sense for one group of users but not another.
- Design minimally enough so that you can watch what user centered values emerge out of the interaction.
- Avoid the Curse of Kelvin - just because something isn't quantifiable doesn't mean that it is value-less (