5 Ways to Build Digital Trust


Five Ways to Build Digital Trust

By Malia Jacobson

Combating online misinformation and building digital trust are increasingly important for organizations doing business online. Here are a few ways that our developers and content producers work together to improve access to reliable, trustworthy content for our clients.​

digital trust

The Internet is filled with impressive technology platforms that we use every day. But should we trust their content? For years, content platforms evolved to focus on the technology itself, not the content within. The result: Wary consumers who distrust much of what they read online. False online information costs the global economy $78 billion each year, and three-quarters of Americans believe online misinformation is a big problem. Let’s not forget the “infodemic” of public health misinformation that researchers believe contributed to the spread of COVID-19. 

Per the International Data Corporation (IDC), false information destroys the trust that fuels our digital economy. Simply put, if website visitors don’t trust your organization’s digital content, they won’t stick around long enough to become a customer.

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Organizations can win and keep users’ trust by creating trustworthy, reliable content. How? As developers and content producers, we help organizations improve content quality, clarity, and accuracy with these steps.

1. Include content producers and stakeholders in platform design.

At the beginning of a project, bring stakeholders, content producers, and developers together to identify the platform’s key audiences, desired user experience (UX), and the internal process through which content will be vetted, approved, moved through QA, and posted. Defining a process to validate and approve content prior to publication helps inform the development of the right back-end content management system. This ensures that the finished platform supports the publication of content that’s worthy of users’ time—and trust.

2. Help organizations use and optimize owned media channels.

An organization’s digital marketing efforts include paid, earned, shared, and owned media channels—the organization’s own website, blog, and other outlets within its control. While earned media (press mentions) and shared media (social shares) are exciting, many organizations learn the hard way that information published on external media platforms isn’t always accurate, and fighting misinformation is a draining, costly battle. Organizations with robust owned media channels can build and keep digital trust by carefully and consistently publishing reliable, accurate content on their own platforms to serve as a source of truth for users.

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3. Address racial and gender bias in content platform design.

Poor platform design can invite discrimination and reduce the integrity of digital content. Take AirBnB’s efforts to create a more transparent platform by removing anonymity for both guests and hosts during the booking process. Researchers found that revealing a potential guest’s photo before a booking request was accepted allowed hosts to discriminate based on race. To create more equitable, trustworthy, transparent platforms, consider withholding sensitive information that could enable discrimination; build awareness of algorithmic bias; and measure the effectiveness of different platform design choices. (Find more information here: Harvard Business School: How Online Platforms Can Thwart Discrimination.) 

4. Bridge language barriers.

Online misinformation disproportionately targets users with language and learning differences. Organizations can work to combat online misinformation by using plain language online and addressing language barriers by integrating language translation APIs like Google Translate, Microsoft Translator, and Smartling

5. Make digital content user-friendly.

The most sophisticated platform will inhibit trust if users can’t follow along. We learned how this is especially critical for healthcare organizations, public agencies, and firms operating in the health and wellness industry during the COVID pandemic. Creating platforms that support user-friendly visual aids, symbols, and a clear pathway through complex topics helps users find and understand reliable, trustworthy information they need. (Find more information here: National Institutes of Health: Making Data Talk.)

Prioritizing content quality and accuracy may be new for organizations used to focusing on platform design. But when content producers and developers work together to publish trustworthy, reliable content, organizations and their audiences win. 

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14 Ways to Design and Develop a More Sustainable Website


14 Ways to Design and Develop a More Sustainable Website

By Deborah Keltner

Sustainable Website

Could you have a more sustainable website?

While the shift from analog to digital content has kept trees out of paper mills, it has undoubtedly contributed to the climate crisis because of the carbon footprint of technology. Whether it’s e-waste or energy needed for computing, the tech sector has a huge opportunity to lessen its impact on our earth’s climate.

We need to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century to keep the global temperature below 1.5 degrees Celsius. You can learn more about Earth Day and its supporting events & initiatives here.

In honor of Earth Day, we are sharing a list of ideas, tips, tricks, and insights to help website designers and developers deliver more sustainable websites. We are still learning more about how to deliver more sustainable technologies, so if you have additional tips and tricks, we want to hear from you!

Let’s get started!

You are reading this on the internet! Did you know that the use of the internet alone causes emissions of approximately 2,330,000 tons of carbon and consumes 2,340,000 MWh of electricity every day? If you found this article via a web search, your search consumed about 0.3 Wh of energy and released 0.2g of carbon into the environment. It’s not much on its own, but it adds up.

Do you want to reduce your website’s carbon emissions?

Did you know: Offsetting the carbon from our website requires the work of 12 trees every year.

You can reduce the carbon emissions associated with your website by reducing the amount of electricity used to load, send, and view a web page, and then ensuring the resulting electricity required to access and use the site comes from clean, renewable resources. 

Designers and developers have a lot of influence over the energy efficiency of the websites they design and create. Here are 14 tips for you to design and develop a greener an more sustainable website:

  1. Get rid of unnecessary code, which uses computing power without benefiting users. If you have large blocks of commented-out code, don’t let it slip into production. Keep code clean and simple, avoid duplication and write efficient queries. This doesn’t just apply to the code you write, but also to the code you borrow. If you use existing frameworks and libraries, ensure that they are also refined and tailored to efficiently deliver the functionality you need and that you are not using over-built code. In cases where you are using a CMS like WordPress, avoid unnecessary plugins that add bloat and choose plugins that minimize server load and don’t add unnecessary weight on the front end.
  2. Use compression. Some compression techniques can save data without compromising quality.
  3. Consider programming language efficiency when choosing between programming languages. Less efficient languages have a higher carbon footprint.
  4. Run computations on the server side. Data centers are more efficient than end-user devices.
  5. Choose green cloud vendors. Ask whether your cloud provider uses sustainable energy sources.
  6. Keep digital efficiency top-of-mind. Every day is Earth Day when you are prioritizing energy-efficient decisions. Our site is run on renewable energy, which helps offset our impact.
  7. The goals of SEO are aligned with the goal of reducing energy consumption. When optimizing a website for search rankings, we help people find the information they want quickly and easily. When SEO is successful, people spend less time looking for information and visiting fewer pages that don’t meet their needs. This means less energy is consumed and the energy that is consumed is used to deliver value to the user.
  8. Copywriting also impacts the amount of time people spend browsing your site. We don’t want people to waste time sifting through content that offers them little value, so clear and efficient copy can reduce wasted time and in turn reduce wasted energy.
  9. Good user experience makes using the web easier and reduces the amount of energy wasted navigating to pages that don’t serve the correct purpose and trying to decipher what they should do next. Obviously, our UX Design team is here to help!
  10. On most websites, images are the single largest contributor to page weight. The more images you use and the larger those image files, the more data needs to be transferred and the more energy is used. Regardless of any technical optimizations, designers and content creators should think carefully about their use of images.
    • Does the image genuinely add value to the user?
    • Does it communicate useful information?
    • Could the same impact be achieved if the image was smaller?
    • Could we reduce images that are not visible to the user, such as in carousels?
    • Could we achieve the same effect with a vector graphic (or even CSS style) instead of a photo?
  11. Video is the most data and processing intensive form of content. As with images, ask yourself if videos are necessary. If they are, reduce the amount of video streamed by removing auto-play from videos and by keeping video content short. A website with video playing can be one or even two orders of magnitude heavier than a website without video in terms of page weight and creates much higher load on the users CPU, resulting in vastly greater energy consumption.
  12. Web fonts can add significant file weight to the websites on which they are used. A single font file could be as much as 250kb, and that might only be for the standard weight. If you want bold, add another 250kb. To reduce the impact on custom web fonts, designers should consider the following options: Use system fonts where possible. Fonts like Arial and Times New Roman can be used without loading any font files at all as they are already on the user’s device, and try to be frugal in the number of typefaces you choose and in the number of different weights that you use for each typeface.
  13. Build static web pages. CMS-powered websites make queries to the website database and dynamically generate pages, so the webserver has to do work thinking about what information to send back to the user each time someone tries to load a page. That causes the server to use more energy. In some cases, it may be possible to simply server static web pages with no database at all by writing the web pages as static files in HTML, CSS, and JS, or by using a static site generator or specialist static web host to convert your CMS-powered website into static files.
  14. Consider reducing white space and embracing dark mode. Dark websites were one of the first techniques popularized for saving energy on websites many years ago and it faded away with the advent of LCD screens, which had a permanent backlight, using the same energy regardless of the color actually visible on the screen. However, with the advent of OLED screens that light up each pixel individually, using darker colors is once again a viable technique to reduce energy on end-user devices.

If you’d like to estimate the carbon footprint of your website, this tool is easy to use. In fact, it’s how we learned that our website needs improvement (we’re currently running dirtier than 78% of similar websites and producing 2.14g of carbon every time someone visits our site). https://www.websitecarbon.com/.

You may not be able to do every single one of these things, but every action you take to produce a sustainable website adds up, so lean into greener design and engineering on Earth Day and every day!

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Designing for Good: User-Centered Design


Designing For Good: User-Centered Design

User-centered design

We’re talking about user-centered design because ideas succeed when they translate to products, services, and experiences that users love.

So what does “user-centered design” really mean, and why is it so important right now?

To understand user-centered design, look back to the time when digital products didn’t focus on the user experience like they do today. Just 10 years ago, digital products like websites, apps, and software didn’t need to perform on multiple screen sizes or resolutions because devices were mostly standardized. Companies could create a version of their digital product for desktop devices, a distinct version for phones, and possibly another version for tablets. Many companies didn’t address accessibility and they primarily designed digital products for a single operating system. As a result, many users found technology frustrating, hindering, and downright irritating, which hindered adoption.

Kelly La Belle, Designer

A great product is a product people want to use.

Thankfully, companies addressed the user frustration, and the design process for digital products has been evolving to prioritize users ever since.

People value products that are easy to use, simple to set up, and have a logical progression. User-centered design isolates the users’ specific needs down to granular steps, then we design to be aesthetically pleasing and intuitive. To really understand the users, the design process requires user research, which can include user surveys, brainstorming, testing, and more.

There is no single approach to user-centered design. Most digital products have unique experiences that require unique solutions. An investment in a great user experience and user interface design can make the difference between success and failure.

Products that incorporate user-centered design have been proven to:

  • Cut down on customer service costs. More intuitive workflows result in less customer frustration and fewer service calls.
  • Increase sales. Customers conduct research before committing to a new product or service so first impressions online are key. A few bad online reviews about your product will result in lost sales. Rather than hire a PR firm to fix your product’s reputation, invest in a great user experience upfront to reduce the cost of sale.
  • Reduce lawsuits. Companies can be held legally responsible if their digital products aren’t usable for people with disabilities. Having an inaccessible digital product is in the same vein as having an inaccessible storefront. User-centered design will address accessibility as a top priority.

User-centered design is popular because it works. The digital landscape is constantly changing, so keep the user at the center of the change to ensure a great product and strong business.

Want to know more about our user-focused design capabilities?

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Designing for Good: Equitable Design


Designing For Good: Equitable Design

The terms Equity and Equitable Design come up with increasing frequency as businesses are asked to be transparent about efforts to support diversity, equity, and inclusion by investors, customers, and employees.

Our designers want to make equitable designs for every client, so we have worked to understand what it means to design equitably.

To quote Jennifer Wright of Designers Build, “The term equity is often used interchangeably with equality, but it is a fundamentally different concept. Equality is giving everyone the same thing. Equity is giving everyone what they need to be successful.”

This does not mean that we design everything to be equal or the same for everyone regardless of their needs. Equitable design also does not mean that we have a diversity checklist for your stock photo library.

This is not equitable design

“From my perspective, equitable design has three levels of impact: Representational, Experiential, and Cognitive-behavioral,” says Valence UX Designer, Jacob Lowry.  In the context of equitable design, we like to define the three levels of impact like this:

  • Representational design authentically and positively challenges societal defaults and expectations.
  • Experiential design focuses on accessibility, beyond WCAG or ADA accessibility to include social, cultural, and technological access. With experiential design, we design for user needs and emotions.
  • Cognitive-Behavioral design influences how people think and behave. In this case, to use design to help people to think and act in a way that contributes and supports a more equitable society.

Bringing Equity to Your Next Design Problem

Everyone consumes content, and designers are in the unique position of helping create that content. As Christopher Paul discusses in his book Wordplay and the Discourse of Video Games: Analyzing Words, Design, and Play, design is a powerful and important societal role – it isn’t isolated.

Most design is built for business needs and for-profit content. However, being driven by profit is not in conflict with equitable design. In fact, there is a mountain of evidence to back up the link between business effectiveness and equitable design. Companies that integrate social responsibility into their operations can expect positive financial returns. These companies also increase sales and prices while reducing employee turnover.

It happens in big and small moments.

Designers can have the ambition for large, systematic change while operating on a niche, local, brand, or worldwide level. 

Designer Rie Nørregaard said in “Designing for Humanity,” that designers should shift away from “designing for” to “designing with” by connecting with different people and contexts. When designers step back from their own experiences to connect with the user and their perspective, we can design more equitably. This is especially true for designers that are members of the default norms (white, male, able-bodied, English speaking, etc.). How do we connect with other user experiences and needs? It can be through interviews, observations, conversations, research, and more. This is informed at Valence by our User Research team, too.

It’s simple to include equitable design in your next project because it doesn’t require a lot of research or professional development (though those can help). Equitable design simply requires a commitment to look outside of a limited world view to find the right way to approach solutions for a more diverse set of users.

In closing

Valence creates digital experiences that are used by companies and people across every industry and experienced by users around the world. In addition to our own sense of social responsibility, by considering equitable design in our work, we also meet our responsibility to produce commercially successful solutions.

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What is Experiential Retail?

What is Experiential Retail?

Experiential retail or experiential commerce is a type of retail marketing whereby customers come into a physical retail space and are offered experiences beyond the traditional ones such as browsing merchandise, talking to salespeople, touching products, and checking out. Experiential retail amenities may include interactive art, live music, virtual reality, cafés and lounges, and video display walls.

There’s a short, often-overlooked scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo that’s always fascinated the retailer in me. I’m going to avoid spoilers and simply say that Scotty (Jimmy Stewart) takes his new fling Madeline (Kim Novak) shopping, in search of the exact suit worn by his previous love earlier in the film.

There are a lot of complex psychological layers at play here, and — aside from the painfully-dated line “the gentleman seems to know what he wants” — it’s not typically considered a comedic moment. However, as someone who’s spent the first 10 years of their career in Retail Experiences, this scene cracks me up.

While Scotty and Madeline sit in the store — attended to by two sales reps — a woman comes in and out of the dressing room wearing various suits like an animatronic mannequin. She’s modeling clothes for the very customer sitting in front of her. As in don’t experience our product, experience someone else experiencing our product! This has always been both interesting and absurd to me, made all-the-more comical by Scotty’s response once the model comes out in the right suit: “We’ll take it. Uh, will the thing fit?” 

Okay, that was a whole lot on Hitchcock’s 1958 masterpiece. But this is a Retail Transformation blog, so, what’s my point? Well, there are a few:

1. Experiential retail is not new. So much of what I see and read on modern retail transformation makes it seem like all anyone thought about prior to 2010 was merchandising. I hope this scene in Vertigo showcases how wrong that thinking is. While Madeline is distant from the product itself, the retail interaction is purely experiential: she experiences the outfit while hardly lifting a finger. Sound familiar? It really is the analog version of those 360-degree image galleries that retailers use on digital storefronts. The means of implementation have changed, but the concept of curated experiences is as old as retail itself.

2. If you listen, they will come. What’s evident in this scene — and would be clear if you were to walk into any major department store in the 1950s or 60s — is that customers were expected to listen to brands, not the other way around. Purchase decisions were based on wanting to be rugged like the Marlboro man, or elegant like the model standing in front of you. Brands put their version of perfection in an advertisement or experience, and customers aspired to it. In today’s world, retailers actually need to aspire to their customers. Think of Apple’s original iPod commercials. Instead of featuring cool, beautiful people with iPods, it featured silhouettes. The message being: you are already the cool, beautiful person, we’ll just help you find your groove. The script flipped even more dramatically with social media, where brands must constantly listen and adapt to their fans to stay relevant.

3. Customer satisfaction is simple, consumer behavior is complex. This one is all about that last line from Scotty: “We’ll take it. Uh, will the thing fit?” I don’t know, Scotty, maybe Madeline should try it on? Every time I watch this film, I half-expect the sales rep to have an epiphany: we’re doing this all wrong…the customer should be going into the dressing room! But more importantly, what does this say about consumer behavior? Working backwards it’s easy: customers will be satisfied if they wind up with the right product at the right price with the greatest convenience. But what gets them to your store instead of your competitor? What influences their behavior in defining the right price, or the acceptable amount of friction? The exciting thing is that an agile digital team armed with analytics can demystify these questions.

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