Imagine you're walking down the street in your favorite shopping area. As you walk past a new store, you see a mannequin in the window wearing that cool jacket you have been looking for for ages. "Finally, I found it!" You run in, grab the jacket, and try it on. It's a perfect fit. Then, you read the price tag: only 100 euros! Excited, you go to the register. The store owner tells you how to take proper care of the jacket. You pay up, get the receipt and walk out with a smile on your face. You are now the proud owner of a kick-ass jacket! Pretty satisfying sequence of events, right?
Now, imagine you're walking in that same shopping area and you walk past that same store. But, before you see the jacket in the window, the owner bolts out the door and yells: "Hey you! Yes you! Want to buy the jacket you have been looking for for ages? Give me 100 euros and I will get it for you." I think it's fair to say that you won't be that excited to take the shop owner's offer without seeing the jacket first. Even if it turns out to be the same jacket, there surely must be something wrong with it… Why else would the store owner not show it to you before taking your money?
These are two completely different scenarios for buying the same jacket. One we are perfectly comfortable with, and one that makes us… slightly hesitant. But why are we more comfortable with the first scenario?
It is about trust and transparency
In the first scenario, we see what the jacket looks like first. We get to try it on, see if it fits well and we know the price before anyone is charging us anything. This is transparency. The store owner is friendly to you, she tells you how to take care of your jacket and you get a receipt. This establishes trust. None of these things happen in the second scenario. Transparency and trust are two key ingredients for good trade.
Asking smartphone users for permission when they use an app is like selling a jacket. It is, in fact, a trade. Users give you something, like access to their camera or location. And you give them something in return: a better working app.
Transparency and trust are two key ingredients for good trade.
Asking for permissions is like a trade where the user is your customer.
Anticipate users' expectations
When you download a navigation app, you probably expect that the app will need your location data. If the app immediately asks for your permission when you first open it, that's less of a problem than if a news application would do the same thing. For users, it's pretty clear why a navigation app would need their location, so they are more likely to grant permission. However, the further away the requested permission lies from your app's core functionality, the more effort you need to put in to make things transparent and earn users' trust. For a news app, you might want to create transparency for why you need the location permission.
The further away the requested permission lies from your app's core functionality, the more effort you need to put in to make things transparent and earn users' trust.
Explain what users get in return
Although it might not be clear to the user right away, giving a permission can offer them great service. A news app can, for example, serve local news based on the user's location. This is something that might be of great value to the user, but not necessarily something the user knows the app can do. That's why you should consider onboarding the permission, by explaining what the user gets in return. Make it feel like a good trade, instead of a demand. Focus on what they get from you, instead of what you need from them.
Focus on what they get from you, instead of what you need from them.
Permission onboarding screen for NUsport: a sport news app that lets you watch the UEFA Champions League with the Location permission. The focus here is the UCL, not the permission.
Explain what you won't do
Like the picture at the top of this blog, asking for permission is a bit like valet parking someone's car. The user gives you the keys to something that is valuable to them and they expect you to take good care of it. In case of the car, they expect you to not damage the car and bring it back when they need it. The valet gains their trust by showing that he is trained and can be trusted to do the job by wearing the uniform. Standing in front of the hotel also puts the mind at ease. The user knows he is in an environment he can trust. (Imagine a valet standing in the middle of nowhere; would you still feel like you could trust them?)
In an app, there are no nice uniforms or real-life locations to put the user's mind at easy. You need to tell them that you are not going to crash their car and that you won't steal it from them.
In case of the news app location permission, tell them you will not constantly track their location but only fetch it when the app loads. Tell them you will use their location only for offering local news and not for something else, like local ads. Even if you use the permission for something you fear users might not like, be honest about it. Once they feel like you did not disclose the terms of the trade fairly, you will lose their trust and it is very unlikely you will ever regain it.
This guy looks trustworthy and ready for the job
Users give you to keys to something that's valuable to them and they expect you to take good care of it.
Let users explore
Let's return to the example of the jacket and the store owner. The reasons we feel comfortable in the first scenario and hesitant in scenario two? In scenario one, we get to explore first. You can tell users what they want or need, but it's better if they feel or know what they need themselves. For this reason, push asking for permission as far back in the user's flow as possible. Let them look around and get familiar with your product. Let them wander around in the shop to see if there are more cool or perhaps cheaper jackets lying around. Only ask for permissions when you really need to. Even in case of a navigation app, you could consider letting the user land in the app without asking for the location permission first. Once the user tries to start navigating from their current location, ask for the permission. They will immediately see the necessity of granting permission.
You can tell users what they want or need, but it's better if they feel or know what they need themselves.
Be polite and have a back-up plan
You can take all the precautions in the world. You can read a million blogs about permissions and implement every tip in there. Still, a large group of users is still going to say 'no' to your permission request. The most important thing to do, is to not make this group feel left out. Try to always have a backup plan for how your app can function without the needed permissions. In case of the navigation app, you could still calculate a route from a location entered manually. When your app calculates this route, tell users you cannot give them turn by turn navigation because you don't have the right permission to do so. Be polite and tell them how they can grant your app permission in case they decide to change their mind. No dead ends!
Always have a backup plan for how your app can function without the needed permissions.
Permission fallback screen for NUsport
Thats it! Now, you should be all set for asking permissions in the right. Oh, and also for running a clothing store without bolting out the door and screaming at potential customers…
Want to read more about designing great user experiences? Check out our other design blogs!