Navigation, Layout, and Content: Why Trust Matters

Posted on October 2, 2015
4 min read


The UserTesting research team has seen its fair share of testing videos. Cumulatively we watch over 10,000 videos of study participants and produce more than 1,000 reports every year. We’ve been inside users’ heads and we’ve seen their emotions. We’ve seen joy, sadness, fear, disgust, and certainly anger. But when it comes to UX, there’s a sixth emotion that really kicks into gear: trust.

For this post, UserTesting analyzed a random sample of twenty recent reports. We work with a wide variety of site types from eCommerce, Gaming, Mobile to Education and beyond. Even with this variety, the most common usability issues that surfaced were around the following three themes:

  • Navigation
  • Layout
  • Content

With this information, we sought to link the most common usability issues to standard user psychology principles. However, what we found was nothing profound. It was simply an issue of trust.

Trust is a subconscious, positive emotion that generates confidence in the mind. Trust grants goodwill towards another inhibits fears and enables users to make more risky decisions.

Today we’re going to dive deep into the mind of a theoretical user, “Sally,” as she encounters some of the most common usability issues with navigation, layout, and content that we encounter here at UserTesting. This post will track Sally’s journey and her inner voice of “Trust” as she travels through a website to look for a TV for her new apartment.


Sally arrives on the craigslist website, looking for a good deal on a gently used TV. When she arrives on the page her subconscious kicks in. Consciously, she notices the large amount of text, the outdated logo, and the lack of welcoming pictures or introduction. Her subconscious Trust is already suspicious of the site.

Sally looks through many columns of text and is confused by the variety of options. It’s unclear to her where to click first. This confusion triggers her to consider abandoning her search.

"I'm not sure what to click on. I see computers have their own section, but nothing for TVs. If I click on 'electronics' will I find TVs? I feel those might go together. How are these options organized? I'm not sure what to do. Does this website want me to find what I'm looking for?"

"I'm not sure what to click on. I see computers have their own section, but nothing for TVs. If I click on 'electronics' will I find TVs? I feel those might go together. How are these options organized? I'm not sure what to do. Does this website want me to find what I'm looking for?"

People go to a site with purpose, intent, and expectations. If the direction in the navigation is clear, it provides the user with a sense of belonging. However, if the user struggles to find what they’re looking for, they may feel lost and will question the site’s intent. Trust is the bridge a designer builds between themselves and the user, and confusing navigation can quickly burn that bridge.

No one wants to build a cookie cutter website or be a copycat, but branch out too far and you’ll only confuse your customers. There are ways of being unique while maintaining standardization. Navigation design needs to be intuitive, descriptive, and unadorned with the singular intention of helping the user get to where they need to go.


Despite her confusion, Sally clicks on “Electronics” and sees a list of categories. Before she can select one, her subconscious kicks in again.

craigslist screenshot

"This site looks really dated. How can I be sure it's secure? What are these options? I feel like this site doesn't care enough to pay attention to the details. What else are they overlooking? Will my information be safe if I buy something?"

Professionalism matters. This may seem obvious, but sites need to look up to date like they aren’t a scam. This means copious attention to detail. Small things, such as choice of font, can create massive user drop off. Confusing or sloppy layout designs hurt trust immediately and make users question the legitimacy of your site.

Make deliberate decisions. You don’t need to be the same as everyone else, but the flow should make sense to the user. Layout issues are one of the most common findings in UserTesting’s studies.


Despite her misgivings, Sally soldiers on (she really wants to find a TV). She searches in the search bar “TV” and receives an overwhelming number of TV related items.

craigslist screenshot

"What am I looking at here? I just want TVs. There are too many options. Can't I filter the results? I don't even know where to start."

One of the most common findings the UserTesting research team identifies is a miscommunication of information. With miscommunication of important information, we can instantly lose trust. Miscommunication can fall in multiple categories:

  • Lack of information: If users don’t see all the information they were expecting, they’ll wonder what the site is leaving out. This is one of the fastest ways to lose trust. Customers should never feel like something’s being hidden from them.
  • Too much information: Seeing too much text on a page is one of the quickest ways users lose interest and leave the site. People hate uncertainty. And when users are faced with too much information, they can become uncertain. When users are uncertain, he or she might actually be more likely to make a worse decision than when information is limited.
  • Information placement: Users tend to read a page in a Z-like pattern, starting in the top left and ending in the bottom right. Plan the placement of your text accordingly. The most important information should be located in the first place someone would think to look. If people feel that important information—such as price—is hidden, they’ll question the site’s motivations and you’ll lose your user’s trust.

  Sally chooses to leave this page. Despite her strong desire to buy a TV, the combination of confusing navigation, outdated design, and overwhelming and disorganized information encourage her to take her business to another site.

When designing a website, you encounter many opportunities to offer trust.  Whether your brand is relatively new or you’re are a household name, building trust with first-time users is critical.  If designers don’t capitalize on establishing trust within the first few minutes, users will quickly leave your site. It’s is important to understand trust and the role trustworthiness plays on a site’s conversion rate. You might have a stellar product, but if the security, privacy, or aesthetics (along with many other factors) are not up to par, your conversion rate will suffer.  How are you building trust on your website? Not sure if users totally trust your site? Test it out and understand your user’s emotions throughout their experience. Then finally, you’ll learn how to build trust and create a rock star user experience!

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