Trust Design

In a February panel discussion, Premsela's Tim Vermeulen spoke about design and trust with the researcher and writer Scott Burnham, project manager of Premsela’s Trust Design project; Michiel de Lange, co-founder of the Mobile City and a new media lecturer at Utrecht University; Henry Mentink, co-founder of MyWheels; and the landscape architect Ronald Rietveld of Rietveld Landscape, winners of the Rotterdam Design Prize 2011.

The discussion took place at the Amsterdam architecture centre Arcam in connection with the conference Social Cities of Tomorrow. Volume magazine launched its fourth and last Trust Design supplement, part of a series produced in cooperation with Premsela, at the event. The supplement, like the Arcam discussion, focuses on the issue of private vs public.

2011 panel discussion
Vermeulen also looked at design and trust in October 2011 with Burnham; Mathieu Frossard, a designer and master's student at the Design Academy Eindhoven; Corien Pompe, Volvo’s chief colour and material designer; and Matthijs van Dijk, a professor of industrial design at Delft University of Technology and the author of Vision in Design.

The debate, held at the Designhuis in Eindhoven, was the first of Premsela's three Dutch Design Week Design Breakfasts and featured the launch of Volume's third Trust Design supplement. 


A loss of trust
In a recent survey by the research firm Edelman, 83 per cent of consumers ranked trust as the number-one factor they require of companies they do business with or whose products and services they use. In a similar survey in 2006, trust did not even appear in the top 10. 

When the global financial crisis hit in 2009, trust catapulted from a personal feeling during a handshake to a defining ingredient of daily life and business. Addressing the Davos gathering that year, the then-British Prime Minister Gordon Brown acknowledged, “This is a crisis, not just of credit. It’s a crisis of trust.” Echoing his sentiment later in the United States, President Barack Obama declared in his State of the Union address, “We have to recognise that we face more than a deficit of dollars right now. We face a deficit of trust.”

This deficit has left people with a palpable desire for a greater sense of confidence in the services they use, the food they eat and the products they buy. In response, design must remember its noble history of meeting society’s needs. Its reaction to the new demand for trust should do just that.


Restoring confidence
Our relationship with design and its functionality used to be linear: did object x perform function y? If the answer was yes, we were content. But both our expectations of design and its impact have changed. When the iPod appeared, it was celebrated as a music player with a revolutionary design, but more than that, it changed how we purchased, navigated and interacted with audio entertainment. The iPhone and iPad have altered our relationship with communication, information and media even more significantly. In addition, the recent focus on sustainability has extended the definition of functionality from an object’s immediate role in our lives to include the impact it will have on the environment at the end of its life.

As the impact of design reaches further into new areas of our lives and environment, people look to design to operate with greater responsibility – to provide them with a greater sense of confidence.


Trust Design
The Trust Design research project was created to explore the relationship between design and trust, and how the discipline can respond to the current crisis of confidence. It is important that we perform a more complex, layered examination of the new expectations and the new functionality required of design. Vital questions must be answered: What are the ingredients of trust? Can you design trust? And conversely, can you trust design?

By drawing on knowledge gained from a diverse range of individuals and practices and conducting experiments, research and workshops, we aim to create a comprehensive, holistic response to some of the challenges facing design.

Trust Design also aims to be a catalyst for new experimentation, thought and production dedicated to connecting design and trust. We are therefore delighted to be working with the following partners:

Volume magazine
In 2011, Trust Design worked with Volume on four special supplementary issues exploring the role of trust in design as it relates to various themes. Scott Burnham acted as guest editor. The first special issue looked at aspects of trust and design related to ageing, and the second focused on the “Internet of things”.

Design Academy Eindhoven
A central goal of Trust Design is to engage with and function as a catalyst for new design research and creation. Design Academy Eindhoven is acting as our partner in the creation of new designs. First- and second-year master’s students are working on a trust-based approach to design, investigating new approaches to communication systems, means of production, publications, products and public space design.

VU University Amsterdam
VU University is assisting Trust Design by lending us a research intern. Esther Waardenburg of the Design Cultures master's programme is conducting research on existing projects, websites and materials exploring the relationship between design and trust.

To-Genkyo's label showing meat's freshness, as measured by its ammonia level, could raise consumers' confidence (see
Trust Design podcasts on iTunes
Design professionals talk about trust
Scott Burnham on trust and sustainability
Read his article for Premsela's Spring/Summer 2010 bulletin
Design of Services and Systems
Scott Burnham took part in a panel discussion on trust, creativity, and services and systems design at the Design Public conference in Delhi, India, on 20 April. A report is online.