Here’s the first rule of blockchain UX: Users don’t really care about blockchain.
They don’t really care that your product is a decentralized application leveraging a layer 2 token incentivized sidechain where node verifiers are financially incentivized to come to consensus, secured by PlasmaBank, that publishes immutable data to a public ledger while giving you a Merkle proof to verify the legitimacy of this data.
Personally, I couldn’t care less if you had a token that could end world poverty. I would only care if you could end world poverty—token or no token.
It’s not that I have something against blockchain. In fact, I believe it has a number of tremendous use cases:
- Reducing fees from middlemen, or removing middlemen
- Recording public records (think real estate or government documents)
- Verifying identity
- Preventing fraud
- Enforcing regulations and protocols
- Keeping larger organizations in check
- Providing transparency, or even creating privacy
The point is that before it can become widely adopted, blockchain must fix its user experience problem. And that’s because most users don’t really care about blockchain—they just want something that works.
“We need to make blockchain more accessible, easier to understand, and easier to use.”
The state of blockchain UX
Emerging technologies are usually engineering driven. As a result, they’re very technical, not user-friendly, and the average person doesn’t yet see the value in them.
Think about the adoption of computers or the internet.
Some of the first computers provided accuracy and speed in computations, but they were large machines that took up a lot of space and required specialized training to use.
Related: The surprisingly unknown history of women in computing
The internet was first created, as we know it, in 1983, and opened up an international communication network that never existed before. But it was very technical and only accessible to a select few people. It wasn’t until the 90s that the internet saw mainstream adoption with more accessible applications like email.
For both of these technologies, it took time before they were adopted by the masses. Why? Here’s a couple of reasons:
It was too costly to have your own computer, too hard to learn the complexities of the internet, and the technologies weren’t publicly available. Plus, computers took up too much space (if you could even buy them).
No perceived value
It takes a long time to bridge the knowledge gap. It took time for people to understand the value these technologies could provide them, much less understand how to use them. And education was limited.
“Most users don’t really care about blockchain—they just want something that works.”
So what does this have to do with blockchain? Well, blockchain UX is currently facing similar issues. With blockchain, we are in the early stages of a technology that people don’t quite understand how to use, just like we were with computers and the internet. It’s not until we make blockchain more accessible—with applications that have clear value—that adoption of blockchain technology will increase significantly.
Blockchain’s accessibility problem
Users just want your product to help them do something, and they don’t necessarily care how your product does that. Blockchain is a means to an end. Consumers don’t necessarily care that the product reached consensus via a token incentivized sidechain using a PoS that recorded to the rootchain.
They just want to be able to use your product without any friction. If they want to buy something, they want to be able to find it fast and pay for it quickly. If they are bored then they’ll want something that’s enjoyable (Instagram stories, Facebook timeline, Pinterest wall). And they want to do all this safely, affordably, securely, easily, and fast.
Related: The principles of designing for blockchain
Blockchain is in a weird space: as consumers we’ve become obsessed with understanding how it works, which in turn makes it a much more intimidating product to adopt. The thing is, blockchain isn’t a product by itself—it’s a technology to build products.
“It’s not until we make blockchain more accessible—with applications that have clear value—that adoption of blockchain technology will increase significantly.”
In the end, users shouldn’t necessarily know your product is built with blockchain technology. I guarantee most people don’t know anything about the protocols the internet is built on. They simply need to have the confidence that whatever you built on top of blockchain is going to work in the way they need it to work.
How to make blockchain user friendly
We need to make blockchain more accessible, easier to understand, and easier to use. Instead of being the original computer that takes up an entire room, let’s turn blockchain into the affordable smartphone that comfortably sits in everyone’s pocket.
Fewer moving pieces
Currently, if I want to buy a cryptocurrency I have to move fiat money to a platform, understand the conversions from fiat to cryptocurrency, understand the gas cost associated with my purchase, understand how long it might take to receive, make sure I have my correct private and public keys, then get a physical wallet to help me secure my cryptocurrency. Then I have to store my private and public keys for when I want to convert this cryptocurrency to fiat money. It shouldn’t be like this. We need to eliminate all these steps and make this process easier and, if possible, familiar to what users are already doing.
“Users just want your product to help them do something, and they don’t necessarily care how your product does that.”
Talk like a human
If your users aren’t engineers or technical product managers, then don’t speak to them like they are.
Everyone does not need to know everything about everything. Instead, give them just what they need and let advanced technical users dig around to find the details. This is a paradigm advanced users are already used to.
Leverage the default effect and setup your products for how users should be using your product. Don’t give them every single control or every single key or every single option. Again, more advanced users know how to dig around to find what they need.
Limit the tech abbreviations
Something I’ve learned in my product management and user experience career is that clarity is better than brevity. We want to keep things as simple as possible, but when push comes to shove, be sure to explain things clearly rather than trying to explain something in short. Even though you might know what BFT is, most will not.
“Clarity is better than brevity.”
Rethink common blockchain UX practices
For example, do we really need tokens for every application using blockchain? As a product person with an emphasis in user experience, it pains me to think users might have to go through some custom flow to use that application or get value from it.
I believe blockchain will make big changes in many industries, but some work still needs to be done.
I hope some product managers and engineers realize how they might help make blockchain more accessible, easier to understand, and easier to use.
As I continue in the world of the highly technical and complex blockchain industry, I hope to make it easier.
Michael is Director of User Experience at Lucidity, which was awarded Blockchain Startup of 2018 at The Blocks Awards and Best Marketing Analytics Attribution Platform at The DigiDay Tech Awards. He is an award-winning user experience designer, having founded and advised several companies ranging from the #1 paid social networking app in the iTunes store to the most used hospice software in the country. He loves turning ideas into tangible working products and believes in a holistic user experience that also includes elements outside the confinements of just the digital screen. He has helped companies like Grindr, Honda, EXOS, MC & Saatchi, Daily Associates, Ohio State University, HCHB, DivX, and Entertainment Arts. Michael has taught at UCLA and Cal State Long Beach and received his BA from UC Irvine.