Blockchain needs product designers as well as developers

While the blockchain community is busy building out the protocol layers, platform and infrastructure, people seem unaware that there is just enough feasibility in the technology to focus on user experience (UX) design and business viability.

Bitfwd spoke to Gendry Morales, founder of blockchain-based start-up, Flight Plan, about why the industry needs more product-centric designers and developers. Flight Plan seeks to build a platform for blockchain product prototyping.

A product-designer by trade, her focus is on solving big customer problems using blockchain. Product innovation and experimentation is required in the blockchain space, she says.

Gendry Morales — Founder of Flight Plan
“The Ethereum community is exceptionally talented. Some of the best technologists I know are building on it now. But there is in building the infrastructure, a lack of commercial focus and thought about the user”

The first step is community building. And then cyber toys.

Product development begins with collectible toys

Morales found her way to this space by forming a team and coding CryptoCats, a digital collectible avatar on the Ethereum Platform as an experimental use case. They won the bitfwd blockathon in 2017. This was before the concept had been popularised globally with the Crypto Kitties phenomenon, which focused attention on product adoption.

Cryptocats 😺🐱🐈

Emerging tech often starts off like toys, where we learn how users interact with these products before applying those learnings to more impactful areas.

Morales learnt about the challenges with blockchain innovation from her work in exploring the use of blockchain in fashion supply chains. She aims to translate this to the blockchain space: “to experiment around product innovation. Supply chain transparency is not the only goal, there also needs to be a compelling reason to experiment in the first place”.

Why blockchain for a particular business model, should always be a preliminary question.

Her insights reflect the crypto bubble in 2017, where you could simply insert “blockchain” to your business name to have a jump in your share price. The better ones like Kodakcoin, at least, had a use case — to protect artistic rights.

This bubble also means that developers are scare and can be attracted to the highest paying jobs.

A critical shortage of blockchain developers

The blockchain space faces a global shortage of developers right now. Already in early 2017, the lack of blockchain developers was becoming a concern. Blockchain developers are now “the hottest employment opportunity in 2018”. There are estimates that there are 14 blockchain job openings for every one blockchain expert seeking employment.

Developers can often name their price, which will kill many good ideas and promising start-ups, as well-funded ICOs attract developers. Institutional investors are also cashing in.

Venture capital is surging into blockchain startups, reports Bloomberg. One VC, who just raised $150 million in a fourth fundraising round, told Axios that his firm took the more traditional approach in raising a fund this time because for many institutional investors “it’s a step too far to have their investment be in the form of a coin.”

This will affect the nature of what gets built on blockchains.

Product managers wanted ✋

In time, training developers may be the easy part, as job seekers up-skill. There is a critical mass of developers now, but there’s no blockchain product management experience according to Morales. There are many barriers for product managers and designers to start using the technology and prototype. “There are massive learning curves in writing new coding languages -but then where to on the product side?”

“We also need the UI (user interface) patterns and to tackle deeper challenges of what trust means for blockchain design?”

“People need a leap of faith, user adoption is a key problem. The purpose of the Flight Plan platform is to increase blockchain experimentation by developers”, argues Morales, “we want to help people build in days not months by thinking about users and product strategy from the outset.”

In the end, it’s about user adoption

Thought about the user can be a difficult task for those ensconced in this world. It is a world founded by cypherpunks, hackers and libertarians. But blockchain technologies are now in a volatile cycle of fundraising seemingly kitch, unlikely or unviable start-ups.

This month a toothbrush that also tries to make each of your 32 teeth — a cryptocurrency mine began being promoted online in China. It also aims to make your teeth sparkling clean by applying not only blockchain technology, but also facial recognition, sensors, and big data. Amazing stuff.

But beyond the hype there are two very important questions to consider:

  • Why blockchain?
  • How and why will users adopt this product?

Blockchain product development according to Gendry Morales

Adoption. This is very important for emerging technology to get it off the ground. Blockchain is getting closer into the “Trough of Disillusionment”. The need for “Early Majority” adoption is rapidly increasing. See: Top Trends in the Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies, 2017

Design Thinking. Not just looking at the tech, but balancing viability and desirability to help find innovation that creates meaningful products for adoption. See: Design Thinking by Tim Brown

Sprints. Working in short timeboxes. Google design sprints are a popular method to get prototypes in a week. Flight Plan will use this process. It means prototyping quickly and more experimentation with different ideas. See: The Design Sprint