Chapter Five

Transmitting Integrity

Transmitting Integrity

Transmitting Integrity

Transmitting Integrity

Transmitting Integrity

Integrity is a virtue admired by all and cultivated by few. The harsh reality is that honesty isn’t always rewarded by humans. We have success story after success story seemingly teaching us that altering the truth never hurt anyone. We remediate our conscious with contagious phrases like, “It’s just business” and “What they don’t know won’t hurt them.”

I would venture to say that few of us were taught these lousy tactics by our loved ones. I’ve never met a grade school teacher endorsing dishonesty, yet it’s at an early age that we discover that half-truths can be handy shortcuts. To developing minds often the hardest aspect of honesty to convey is that duplicity wounds others. Deceit isn’t purely an outgrowth of pride; it’s bred in the absence of empathy.

Responsible design is costly to us because it’s vulnerable work. But we can’t let this risk paralyze us.


Trust grows slowly

Building trust takes time. While there are some people we encounter whose integrity is palpable and magnetic, most of us have to know someone intimately to fully trust them. This was put on full display during my time as a camp counselor. I could subject group after group to countless team-building exercises all in the name of building trust. 

Even while I coached these teams of youngsters along, I knew in the back of my mind that I, too, was scared of the Trust Fall. We all know this bit: you climb a ledge and blindly fall backwards while your team attempts a catch, and then once it’s over you all hug it out. One of the “lead by example” parts of this exercise was that I, the facilitator, would also complete a trust fall. This would happen most often with folks I had known for 24 hours at best.

Trust is contagious but we have to see it to know it’s real. I also believe that trust can be transmitted. I grew up in a small town where I experienced this everyday. Word of mouth was something that my fellow Southern Virginians took very seriously. It was bigger than the phrases I was taught like, “Do what you say you’re going to do.” and “You’re only as good as your word.” Trust moved from person to person. You knew you could trust a stranger because someone you cared about trusted them first.

While that transaction does require a great deal of faith, it is still laid upon a foundation of human relationship. And this is something that grows slowly.


Evolving transparency

We’ve often combated the problem of trust with transparency. The simplified thesis goes something like this: the more you know about us, the more you’ll trust us. However, what we discover is that disclosure doesn’t equate to trust. While transparency is a good and valuable virtue, it’s often only when users can see how things are made that they can fully appreciate their value.

However, it isn’t enough to simply demystify your process. “How does it work?” is one of many questions to answer. Communicating your intent honestly builds lasting trust. We’ve seen how this has been crucial in the consumer goods economy. We want to know more about the mission of the brands we purchase. It’s why our public discourse has reenergized words like authenticity. We’re tired of facades and more hungry for truth than ever.

When people discover that your design is unfeigned, they will naturally lean in.


How then shall we design?

How do we communicate integrity to others? What structure do we need to build in order for integrity to become foundational to our work?

Here’s a start:

1. Learn patience.
This is without one of the hardest virtues for me to foster in my life. Efficiency can feel at times like muscle memory. However in evaluating the most invaluable aspects of my life, I see the common pattern of time and trust. This will prove no different in our work.

2. Go beyond transparency.
Remember that transparency is crucial but not enough. While transparency is a great first step towards more honest design, it must be paired with refined intent.

3. Be humble.
It’s so simple yet feels so impossible. We are all a part of something so much bigger than ourselves. Don’t receive this maxim with callous ears. It’s truth. Thinking beyond ourselves will breed true community, and it is this connection with others that will organically fuel our creativity.


An honest transmission

With the world at our fingertips, via the technology in our pockets, truth feels enigmatic and elusive. Yet when we lean into the fundamental aspects of what makes us humans, we see that trust is built through relationship. There’s no substitute for meaningful interaction, so let’s stop trying to replace it with novelty and immediacy.

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Design Does. was written & produced by Jeremy D. Cherry.
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License — CC BY-NC-SA