What does blockchain mean for design?
In many ways, blockchain presents the same UX challenges as digital design generally. In short, how do you offer a user all the information they need, none they don’t, and create an intuitive experience from start to finish? The particular challenge of blockchain comes from accomplishing this while simultaneously introducing users to a radically new technology.
When using a product built on the blockchain, most users⁴ won’t understand the underlying protocol any more than they understand Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) when browsing the web.
Fortunately, they don’t need to. Instead, they need to learn to trust a “trustless” technology. They also need to understand the ways in which blockchain-based apps and platforms differ from the digital products they’re accustomed to using.
1. Know your user
As blockchain apps and platforms reach mass adoption, designers need to consider their shifting user base. (Thanks to the recent bitcoin craze, more than a million new users created a cryptocurrency wallet in a single week in December.) Where early adopters and technical users wanted more control and functionality — in essence, to look, and even tinker, under the hood — newcomers and non-technical users will benefit from clear handrails, simple cues and prompts, and few options to go astray.
2. Design for Trust
IBM’s design team has proposed several UX best-practices that blockchain designers should keep in mind when “designing for trust,” including consistency and constant feedback. Consistency — from clear iconography to jargon-free terminology — allows users “to feel at ease” and “enables adoption and learning,” while “motion and animation, used sparingly, supports understanding of what is happening.” Any data served to the user should be either actionable, trust-building, or educational. As a rule, they write, more feedback is better than less: “The user should always know what is happening, what just happened, and what will happen next.”
3. Account for Processing Time
Because transactions on blockchain take dramatically longer than in a centralized network — it currently takes about ten minutes to confirm a bitcoin transaction — users need information on their status and progress during this time. We’re accustomed to confirmation times of just milliseconds — when booking an Airbnb, for example, or splitting a check on Venmo — and peer-to-peer transactions simply take longer to process. As designers, we need to get creative in how we help users understand this difference.
4. Call attention to one-way doors
Blockchain transactions are irreversible once they’ve been validated by the network — there’s no tolerance for typos — so designers need to create points of friction for users before they pass through one-way doors. As one IBM designer put it, “There are no take-backs on a blockchain.”