Blockchain’s biggest UX problems (and how to solve them)

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A prototype trading app

As blockchain apps continue evolving into a more mature market, competing with global juggernauts like Deloitte and Facebook, it’s vital to take a more disciplined approach to development.

Here are some of the obstacles keeping apps from widespread adoption as well as proposed solutions.

Blockchain software uses unnecessarily complicated, or obfuscated processes

A consumer focused blockchain app should look and feel like a consumer app, with the same UX rigor and design approach.

Solutions:

  • Replace long tx-hashes with email addresses, phone numbers, and other commonly used addresses
  • Use QR codes when appropriate
  • Make sure the user understand’s what’s going on, by using the right amount of information, and clear language (see below)

Blockchain software uses arcane language

Blockchain software should look and feel as native to a general user as possible. This means smoothing out language to emulate processes which they’re already used to. Tx Hashes are just addresses, confirmations are just ‘processing’. Gas prices should be lumped in with the ‘processing fee’. Remember, power users can look up the exact details using a block-explorer, and more advanced information can be hidden behind prompts if necessary.

This does not mean new terms won’t crop up, and the lexicon will continue to evolve, but be sparing. Even after all of these years, you still finish your journey on Amazon with a ‘shopping cart’.

Solutions:

  • Use every day language that emulates user’s already known speech and actions
  • If any new language is presented, be sure to onboard it, or use tool-tips to explain in more detail.

Unique, fluctuating currencies mean users can’t make efficient decisions

Solution:

  • Don’t use a crypto-currency which is exchanged on a public market
  • Use real world currency values, or stablecoins.
  • Again: USE REAL CURRENCY VALUES. It’s time we move on from the immature concept that fiat values are somewhat inferior. The technology behind fiat may die, but the symbols and values will remain an important benchmark for decades to come.
  • Ensure that the pricing structure of your app is as simple and natural as possible

On-boarding fiat users into the crypto eco-system is difficult, and usually relies on them first using another platform

In the long term, the aim is that all users will be using crypto as their primary transactional currency of choice, but until then, it’s a big barrier

Solutions:

  • Go through the regulatory hurdles required to allow users to buy your currency directly through the app
  • Integrate with entry-platform APIs to make the switch easier (allowing users to link their Coinbase accounts to trade in Ether)
  • Don’t use a cryptocurrency at all

Regulations prevent basic functionality and are changing every day

As a user experience designer, this means a lot of red tape and a lot of talking with lawyers. Nearly every function has a legal implication that needs to be checked off. A lot of the blockchain apps that survived these regulations did so by growing fast enough to wield enough power to negotiate, or by being based in offshore jurisdictions.

Solutions:

  • Work closely with lawyers and legal counsel
  • Move fast, but stay within the law

Blockchain technology slows down apps

There is a common misconception in the tech world that the general public will pick software based on factors such as security and privacy. Wrong. People will almost always take the path of least resistance, even if it means signing away their rights to a shifty EULA. Ultimately, convenience is king and security, privacy and other values only come after.

Solutions:

  • Use proxy information. Once the user does something, mark it on the interface immediately provided there is a high enough chance of it resolving, regardless of whether it’s been confirmed on the chain or not. If it doesn’t resolve, wind it back with an error. Do not make your user wait. Use language such as ‘available funds’ vs ‘funds’ to dictate what the user is trying to do vs what has actually happened.
  • This does not mean lie to your user; use language and optics to create an experience that feels snapper and works on the premise of likely outcomes. More information can be made available if the user wants to explore (clicking on a transaction to see status: processing, for example).
  • Eventually the tech will be fast enough that this will no longer be necessary and all interfaces will be pure truth

Decentralization gives the user too much responsibility

Whilst working on wallet software at a start up, no less than 4 of us — 1 designer and 3 engineers — lost our passwords within about a week. And poof- the money was gone. This is a room full of people who are literally working on software that revolves around the fact that if you lose your password, you lose your money. How many times have you forgotten a password?

Aside from that, who is responsible for hacks or other malfeasance? Often when the money’s gone, it’s gone. We take for granted the fact that banks will pro-actively fight and take responsibility for fraud and have complex systems of insurance to ensure the end user doesn’t get burned for their mistakes.

When discussing blockchain technology we often underestimate just how reliant we are on third parties, and it may take a long time — if ever — for that paradigm to shift.

Solutions for now:

  • Centralize where necessary. Keep user’s private keys. Implement extremely high security.
  • Contract institutional insurance policies.

Solutions in the future:

  • Decentralize keys once access is fool-proof. Advanced identity technologies that do not involve memorising numbers (see Civic, uPort).
  • Robust third party insurance, auditing and anti-fraud solutions.

Summary

  • Use standard UX principles involving the use of native language, efficient information display and quick controls
  • Only use a publicly traded crypto-currency if it actually serves a purpose. If so, display as a floating dollar value.
  • Compromise on decentralization. Centralize what’s necessary to provide a fluid user experience until the technology has sufficiently advanced.

Overall, there’s one very easy solution to all of these problems: don’t use a blockchain. The vast majority of MVPs produced in the past couple years gained nothing from using the technology. Consider the path ahead.

Written by

Creative Director @ Lux Nova

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