User’s Safety in User Experience Design (P1)

Ace Vu
4 min readDec 30, 2015

Why should user experience designers and researchers think about safety and security of their users?

One of the key questions we often ask ourselves when creating a product is, “How easy is this product for the users to use?” Then, we come up with different interaction concepts, test and enhance the experience. However, during the whole process, how many prioritize the users’ safety at the top of our mind? I am not talking about security breach or data leak, but the safety of an experience whether the users are inside or outside of the app.

Paul Goddin’s Flickr

Some examples that put user’s safety in mind are Uber and Airbnb. Uber faced extreme heat when multiples incidents were reported, ranging from alleged sexual assaults, driver’s DUI, racism, to a rider allegedly assaulting driver. These incidents are constantly reported on Who’s Driving You’s website. Then, comes the Uber’s panic button (available in India and some US’s cities) which will automatically generates an SOS alert and sends it to the local law enforcement when a user pushes the button. This solution may act as a lifebuoy should an unfortunate incident occur. However, the button is yet a perfect solution to prevent aforementioned incidents from happening. In fact, it’s still a reactive solution. It’s well-known that Uber’s strategy is to have as many drivers on the road as possible; therefore, having a strict approving driver process would hurt their growth plan. Nonetheless, there should be more than just a panic button which we may have not gotten a chance to push if we were already dead.

When creating a new product, we all want it to provide a wonderful experience, something new, fresh and seamless. However, we shouldn’t forget that building a product is just like building a home, an office, a space, or a building. There should be a first aid kit, a fire distinguisher, or an emergency exit.

I’m sure most of us have heard of the story took place in 2011 when an Airbnb user’s home was utterly trashed. Airbnb was under great pressure to respond to the situation and to prevent any horrible experience from happening again to users.

Part of their solution is to change the policies. Back then, Airbnb would not let the hosts know who was renting the place till the last moment. Now, their hosts have an option to approve renters along with asking for a security deposit. As Airbnb developed more layers to their security user flow, they included a 1M host guarantee.Of course, they might not have been able to fulfill these guarantees at the early stage as many startups often lack the time, funding, and resources. Yet, they still could have let the hosts know and approve the renters just like Uber could have had the panic button since the start.

So the question is why did they not do it at the early stage?

It’s understanding that many startups at the early stage want to focus on growing their users and scaling their business. Thus, adding some safety constraints to the user flow may hold companies back from their potential growth. Had Uber added the panic button from the start, it might have created an unsafe image perception to their product, negatively influencing users’ decision to install the app. Additionally, they might have not thought of encountering such incidents while developing the product, and instead focused solely on getting the product out on the market. If Airbnb had all those types of secured step, it would lengthen and fraction their user flow. Perhaps this is the challenge product designers should aim to solve when designing the flow. How do we ensure safety and simplicity coexist?

As user experience designers, we should ask ourselves these two questions:

  • What would the users do if something unfortunate happened?
  • What are the fastest ways for the users to get help or be informed in solving the problem by themselves?

As user experience designers, researchers, product designers, we have our part in building a product. We want the product to be safe and well thought-out. What we can do is to be proactive, not reactive. We should design for the worst case scenario, not waiting for it to happen, then put a bandage on. Sometimes, it may be too late.

Have question, agreement, disagreement, or thoughts? I would love to hear them all. Feel free to comment below and share your perspective on this topic.



Ace Vu

Storyteller, UX Designer, Accessibility Advocate, and World’s Beauty Admirer