Why Your Blockchain Startup Needs UX Design

By Maya King, Strategist*

Human-centered blockchain design thinking can help new startups attract and retain users and can make or break a project. But the topics of UX design and customer experience seem to be at the bottom of the priority list for most blockchain startups.

In the dawn of the blockchain era, forward-looking startups and developers are rushing to build projects that take advantage of what the new technology can offer. Amid all the hype around bitcoin and altcoin values and the excitement of decentralized systems, a major component of modern product development is often overlooked: understanding what people want.

The blockchain and crypto world has mostly been driven by and for highly technical innovators and early adopters. Realizing the vast potential of blockchain technology will require wide-scale adoption and usage of the new platforms, apps, cryptocurrencies, etc.

Blockchain technology is just now starting to enter the mainstream, but for non-technical audiences, it can be difficult to understand. Confusion is exacerbated by overly technical jargon, and uncertainty about the value offered by blockchain startups and ICOs deters many from signing up.

Mass adoption of blockchain will be a design problem — not a technology problem.

Instead of focusing on building what’s possible, startups should be talking to potential users and looking for gaps in the market they can fill with products that people actually want to use. Good UX design and clear language will be the key to accelerating mass adoption. Even minor improvements to the usability of blockchain tools can help bring the tech to more users.


Build things people want

Software and web development has evolved from an early focus on what could be done with new and exciting technology, to a more deliberate focus on human-centered design principles. Winning companies today are built on modern product design that meets exacting consumer needs.

By understanding the needs, behaviors, and pain points of consumers, digital design teams devise technical solutions that add real value to people’s lives, and that they are more likely to engage with over time.

New blockchain startups mostly neglect design, branding, and UX. If blockchain apps and platforms are truly going to change industries, founders and developers will benefit from incorporating user-centered design principles to build better products and services. Here are four ways to apply UX design principles to your blockchain project:


Blockchain design principle 1 – Design for humans

User-centered design principles help build products and services that people need and value — going beyond building new tech for tech’s sake.

Designing for humans is an iterative decision-making process to determine the human-facing experience of a system or product. Crucially, you need to understand the problem you’re solving, who you’re solving it for, and why.

Common in blockchain projects and startups is to write a whitepaper about what you’re going to build, get funding, then build it. However, if there’s no validation of these ideas before going to market, then the project could be a total flop and waste of expensive development resources.

Design thinking promotes user research to develop empathy for users and validated learning through rapid prototype testing and iteration. This solutions-based design process helps product teams mitigate the risk of launching a product that no one wants or knows how to use. It also results in experiences that are more accessible and engaging and ultimately can lead to greater adoption.

The key to adoption is that for a person to perceive an idea, behavior or product as new or innovative, it must add some kind of value to that person’s life.


Blockchain design principle 2 -Design to build trust

As websites and design trends evolve, usability research shows that users’ priorities and methods of evaluating the credibility of a website have remained consistent.

The Nielsen Norman Group, leaders in UX and usability research, has identified four credibility factors that communicate the trustworthiness of a website: design quality, upfront disclosure of information, comprehensive content, and a connection to the rest of the web.

A common thread running through these usability guidelines is that people will feel more confident using your product or service if you can show them that you are well informed and committed to helping customers.

The IBM Blockchain Design Team has also proposed several UX best-practices when ‘designing for trust’ — including consistent UI and iconography, jargon-free language to communicate more directly with users, and using common design patterns to reduce the amount of learning required.

To turn visitors into customers, your website must establish trust and present as credible.

Blockchain projects have the additional challenge of creating trust with the emerging technology itself, and therefore must be transparent and show people how it works in a way that’s accessible and understandable.

If decentralized systems can act as a ‘trust layer’ for the internet and change how people interact with each other, trust may be the most critical design element to consider.


Blockchain design principle 3 – Design for understanding

Decentralized ledgers, mining, proof of work, hash functions, protocols. It all sounds deeply technical — and it is.

Pioneers in any industry bear the burden of educating people about how a new technology works and the benefits it offers.

But how much of blockchain technology do everyday users really need to understand?

A similar question might be, how much does someone need to know about TCP/IP to send an email? The answer — nothing.

While blockchain or TCP/IP is the foundational technology for a number of digital products and services, keeping the focus on the highly-technical aspects of crypto startups alienates many more casual users. Having empathy for these potential customers and understanding their behaviors can simplify the messaging to ensure the information is clear and valuable.

UX design principles can help create an intuitive user experience that does not require background knowledge or extensive explanation.

People want to understand how blockchain apps are different from other apps they’re accustomed to using, but mostly they want to know how it benefits them. Unfamiliar UX laced with overwhelming technical jargon becomes a considerable barrier to communicating the value (and best practices) of new tools.


Blockchain design principle 4 -Design to stand out

Consumers today live on their smartphones and laptops and have high standards about what they expect from digital products and services, influenced by shared design standards and thoughtful experience design by top tech companies. When offerings and prices of competitors are similar, the design of their websites becomes a major deciding factor.

Blockchain projects and startups have many of the same UX challenges as other digital products — how to provide users with the information they need and create an intuitive experience? The distinct challenge that blockchain projects face is the need to introduce users to radically new technology simultaneously.

Quality design can help new startups stand out in the blockchain space, especially in the current state of the nascent industry. However, it’s important to remember that other blockchain projects are not the only competition.

Cryptocurrency wallets and exchanges will need to compete with Paypal and Venmo — successful products that have been carefully designed and tested with vast amounts of users. Social networks built on a blockchain can’t rely only on a value proposition of allowing users control over their data to grow their user base — they need to have amazing UX to compete with Facebook or Twitter.


Blockchain technology has a relatability challenge – design thinking can help

In general, the world of blockchain has mostly been very technically focused and under-designed, as innovators and early adopters experiment with new apps and systems that will undoubtedly change our future.

Mainstream acceptance and adoption are critical to reaching the full potential of blockchain technology.

Blockchain projects that take advantage of proven human-centered design principles will be better suited to effectively communicate their unique value in a way that’s easy for a majority of people to understand and connect with.

Well-designed products that meet the standards of today’s discerning consumers and create an atmosphere of trust will be the most likely to succeed in bringing this new technology to fruition.


*Why Your Blockchain Startup Needs UX Design and image originally ran in The Blockchain Review on April 30, 2018.

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