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Building Trust Through Design

Posted by | 3:30am on Wednesday, February 4, 2009 | No Comments
Trust Us, We're Experts!

The sites that stray from the formula and try to do something a little different seem to stand out and, through their individuality, seem to say that they’ll provide their own unique brand of care and trust. 

PJ Macklin, interactive designer at Siren Interactive, contributes this essay:

In an industry in which consumer trust is so important, niche pharmaceutical web designers are in a bit of a pickle: how does one go from making a faceless pharmaceutical corporation look like one that truly cares about each and every patient’s health and well being? As a graphic designer who works with niche pharmaceutical websites, there are a few things I’ve noticed that act as roadblocks to achieving this task. While other industries are free to use compelling photographs, flashy graphics and illustrations, and deal-sealing testimonials, pharma is not only limited by regulatory institutions but also by their need to convey trust, reliability, and support to the patients and doctors considering their product or therapy. If it sounds a little bit like walking on eggshells, that’s because it is; design in the pharmaceutical world is so conservative because there are so many hoops to jump through and relationships to foster.

There are several ways that pharma websites try to get around these pitfalls. One of the more common techniques is to use lots of organic shapes and natural colors to conjure a sense of calm and naturalism. Trisenox, an orphan drug used to treat acute promyelocytic leukemia, does exactly that. The round curves and shapes have little or no ostensible relationship to the therapy, but it does elicit a calm and natural response from the user. Does it convey a sense of trust and care? It doesn’t not convey a sense of trust and care, but it doesn’t seem to say “trustworthy and respectful” either. The result seems to be a rather faceless pharmaceutical corporation, the very thing designers are trying to avoid in the first place.

Another technique is the extensive use of stock photography. Eye contact, even on the internet, can be effective when it comes to creating a sense of trust or personal connection. Vidaza, an orphan drug used to treat myelodysplastic syndromes, has a website that serves as a perfect example. The homepage is rife with active seniors in the woods or on the beach (and also has plenty of accompanying organic curves and lines). While it seems to strike a more personal chord, there’s a sense of superficiality to it. We don’t know if these people are actually patients or if they are generic stock photo models. Nothing about them really says “patient,” which undoubtedly is the point, but the photos look a little too staged. More effective than organic shapes alone, but still, the trust barrier hasn’t been broken.

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