TL;DR — The current state of Ethereum UX and where do we go from here?
It is difficult to overstate how important user experience (UX) is to technology in pursuit of mass adoption. Ethereum is not an exception. 📲
As a UX designer and a product developer working in the Ethereum ecosystem, I set out on a mission to discover the various pain points of user experience from the community. While this study was by no means exhaustive. It did, however, take the first step towards establishing an orientation around currently shared user contexts.
The Objective 🔎
This research has a simple goal — to better understand user perceptions towards the current state of the Ethereum UX. I expect this will initiate a public discussion about what could be improved to make the network more accessible to a wider range of audiences.
The Method 📜
An online questionnaire provides several advantages, such as cost-efficiency and shorter response times. This research is designed to optimize for overall better data quality by reducing respondent burden by reducing the ratio between the response rate and the questionnaire’s length.
There is no limitation in terms of distribution coverage, as each respondent can pass on a questionnaire’s unique link over the Internet and those with a link can participate in the survey without the need to login.
Best-Worst Scaling (BWS) has been chosen over ranking questions in sections, which requires discriminating between choices to prioritize preferences. The advantage of BWS is its ability to overcome discrepancies caused by a high variant of personal scale, whereas the ranking choice is linear (1, 2, 3, 4…) and the participant opinions may not be. For example, one participant may want to prioritize choices 3 and 4 almost equally while another may think that choice 3 is much more important than 4.
The BWS method uses a relative differences calculation rather than absolute differences. Below is a simple calculation for a utility score u(x) that I used for this survey. Let a total number of the most preferred options be m and the least preferred option be n. The difference between m and n is to be divided by the sum of m + n:
u(x) = m - n / m + n
The utility score u(x) here simply represents relative differences in a ratio form between each of the items and has a limited interval range between 1 to -1. For a score of 1 to exist, all participants will have to select that option as the most favorable choice. Hence, a score trending towards 1 signals the most favourable option while the least preferred trend towards -1.
The Results 👩🔬
The survey was divided into five sections:
3) Relative preference
4) User expectation
5) User pain points
Most questions presented here are qualitative and consisted of a series of ‘why’ questions to gain a deeper insight into this catechism — ‘why should we build what we build?’ The analysis of each section is listed below the survey results, which are presented in percentages and utility scores.
1) The Qualification
Goal: To identify the personas of the survey participants.
Question 1: Which of the following best describes your identity?
1.1 ETH Community, PR (27%)
1.2 ETH Developer (24%)
1.3 ETH Designer, UX (17%)
1.4 ETH Investor (14%)
1.5 Not working or participating in the Ethereum ecosystem but interested in doing so (13%)
1.6 Not working or participating in the Ethereum ecosystem and not interested in doing so (5%)
The qualification question is a critical piece of this research as it helps to qualify survey participants. As we are solving a very specific problem (UX for non-technical users) in a specific domain (Ethereum), what we need is responses from people who are an active participant or are at least interested in the ecosystem. Therefore, those who answered 1.6 do not match our target persona. Their answers were removed and not included in the further results of this survey.
Goal: To narrow down the personas of the survey participants.
Question 2: What is your level of understanding of cryptocurrency and web3.0? (On a scale from 1–10 being 10 is the most proficient)
Average score — 7.4
To better understand the respondent backgrounds, I narrowed down the persona scope by intersecting participant occupational profiles and knowledge levels based on self-assessment. After cleaning the data by removing those who have no interest to contribute to or participate in the ecosystem, the knowledge proficiency level improved as expected. On average, the participants rated themselves 7.4 out of 10.
3) Relative Preference
Goal: To understand the most important values for users and why those values matter to them.
Question 3: What bothers you the MOST?
3.1 Tech companies make millions from my personal data, I make zero (14.4%)
3.2 I feel unsafe using the Internet, online privacy is dead (8.1%)
3.3 Traditional banking and financial systems are broken — they’re unfair, disempowered and very dependent on corporates and governments (62.2%)
3.4 Online sources/data are not transparent and easily manipulated (14.4%)
Question 4: Why did you choose your first choice from that list? What does that mean to you?
Question 5: What bothers you the LEAST?
5.1 Tech companies make millions from my personal data, I make zero (33.3%)
5.2 I feel unsafe using the Internet, online privacy is dead (27.9%)
5.3 Traditional banking & financial systems are broken — they’re unfair, disempowered and very dependent on corporations & governments (15.3%)
5.4 Online sources/data are not transparent and easily manipulated (21.6%)
The utility scores calculated from the responses of Questions 3 and 5 are as follows (see Figure 1):
3.3 & 5.3
Traditional banking & financial systems are broken — they’re unfair, disempowered and very dependent on corporates & governments (0.468)
3.4 & 5.4
Online sources/data are not transparent and easily manipulated (-0.072)
3.1 & 5.1
Tech companies make millions from my personal data, I make zero (-0.189)
3.2 & 5.2 I feel unsafe using the Internet, online privacy is dead (-0.198)
As Figure 1 shows, there is a clear trend that respondents were most dissatisfied with the current banking and financial system and least worried about their online privacy. These results were surprising, as it is most natural to think of decentralization as being spawned from the cyberpunk ethos and even more so that both movements, Ethereum decentralization and cyberpunk, have a shared vision of the future. In essence, cyberpunks believe in the right to privacy and use cryptography as a way to protect a violation of such right. In 1993, Eric Hughes published A Cyberpunk Manifesto, mentioning the term “privacy” 122 times in the first paragraph and referring to it heavily throughout the rest of the document.
Privacy is necessary for an open society in the electronic age.
Privacy is not secrecy.
A private matter is something one doesn’t want the whole world to know, but a secret matter is something one doesn’t want anybody to know. Privacy is the power to selectively reveal oneself to the world.
For Question 4, a few responses stated that they believed a fairer financial system was the foundation of a better society and that traditional financial institutions had overwhelming power in their hands that were prone to corruption and abuse. There was no significant trend as to why respondents were concerned less about online privacy than the unfairness of their financial systems.
4) User Expectation
Goal: To understand the mental models and expectations of Ethereum users.
Question 6: What type of Ethereum applications do you feel will have the most users in the next year?
6.1 Open finance apps, tools (36.9%)
6.2 Games (16.2%)
6.3 Protocols, dev tools (15.3%)
6.4 Digital arts, collectibles platforms (11.7%)
6.5 Gambling apps (9%)
6.6 Governance tool: DAO, DAC (7.2%)
6.7 Bounties platforms (3.6%)
Question 7: What is the MOST important feature of Ethereum that attracts people and companies to build applications on it?
7.1 Smart contract and other technology (55.9%)
7.2 Community (23.4%)
7.3 Cryptocurrency (6.3%)
7.4 Security (6.3%)
7.5 Transparency (4.5%)
7.6 ICOs (3.6%)
Question 8: What is the MOST important feature of Ethereum that attracts users other than the builders to use its applications?
8.1 Cryptocurrency (36.9%)
8.2 Smart contract and other technology (19.8%)
8.3 Community (14.4%)
8.4 ICOs (9.9%)
8.5 Security (9.9%)
8.6 Transparency (8.1%)
While 36.9% of participants predicted that the user base of ‘open finance apps, tools’ would continue to grow in 2020, only 16.2% forecasted the popularity of blockchain gaming, a market which experienced a rapid expansion after the launch of CryptoKitties at the end of 2017.
The boundary between games, gambling, and collectibles is becoming more difficult to define as more players join the arena. The combination of the said genres — all of which serve the common purpose of providing entertainment — can give a more realistic overview of the prediction. In comparison to the prediction of popularity for open finance apps (36.9%) in 2020, the entertainment category, which combines games (16.2%), gambling (9%), digital arts and collectibles platforms (11.7%), received the same overall score of 36.9%. This indicates that while there is an expectation of gaming app popularity that is not as high as expected, entertainment-based apps on the blockchain are still considered a high potential category, according to the opinions of the respondents.
Under this section, I have included a question to enhance the understanding of what brings builders and users to Ethereum. Predictably, cryptocurrency scores rather low as a factor that attracts builders (6.3%) when compared to general users (36.9%). While smart contracts and technology scored high among both groups, 55.9% for builders and 19.8% for general users, the community was one of the main attractions for both builders (23.4%) and general users (14.4%).
5) User pain points
Goal: To prioritize pain points for making relevant and necessary improvements.
Question 9: What is the MOST important reason that keeps you from using Ethereum applications more often?
9.1 Complicated UX in general (37.8%)
9.2 I don’t need to use their features (27%)
9.3 Not so many friends are using them (16.2%)
9.4 Cost (expensive) (6.3%)
9.5 Speed (slow) (5.4%)
9.6 Ethereum currency (need to exchange/mine, KYC) (3.6%)
9.7 Afraid of losing private keys (2.7%)
Question 10: What is the LEAST important reason that keeps you from using Ethereum applications more often?
10.1 Complicated UX in general (6.3%)
10.2 I don’t need to use their features (7.2%)
10.3 Not so many friends are using them (18.9%)
10.4 Cost (expensive) (9.9%)
10.5 Speed (slow) (26.1%)
10.6 Ethereum currency (need to exchange/mine, KYC) (9.9%)
10.7 Afraid of losing private keys (21.6%)
The utility scores for Questions 9 and 10 are as follows (see Figure 2):
9.1 & 10.1 Complicated UX in general (0.310)
9.2 & 10.2 I don’t need to use their features (0.198)
9.3 & 10.3 Not so many friends are using them (-0.027)
9.4 & 10.4 Cost (expensive) (-0.036)
9.6 & 10.6 Ethereum currency (need to exchange/mine, KYC) (-0.063)
9.7 & 10.7 Afraid of losing private keys (-0.189)
9.5 & 10.5 Speed (slow) (-0.207)
The biggest barrier to more frequent usage of applications built on Ethereum was the UX being complicated(0.310), followed by the applications containing irrelevant features (0.198). Given the scoring, the network’s popularity is not an appreciable concern (-0.027). Surprisingly, technical limitations such as speed (-0.207) and the retrieval of private keys (-0.189) were scored among the lowest.
Contrary to popular belief, the respondents affirmed that Ethereum’s biggest barrier to adoption lay in the realm of product design rather than technological capacity and network performance. This implies that the current state of capacity may be sufficient enough for wider adoption in the eyes of users, while much work remains on the product side.
Conclusion 👩💻 👨💻
Fundamentally, Ethereum is a developer-oriented community. This setting has provided advantages during the early stages of the network. Being developer-oriented has helped draw many capable builders and contributors to experiment with smart contract technology to create richer, user friendlier decentralized applications when compared to earlier applications backed by cryptography.
Although Vitalik Buterin has made it clear that Ethereum will never replace centralized computing, that does not mean that we cannot extend the benefit of decentralization beyond the niche of early adopters and core contributors. At the time of writing, major technical limitations such as scalability, blocktime among many others have been solved using solutions in L2, meaning that developers now have a choice to integrate these solutions in their products to improve user experiences. Therefore, it seems that what we need now more than ever is a product-market fit on an application layer to leverage the benefits of improved infrastructure. To succeed at that, it is imperative to make sure that sufficient resources are dedicated to product development, UX and social research, user behavior and psychology study in parallel with technological and network upgrades. On the other hand, more effort must be invested into empowering a greater number of users with this technology. Research has affirmed that social factors are among the most important elements that drive technology towards mass adoption, yet we do not have enough data to help us develop applications that serve what people actually need.
It is time that Ethereum community helps in redefining the common path to the future — who we are and what purpose we want to serve and how big the impact we want to create.
💁♀️ Want to help move this conversion forward or have an idea how we can identify insights and make use of this data. Please get in touch. My Twitter DM @lililashka is always open.
👏👏👏Special thanks for a wonderful support from:
 Sindre Rolstad et. al (2011), Response Burden and Questionnaire Length: Is Shorter Better? A Review and Meta-analysis, Value in Health 14:8, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1098301511015245
 Best-Worst Scaling (BWS) or MaxDiff is a method of data collection introduced by Professor Jordan Louviere in 1987 to provide more validity and reliability to aggregated data. Read more here https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/9ee7/513116a8fa37c4bc7ff2e5b904117695aa23.pdf
 Christian As. Kirtchev (1997), A Cyberpunk manifesto, http://project.cyberpunk.ru/idb/cyberpunk_manifesto.html
 This software includes PGP and GnuPG, which are based on the early concept of the web-of-trust.
 TechCrunch (2017), Decentralizing Everything with Ethereum’s Vitalik Buterin | Disrupt SF 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WSN5BaCzsbo
 Hemant Patel, et al. (2007), Factors Influencing Technology Adoption: A Review, Information Management in the Networked Economy: Issues & Solutions,https://www.researchgate.net/publication/273140050_Factors_Influencing_Technology_Adoption_A_Review