Margot Bloomstein, an alumna of Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Design (BFA ’00) and principal at Appropriate, Inc., will soon be releasing Trustworthy: How the Smartest Brands Beat Cynicism and Bridge the Trust Gap. The book, published by Page Two Books, looks at the way brands and businesses can find success by embracing the ideas of trust and hope in the face of cynicism.
“Leading up to the 2016 election, I started to notice how both voters and many media outlets were holding politicians in a different regard,” said Bloomstein on the inspiration behind Trustworthy. “It used to be that if we caught them in a lie, that was the end of the campaign. But something was different. Candidates on both sides of the aisle were playing fast and loose with the truth, and it didn’t seem to change the loyalty and faith of their supporters. Were we suffering from confirmation bias? Was this the outcome of cultural predisposition? Or was something else at play—and how broad was its impact?”
Bloomstein began her work on the book in 2016 by researching how campaigns, then organizations, and then brands maintain trust and what causes them to lose it.
“Over the past several years, gaslighting by politicians and politically-aligned media has eroded the ability of people to trust outside sources of expertise, as well as their own gut instincts,” continued Bloomstein. “When that happens, people become cynical and feel like they can’t trust anything: brands, governments, science, you name it. That’s an issue that drives vaccine skepticism, endangers public health, and undermines marketing across all industries. The problem of cynicism that began in the political arena now affects all industries and our broader economy.
“If we want to right the ship and nurture a healthier, more engaged society, we need to address cynicism, renew trust, and rebuild our capability to trust.”
For Trustworthy, Bloomstein sat down with more than two dozen creative directors, designers, writers, content strategists, and chief marketing officers in organizations like America’s Test Kitchen, the FBI, TED, Banana Republic, British National Health Service, and state elections commissions to work out the common threads that build trust. Based on that research, Bloomstein developed a new framework for designers and writers to foster trust and empower users.
“Cynicism holds us back because it separates us from our responsibilities to the world and to each other,” added Bloomstein. “We won’t reinvigorate the economy, build a more equitable justice system, or help people participate in government without empowering them and beating back cynicism.
“But this is why I have hope: Cynics look at the world as it is and say it’s worse—and have no plan or interest to change it. Designers look at the world as it is and say it can be better. We help people engage with the world, and try to change it so that it’s better, easier, and more intuitive to engage. We help people feel confident and make decisions with confidence—and that requires trust.”
After graduating from Carnegie Mellon University, Bloomstein started as a content strategist at Sapient before moving on to a role in shaping content strategy and creative direction at Timberland. It was at Timberland where Bloomstein learned “the potential of business to act as a force for good—and the responsibility of businesses to the communities in which they participate.”
In 2010, Bloomstein formed Appropriate, Inc., a brand and content strategy consultancy based in Boston. Her clients include the American Montessori Society, Harvard University, Sallie Mae, Lovehoney, Scholastic, Pitney Bowes, Lindt and Sprüngli, and Al Jazeera.
“Each brand provides perspective on the others, as the variety broadens my thinking and helps me find trends and patterns to pursue,” said Bloomstein.
In 2012, Bloomstein wrote Content Strategy at Work: Real-World Stories to Strengthen Every Interactive Project, which takes a message architecture-driven approach to content strategy. After that, Bloomstein launched BrandSort, a tool embraced by consultancies and practitioners to help their clients clarify their communication goals. Bloomstein has also been a featured speaker at SXSW, keynotes and teaches workshops around the world, and lectures in the graduate program at FH Joanneum University in Graz, Austria.
Looking back at her time at the School of Design, Bloomstein fondly remembers the rich and varied experiences she had at CMU.
“Between first-year figure drawing, color compositions of fruit salad with Karen Moyer and Mark Mentzer, working in the darkroom with Charlee Brodsky, or visiting a mobile home factory senior year, I learned how to slow down, look, and see,” said Bloomstein. “Which was good, because outside of class I was always going! I was a tour guide, designer for SDC and student life events, and a booth chair for Fringe. Kitchen performance art, lunchtime runs to Dave & Andy’s, and wonderful memories of life on Beeler Street still make me grin.
“My education in design taught me to engage the world with optimism, empathy, and a problem-solving mindset,” continued Bloomstein. “It didn’t offer me the privilege of seeing a world without problems, but did arm me with the belief that by listening to the people most affected, I would be able to address their problems. I may not solve things today through typography and color or form language, but I still consider myself a designer. Visual and verbal communication, user research, and attention to detail still matter.
“Carnegie Mellon connected me with a priceless community of big thinkers, problem solvers, and dear friends who helped me think bigger and work harder than I ever imagined. The School of Design helped me develop a portable tool set and perspective to choose the right work and pick the right problems to solve.
“I can’t imagine navigating the world or my career without any of that.”
“Trustworthy: How the Smartest Brands Beat Cynicism and Bridge the Trust Gap” is available for preorder now and will be released on March 2nd, 2021.