Design, Trust, and Peekaboo

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I always liked that line, “If you want to capture someone’s attentionwhisper.” It makes you stop and think for a minute. Another line I swore was my personal tagline in my dating years was, “Once bitten, twice shy.” Both of these can be applied to user centered web design.

Kathy Sierra captured my attention with her Cognitive Seduction and the “peekaboo” law. She has fun reminding us that a little bit of something can be major hit with our brain. If you got the idea that web site visitors don’t want to think, well, it’s more like they don’t want to work very hard. When you drop popcorn in their path, create mystery and intrigue, flirt, and purposely leave out something that demands further investigation or you’ll die, then you’ve found a key persuasive technique.

Kathy refers to it as the “peekaboo”.

She writes,

    “In my workshops and talks, I show a series of photos where things are not fully resolved… a face hidden behind a hand, a (potentially naked) woman staring intently at an object you can’t quite see, the lower half of a young man suspended in air next to a tree, where you can’t see the ground OR anything above his waist (is he hanging from the tree? on a trampoline? in the midst of an alien abduction?) To the brain, these “Hmmm… what’s the story here?” images are virtually irresistible. The brain needs to figure it out, and enjoys the experience.

I like to look for these “peekaboo” thingy’s when I do usability audits, especially in travel and hotel sites. It’s not easy to incorporate “peekaboo”. One site of Yurts and Teepees had me dreaming for weeks because some of their pictures offered small glimpses inside them. Just enough. Not the whole inside. But enough to imagine myself there…


Once you engage your website visitor and have them eating out of your hand, you can just as easily lose them if they see any sign that you, or your business, service or product are dishonest or not credible. All kinds of things can set someone off and you were so close. You had that click!

Human Factors International’s November issue of its UI Design newsletter has a piece called Can one build a Web site or application that engenders trust?

They define trust as it pertains to page and application design. In simple terms, trust is when we are confident that we will achieve our goal(s). It is also the belief that we will be treated with respect and not “exploited.”

You may think this is not worth considering as a business requirement for your website or application. However, consider what’s happening outside the Internet (in the USA anyway.) We are asked for our zip code or phone number when we check out from a store. This is often an unwelcome surprise. There is a gas station in my area that will not let you put gas into your car until you enter your zip code into the gas pump first.

These requirements breed mistrust and put us in situations we dislike. Sometimes if you say “no” to giving your personal information, a sales clerk acts offended. I think there should be a warning for any place of business that asks or demands your personal information before accepting or completing a transaction.

The same goes for the Internet. It’s highly invasive and filled with trickery. Finding websites you trust doing business with is important. Designing for trust is vital.
The HFI article includes a checklist of items that help generate trust. You may want to review it to see how your web property is doing.

Related discussion: A Slight Challenge To “Don’t Make Me Think”



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Uability Consultant, Kimberly Krause Berg, is the owner of UsabilityEffect.com, Cre8pc.com, and Cre8asiteForums. Her background in organic search engine optimization, combined with web site usability consulting, offers unique insight into web site development.

Design, Trust, and Peekaboo
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