Reflecting & Remixing this paper: https://bit.ly/cryptopaper (this article is a WIP)
This is a longer piece. Feel free to skip around – read till you get bored. Then feel free to click off!
You don't need to read things all the way through – follow your curiosity.
We're going to go over a few problems facing blockchains today. They'll mostly come from the perspective of UX and Usability. We'll discuss a few of the problems and suggest some potential solutions.
The 4 Horsemen of the Block-apocalypse
Horseman #1 - Resistance
Resisting change is an incredibly human problem. Much of modern life is in the pursuit of certain changes that will result in positive outcomes.
But we always encounter resistance.
Regardless of how noble & wise your end may be.
Whether it be for self-help or choosing which place to purchase coffee, we have our preferences & habits that get in the way of potentially new (and better) solutions.
More specifically, we experience the inertia of our habits.
Looking at the average internet user with an average affinity for technology...
Why would they switch from:
Facebook to Steemit?
Slack to Keybase?
Dropbox to Storj?
Twitter to Farcaster?
They wouldn't. And so a conclusion we might make for the time being is that crypto isn't for certain groups of people. This is a dangerous conclusion to draw because the early majority can tolerate a terrible UX but it won't convert them into long-term users. We should still focus on delivering the best UX we can, even for the people who aren't here yet.
Focus on making incremental changes that attempt to make your offering as universal as possible. You'll be leveraging the power of marginal gains.
Eventually, we'll be in the best position to capture new user groups & markets as they slowly come online.
Why should people change?
It's an h0nest question.
Why should someone go through ALL the hassle of switching from their comfortable, well-known, and reliable routines to an unknown, unknown?
Change from something that they've used every day without fail to something that might not even exist tomorrow.
I suspect perceived value has a key part to play in this resistance.
The Value Equation
Many web2 services have done a really great job at selling (increasing) the top and optimizing (decreasing) the bottom of this equation.
How have crypto products faired? Try reflecting on the products you have personally used. How valuable are they actually?
If our products aren't the best at solving the specific problems people have – regardless of the technology stack used (web2 or web3). Then how can you expect people to switch?
Fix: Offer Distinct Benefits
- Privacy (kinda?)
- Language Agnostic
- Host agnostic
- Fault proof
- Future proof
Maybe solve an actual problem people have better than anyone else?
Make Users Aware
So the plan is this:
- funnel users to your product
- make them aware of all the reasons why what they're doing now (web2) isn't great for them
- show them how you fixed it
- once you've created a "pull" – make it easy for them to switch
or (even better)
- understand your user's needs & problems.
- pick the technology that will help them the most.
- build that instead.
Horseman #2 - Onboarding
I will define onboarding as:
"...the system of actively guiding users to find new value in your product & the broader ecosystem.
Short 2 min video on this...
When you want to climb a mountain your goal is quite simple. Follow the trail and don't stop.
In crypto – the mountain trail isn't defined. You make your own trail. Now, there probably isn't one person that had an enjoyable experience getting lost on a mountain. But this is what happens to people in crypto.
The problem isn't that a trail doesn't exist.
The problem lies in the fact that the trail is discontinuous.
People have to "make up" what their next step should be – there aren't very many clear signposts telling you where to go next.
We're expecting people who have been behaving like farmers to suddenly become hunters.
Since the trail is discontinuous. We're essentially forced to forage. In the best case, we find the correct next step, in the worst case we quit. In the worst-worst case, we lose money.
Without prior motivation to stick to it – it's highly unlikely that people will stick around.
So what can we do?
Fix: Build Onboarding Tools & Flows
A solution to this is to build experiences that educate.
Have tutorials targeted toward specific user groups that have different levels of overall competency in crypto and educate them on what to do next.
Segment these tutorials by topic.
A potential user should think "Ok so this is what this product/tool does. Do I need any dependencies? Oh, I do! Looks like they've clearly laid out all the things I need. Let me do that. Nice! So after installing all the dependencies it looks like I am ready to go and the interface is telling me what to do next. Sweet!"
When people don't know what to do next – be the voice that will help orient & direct them to the places that are most relevant to them.
Horseman #3 - Usability
This should come as no surprise. If no one can use your product. You're dead.
We've come a long way though. Let's not throw out the learnings from the past 2 decades just because they apply to web2 technologies. Many of the paradigms still apply today.
Release an MVP. Build. Test. Learn. Iterate. It's all the same stuff.
UX Talent Shortage
A problem many crypto projects face is funding. They know they should probably hire someone that will help improve UX but they're busy trying to keep their ship afloat. Understandable. Unfortunate even.
Alongside that – usability/UX specialists are hard to come by. There is a severe shortage of crypto-native UX professionals.
Unbalanced Product Teams
Don't look at what they say, look at what they do. More specfically who they hire.
I see a lot of projects use "better UX" as a part of their USP but haven't hired a single UX Researcher or Designer.
This reflects a poor understanding of what UX actually means. And instead reduces the whole discipline down to a marketing gimmick.
I tend to be incredibly understanding of this fact. Many people who are building simply don't see the need to interview/study users – they instead rely on their "vision". Often times forget that in order to be successful you probably want people to use your stuff, so it won't hurt to speak to them.
Walk the talk. And you'll reap all the benefits that come from having a robust understanding of your users – good UX is a moat at the end of the day.
Horseman #4 - Constraint
Blockchains aren't "fixed" pieces of technology. They slowly evolve as needs change. But this means that changes can only be "mission-critical".
Because of how hard it is to coordinate changes across all nodes in a network. You also risk the security of the whole network with upgrades. You gotta make sure that no bugs make it to production. Because if something goes wrong at the protocol level – all the businesses & users that you service will be ruined.
This puts all of us in a tough spot.
Protocol developers aren't working with designers/users to iterate on the protocol. They are developing along the dimensions of functionality, maintainability, and scalability.
So that means UX & Design remains an afterthought. Something that should be left to the dApps. Even though they forget that the protocol DIRECTLY informs how good a UX can be.
If the UX at the protocol level is rotten – everything else will be too.
Fix: Position Constraints As Benefits
Till we find better & safer ways to iterate on protocol design – position constraints in terms of their connected benefit.
- Show them how it keeps the network alive for everyone.
- Provide gasless experiences (no crypto needed until absolutely necessary)
No password recovery?
- Be upfront about the fact that they own their data.
- Craft a narrative around being the captain of your own ship.
You get the point...
This Article Is A Work In Progress
If you have any feedback – please email me: firstname.lastname@example.org