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I'm not an axe murderer. I promise.

by Dennii Stanbridge

It was a dark and stormy night… I’m alone and far from home, rocking back and forth in an isolated bus terminal in Iceland. Scanning my unfamiliar surroundings, I started to wonder what the hell I was thinking.

‘Couchsurfing’ in a foreign country seemed like a good idea at the time of making whimsical travel plans from the naive comfort of my own home. Basically, this involved plucking a complete stranger off the internet (who is no doubt a serial killer/dungeon keeper/lover of Country and Western music), and agreeing to stay on their couch for a few days (and/or to never be seen or heard from again).

How did I get myself into this pickle?

  1. The website I made the connection on ( had a robust verification model
  2. My chosen host didn’t seem like an ‘axe murderer’ in the profile they created
  3. My host had more than 30 glowing reviews from people who still appeared to be breathing

This earned my trust which (spoiler alert) turned out to be well placed. Not only did I live to tell the tale, but I had the trip of a lifetime and my not-so axe-wielding host is now one of my most treasured friends.


The scary bit (for users)

This experience is not too dissimilar to when a user visits your site or app for the very first time. Subconsciously, a user will instinctively hunt for signs that you are who you say you are, can do what you say you do, and that you have nothing less than honourable intentions. In short, you must quickly earn a user’s trust because trust determines whether a user stays or whether they run away screaming.

Designing for trust isn’t limited to businesses that connect travelers with free couches or e-commerce sites that deal with sensitive personal information. If you’re in business, you’re being ‘trust judged’.


The scary bit (for you)

You may not even know that you’re scaring users away. You may not know that, to them, you are an axe murderer. How could you not know? And what are the warning signs to look out for?

You look like an axe murderer if…

  • Your site looks dated – as if you’ve been locked away in an institution for 20 years. Get with the times daddio! Use proven design patterns that are expected of your business type and be polished in your execution
  • Your navigation is a horrific mess. Navigation should be a simple tool with clear, directive labels. Like a street sign, navigation leads a user where they want to go. Leave the creative touches for your content
  • Your contact details are elusive. Why are you hiding? Contact details should be easy to find and should include an email address, phone number and physical address for optimal trust
  • Your URL has dodgy naming conventions. Nothing screams run like

You sound like an axe murderer when…

  • You use complicated, jargonistic language that confuses and bamboozles. Keep language simple, succinct, value-loaded and clear
  • Your content is error-laden. This demonstrates a lack of attention which breeds suspicion and mistrust
  • Your content has no scannable structure. This is crazy town! Break up content with succinct headers and sub headers. Make content easy for users to scan with their eyeballs, which they tend to do in an F type pattern

You behave like an axe murder when…

  • Your brand experiences vary wildly across platforms. All of your brand experiences should behave in a consistent, familiar way. Familiarity breeds trust, unpredictability breeds nervousness
  • You’ve gone over to the dark side. And by dark side, I mean using dark design patterns that manipulate or trick a user into an action they may not have chosen
  • You toot your own horn. Be careful here. Testimonials should be real, genuinely human and valuable. And remember, a user is more likely to trust a peer or an employee than a statement from your CEO

The dead giveaway…

Your targets are faceless

None of the above matters if you don’t know who your users are. As real flesh and blood people with needs, wants and desires you must continually talk to, observe and engage with users (remember – you are not the user). And in doing so, you must garner a deep knowledge of your users’ needs and pain points.

Ultimately, trust is built on insight. And you can’t gain insight without understanding what your users expect from you. If you don’t know what your users expect, you may miss the mark (in a big axe-wielding kind of way).

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