6 tips to improve user security with UX design

Tereza Stehlikova 11 Nov 2022

It’s up to designers to use the right tools and techniques to strike an optimal balance between security and functionality.

Neglecting user security puts users at risk financially, professionally and even sometimes physically. When it comes to user experience, we can safely say that it has become very important to think about user security when designing digital products. 

As UX designers, we must recognize that the real goal of security is to minimize the relative amount of unauthorized use across a system. Let’s learn why user security is a crucial aspect of user experience design.

For some time, there has been growing tension between security and design. Security aims to make systems hard to access for unauthorized users, whereas usability design seeks to create systems that are easy for users to use and would require no special access procedures with.

This has been an ongoing conversation and sometimes, it doesn't seem possible for design and security to co-exist. It is important to note that security isn’t a trend or promotional tactic — instead, it’s a crucial aspect of user experience and interface design.

Busting security myths

There have been a number of existing myths that have been passed around in the conversation of design and security, which we’ll now dive into.

There's a common belief that people don't care about security. This is not entirely true. People do care, but typically, they look at security from a long-term perspective. 

In other words, everyone wants their personal data and property to be safe (that’s why they install expensive door locks and security cameras!). However, running into a sudden security notification is something different, and sometimes, it can come across as more of a nuisance than a warning. This is often because at the particular moment when a person is opening a particular app or website, they’re doing it for a reason. In most cases, they’re just trying to accomplish a task as quickly and easily as possible.

When users run into pop-up notifications telling them about a security issue that hinders them from reaching their goal, that hindrance becomes a roadblock between the user and the task at hand.

This is an issue, since people don’t care about roadblocks — they look for ways around them and can almost always find them. When security is something that obstructs the process, people will find a workaround. 

Jared Spool said it best when he summarized a key principle of security: 
“If it’s not usable, it’s not secure.” 

We can conclude that building security walls in front of people who are simply trying to do their job doesn’t work, but fortunately, other approaches do.

Does security require shutting everything down?

There’s UX security that doesn’t shut down or lock anything. It keeps users safe and stays invisible to them. The evolution of CAPTCHA is the perfect illustration of how it is possible. There’s also Google’s “I’m not a robot” checkbox that makes you literally do nothing but tap a checkbox to prove that you’re human. 

Two-factor authentication has also become a common protective measure. This form of authentication adds an extra layer of security to the username and password standard. Users should be presented with subtle security checks that they can always decipher.

As UX designers, we can design interfaces that are simple and secure without compromising the quality of either. When you’re starting with building a product that would require sensitive user data, it is important to start thinking about security early on in the design process.

Work together with stakeholders and your security team on user security early

Ensure that your UX design team, your security team, and other relevant stakeholders are actually working together, ideally in the user research process or at least during the initial product design phase. This will help ensure that the whole team is focused on designing a secure and usable digital product. There are relevant laws that designers need to be aware of when designing digital products for users with security in mind. 

HIPAA is a privacy rule that was created to safeguard data and information stored in medical records, and it’s an important rule that must be adhered to when designing digital products in the medical space. PCI DSS is also another important privacy standard in the fintech space which ensures that any company that accepts, processes, stores or transmits credit card information, does so in a secure environment. Both HIPAA and PCI DSS are prime examples of laws that help enhance user security.

On a relatively new design team, some UX designers may not know about these existing laws, so it's important to have all relevant stakeholders on a team before carrying out or designing any big project.

UX design tips for increasing user data security

1. Explore encryption

Encryption is a method of converting sensitive information into a code that appears to be random. It’s an important design consideration in digital products with communication features. It is usually found in apps where calls, texts, videos, images, and documents are frequently exchanged. For example, Telegram utilizes end-to-end encryption to ensure that only the users involved in a conversation can see the data being exchanged.

This means that no one, including staff at the company, data criminals, or even the federal government can see the content of messages or data exchanged. 

When users know that their information is protected by such measures, they’re much more willing to extend trust.

2. Use a transparency-first approach

There is no clear intention of ethical data collection on an app or website without transparency and honesty about the process used. Apps and websites need to clearly inform users about the specific data that’s being collected and why it’s needed. 

It’s important to do more than provide a basic link to a privacy policy. Most users won’t take the time to read it in full. Those who do, may become confused and frustrated by the complex legal terms.

One of the key responsibilities as a designer is to provide an easy-to-access, easy-to-understand overview of a site’s privacy policy. Offering users this overview empowers them to make informed decisions about the data collection they consent to. This will build trust between them and a product.

3. Enhance safe user privacy and data options

It’s important to note that digital products are made for users, not the other way around. Users’ interactions with products should never come with the risk that their data will be leaked or stolen. Most cybercrimes are carried out with the intent of obtaining users’ personal data, but UX designers can help. How so? By implementing features that encourage users to choose stronger passwords and avoid placing excessive personal details online.

Many people choose to reuse the same, easy-to-remember passwords across multiple digital platforms. Unfortunately, as modern security measures evolve, so do the tools hackers use to gain access to sensitive information. Inform users why they need a stronger password during authentication and help them understand the necessity of securing their data and privacy. The more protected their personal details are, the better.

4. Remove unnecessary security obstacles

If product security depends on incorporating all stakeholders, then as a UX designer, you must take the time to consult with developers and cybersecurity professionals. Developers typically have constraints that affect the design, and they may be able to offer insights about the effectiveness of UX security features implemented by designers. Cybersecurity professionals can educate designers about the most up-to-date security strategies, tools, and compliance regulations.

A little caveat: ‘Consulting security experts is good, but when certain security measures are overdone, it makes digital products cumbersome and causes users to look elsewhere.’ Vague prompts like “Your internet connection isn’t secure” lead users to boycott security features meant for their protection.

Ultimately, it reflects poorly on businesses when legitimate users can’t accomplish tasks or find themselves locked out of their accounts because of over-complicated digital security. That is why you should carry out studies using usability testing tools to observe if users are able to use your products and your security measures are not getting in the way of usability.

5. Inform users about social engineering methods

Phishing, online fraud, and other cybercrimes rely heavily on social engineering strategies. There are measures you can easily integrate to protect users and convey that you are serious about their safety, like adding a pop-up notification to your product that provides updates on the latest tactics cybercriminals are using to trick people out of their personal information.

Phishing attacks are a pervasive and growing problem online, particularly on sites that facilitate digital financial transactions. Criminals conduct phishing attacks by impersonating official organizations like banks and government departments to request passwords and other personal information. Then, they use this information to steal personal data and money.

UX designers can notify users of available communication channels to report spam, fraud, or phishing attempts. This can be done via pop-up notification or CTA buttons that encourage users to report any issues that they encounter. If users have readily available contact options to report suspicious activity, they are more likely to use them than if they have to hunt for contact details.

6. Explore biometric authentication technologies

Biometric authentication technologies require physical verification of users’ identities, such as fingerprints or facial or eye scans. Fingerprint recognition is already a standard feature on many smartphones, tablets, and laptops. Many financial institutions have also begun to implement it as an added layer of security for their mobile apps.

The secret to biometric authentication’s success is the fact that it is all but impossible to circumvent. Each user’s physical features are unique, distinct, and are not easily replicated or forged. If your users have devices that are biometric-compatible, allow them to use this feature in place of their usernames and passwords, or better still, alongside them providing more secure options. Fingerprint recognition is the most cost-effective biometric technology to integrate into your product if you want to stay on top of user security in your UX design process.

Design for user security

Security without design can become so bothersome to users that it becomes ineffective, and design without security gives people no support in critical situations. With this in mind, it’s evident that user experience and security are far from being separate. The best-kept secret of security and UX design is that they actually can't survive without each other.

A product’s UX design is an integral part of its overall user security. In today’s world, users expect well-designed products that are safe, secure, and easy to use and navigate. It’s up to designers to use the right tools and techniques to strike an optimal balance between security and functionality.

As a UX designer, it’s crucial to incorporate these UX security tips to win users’ trust and keep their personal data safe and secure. Your business will benefit from increased user engagement, greater retention rate, and improved trust from your online user base.

--> -->