The importance of service design for blockchain’s killer apps

Lola Oyelayo-Pearson
Published in
4 min readDec 10, 2018


I’ve been buried deep in the knowledge archives of blockchain land. It’s a dark place. There are dungeons full of white papers and peer-reviewed papers (how many of us know there is a difference?). Caverns are stacked high with sharding theories, paths have the odd pothole with proclamations of doom and failure and a couple of hippies are skipping through whilst chewing on magic pills containing stories of a post-capitalist world order.

Ok so my reality is not as whimsical or Tim Burton-esque. But it does have just as many weird and wonderful twists to keep me busy. You can check out my (hopefully) helpful post to share a few resources that I have found particularly useful in shaping a slowly solidifying world view on this domain. For this post however, I’d like to talk about the hunt for the killer app.

Hunting for the killer app

Lots of people are talking about the search for the killer app. Looking for that one utility that brings all the people to the table and ultimately validates the benefits of this technology. There are notable examples of popular attempts, such as Cryptokitties (built on Ethereum), but many of these still serve only to demonstrate that this tech is not ready for millions of users.

Go get you a taste for Cryptokitties (be prepared for some convoluted on-boarding)

There are about 2k+ ƉApps (Decentralised Apps) built on Ethereum and EOS that you can explore on a site called State of the ƉApps. There are a ton of useful and useless examples and it allows you to get a sense of the most popular. Its notable that at the time of writing this blogpost, the top 5 are for advertising, hunting goblins, token exchanges and gambling. In essence, a reflection of the stuff that makes money go round on the web today.

It’s also worth noting that for every really popular ƉApp that spikes our attention and gets people talking, daily active usage numbers are still low (top app on State of the ƉApps had about 5k average) compared to the most popular web apps we’re used to. The theory goes that with enough brains and motivation, someone will crack the problem of bringing your average joe to the blockchain and decentralisation party.

Thing is, I don’t think it will happen unless we switch our thinking from apps, to services. To many, this will feel like a purely semantic issue (yes I know I have a habit of naming and renaming stuff), but I see them as different intentions. Apps feel bounded, they meet an explicit need that can be addressed between the app and the end-user with little need for external input. I think about single-player games, note taking, photo editing etc. Focus just on an app and you limit the potential of your solutions.

Services are broader, they connect the end-user to another person or an eco-system in order to serve needs for all parties. Naturally many apps that we are hooked on today are collections of services e.g. social media, banking, shopping or even in virtual gaming networks. Often build teams don’t realise or acknowledge that they are working on a service, meaning they can easily overlook all the human challenges that will present themselves and unfortunately rely on the fallacy of ‘common sense’ when gaps in the experience are exposed.

Decentralisation makes ‘Service Design’ more important

I have a working hypothesis that one of the biggest strengths and weaknesses of decentralisation is the self-organising nature of it all. In essence, an individual has control and autonomy over all their choices, no central source is responsible for co-ordinating it on their behalf. This is what attracts the mission-oriented evangelists of this field. Clawing back control from ‘the man’ is ultimately what makes this more than just a crypto-fad.

The problem is that 20 years of web-based services has taught us all to be lazy.

It’s taught us to sit back and wait to be served with all the things we need on a platter. If someone wants our attention, they do the hard work. ‘The man’ has learned this and uses it to continuously dominate our web experiences. This is also the reason why UX and Service Design have become prolific and valued disciplines in any digital organisation. I have spent most of my career educating and advocating to product teams that you don’t get users by asking them to fill in the gaps. You have to do the hard work to make your users’ lives easier.

Service design presents the strongest design approach to solve experience challenges in blockchain. Firstly because its very nature is to consider ALL of the relevant actors and factors that affect a service user and shape their needs and interactions. Secondly, we know that the nature of decentralisation means that no single entity will own all of the touch-points that are critical to a users’ experience in this space. The ideal scenario therefore is that we use service design tools to map the needs and then examine how collaborations, standards and interoperability can be used to break down those barriers.

It follows then, that in order to design a killer app for the blockchain space, we have to address people’s current mental model; the expectation of service in its most complete sense. If you design it for them and around them, people will come. So let’s embrace the fact that we should be thinking about service design holistically in this domain if we really want a killer app.

Now, where’s my idiots guide to service design in a wholly decentralised domain? ;-p



Lola Oyelayo-Pearson

Design & Product Strategy | Evangelising user-centred design | Decentralised Design.