The principles of designing for blockchain

4 min read
Sam Carter
  •  Feb 9, 2018
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Blockchain has the potential to create one of the largest paradigm shifts in the business world. Over the next decade and beyond, we have the power to re-wire operations and processes across the globe.

We’re only beginning to discover how we can apply blockchain technology. It’s currently creating huge interest as it becomes more mainstream and accepted. Words like crypto, bitcoin, and blockchain have entered the general conversation and vocabulary, resulting in increased curiosity and major FOMO.

And it has led to an explosion in the design and development of new applications.

Related: The user experience of blockchain

As designers, we’re responsible for guiding our users through this transition—people are still trying to learn about the benefits of blockchain and what it means for them.  The team here at TradeIX is currently tackling these challenges as we leverage blockchain technology for trade finance solutions.

How do we approach design for such complex systems?

We’ve identified four principles that we believe are important to consider for blockchain application design at our organization:

1. Exposure

Replacing established processes and systems with a black box can be disconcerting to a lot of users, especially when involved in moving large assets. Some people want to see and understand how blockchain technology is replacing their previous processes.

In order to create trust in the new technology, the user needs to understand and see how the application processes work. We want to help the user understand how blockchain is working for them to improve their processes, such as data visibility, audit trails, and provenance.

Examples of how we apply this principle:

  1. Interactive timelines showing the transformation of entities throughout the process
  2. Including summarized blockchain information available to the user
  3. Enabling the user to see a complete and concise view of their entire process and assets through interactive dashboards and visualizations

2. Consistency—(thanks to design systems

With so many entities interacting along supply chains with different statuses and documents, we put a lot of effort into our visual design system. We’ve found that with the consolidation of information into the blockchain, visual identity of assets and status become vital to usability. Empowering the user to carry out their tasks efficiently without overwhelming them is key.

Related: Learn about InVision Design System Manager

User experience must be visually consistent across different products.Twitter Logo This includes the general layout of the applications, colors, icons, and typography used for the user interface.

Leveraging common design patterns results in a reduction in the amount of learning required by the user. Having a consistent design allows puts users at easeTwitter Logo, and it enables adoption and learning—which is so important, particularly with new technologies like blockchain.

Examples of how we apply this principle

  1. Implement a single source of truth in the form of a design system by using InVision Design System Manager
  2. Visual code for identifying different entities and statuses throughout our applications
  3. Reusable interaction models for core actions

“Consistent design puts users at ease.”

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3. Communication

While many blockchain applications are similar to commonly understood technology solutions, they can be significantly different. We operate with the understanding that we’re designing a platform that can have a wide range of user types entering at different stages of the process.

Some of these users are highly analytical and technical, looking for fine-grained detail, while others just have simple tasks to carry out.

Knowing our users is central to the process, especially operating cross-border. The language used in the applications should be clear, concise, and in alignment with the user’s natural communication patterns.

Because the very definition of blockchain is distributed, designing user interfaces with internationalization in mind is key.

Examples of how we apply this principle:

  1. Global user mindset. Our products are used around the world, so we have to keep this in the front of our minds throughout the design process.
  2. Clear user personas that take into account their subject matter knowledge and level of interaction in the process.
  3. “How can we help the user carry out their tasks more efficiently?” We ask this question to work out how we can build smarter applications.

“Leveraging common design patterns reduces the amount of learning required by the user.”

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4. Trust

When dealing with highly sensitive data, maintaining the user’s trust is critical. Users must perceive the applications to be reliable, trustworthy, and stable. This is accomplished through data exposure, consistency, feedback, and active guidance. Designing this into our products means providing the user with clear feedback and active guidance through the task at hand.

Examples of how we apply this principle:

  1. No assumptions by making it clear to the user what they have done or are about to do, which is especially important in financial trading applications
  2. Design onboarding into the product
  3. Ensure we have a clear and up-to-date security model that the whole team knows about


Designing user interfaces for applications leveraging blockchain technology is an exciting challenge and a totally new experience. The closer you get to it, the more it opens up a new set of possibilities.

In many ways, blockchain technology brings a real transformation, and when aligned with design thinking could be a catalyst for a new wave of user experiences that may very well change how users interact between themselves and via applications.

It’s important to appreciate the effect this will have on our users and their day-to-day tasks. There’s always a danger of alienating the user when introducing new ideas and concepts, so it’s critical to have them at the center of the process. Having a strong set of principles at the core of the design process helps with this—and it focuses the team’s thinking.

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