Suppose a car alarm goes off in a parking garage. Do you:

  1. Call the police and inform them that there’s a burglary in progress.
  2. Check the car to see if there is anything wrong.
  3. Ignore it completely and hope it stops soon.
  4. Go somewhere else to avoid the noise.

It’s pretty much a sure thing that you won’t do options 1 or 2. Why? Because you’ve learned from experience that it’s almost certainly a false alarm. You’ve probably never seen a car alarm go off that wasn’t a false alarm.

A trustworthy user experience (TUX) earns the user’s trust so that they are willing to rely upon and take risks with it. By contrast, an experience that fails to earn the user’s trust SUX (where you can provide your own “s”).

Let’s change this scenario slightly to make it a bit more interesting. Suppose the built-in CO detector near your bedrooms goes off in the middle of the night. Do you:

  1. Evacuate your family to safety.
  2. Call your heating guy to fix the problem.
  3. Inspect your home for gas leaks.
  4. Turn the damn thing off and go back to bed.
  5. Ignore it and have your family die of carbon monoxide poisoning.

The first time this happened to me, I did both options 1 and 2. It was a false alarm—the unit had failed and needed to be replaced. (And BTW, having the heating guy verify that it was false plus having the home security guy replace the defective unit cost me a small fortune.)

This happened a second time just recently. This time, I did options 3 and 4. The awful dilemma here is that it’s very difficult for a homeowner to be absolutely sure that option 4 isn’t really option 5. Fortunately, I had a spare plugin CO detector, so I was able to verify that things were safe. Again, it turned out to be a false alarm—the power supply to the built-in unit had died and needed to be replaced.

What both scenarios have in common is that they require trust, but both failed to earn it because false alarms are so much more common than real ones, nor are they easily distinguishable.

Is there a solution?

Yes, there’s a simple solution: The key is to earn the user’s trust by providing specific information. With a poorly designed CO detector, all failure states have the same results: the alarm going off. With a well designed CO detector, the unit earns the user’s trust by providing specific, easy-to-differentiate information—the amount of CO detected, a low power indicator, a general failure indicator, etc. With this specific information, the user can check the status and make an informed decision on what action to take. Those CO units with the status displays—or any other type of alarm system with specific status—are well worth the extra money.

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