Hide the Cables: It’s Time for Blockchain Technology to Consider User Experience

Most early adopters of blockchain technology have both a technical understanding of the underlying protocols as well as an affinity for the notion of decentralisation. For the technology to have broader appeal, how the user interacts with it must be improved. Just one bad experience with a blockchain-enabled tool or product can stunt user willingness to further engage. If blockchain is to fulfill its potential, product developers must adopt a more human-centric user experience and improve brand storytelling.

Hide the Cables
Ideally, blockchain technology should be viewed as a means to an end. In order to onboard the next cohort of adopters, it needs to deliver real value to a real customer. Digital assets, smart contracts and distributed ledgers have the potential to offer real advances in so many aspects of life and business: lower cost remittances, efficient document management, and a whole new approach to managing investments to name a few. The problem with many existing products is that too many of them provide a “code view of blockchain” as their user interface, which leads to poor adoption. This introduces unnecessary confusion and anxiety into the process of utilising the blockchain. The technology world has moved on significantly from the early ‘green screen’ data displays of early software applications; unfortunately, most blockchain applications feel strangely familiar to those old technology days.

For example, foreign workers sending money to their families overseas or an employer storing HR data on the blockchain should not need to be concerned with block explorers, transaction hashes and other technical details, not to mention unreadable address names. Making the user’s life easier by abstracting away the details and leaving the technology in the background will reduce the barriers currently preventing many from embracing and interacting with blockchain applications.

Exceptional Features… For Engineers
We’ve all heard about the incredible opportunities smart contract technology can bring to us — programmable money, automatic contracts, decentralised organisations, and many more. Smart contracts have the potential to revolutionise current systems in the accounting, risk hedging, and insurance sectors. This is quite exciting in theory, but the creation of and understanding of a smart contract requires expert engineering skills and knowledge of multiple coding languages, including Solidity, C++, Haskell, and others. Which makes it indecipherable for anyone that is not a blockchain engineer. On the user side, reading and understanding a smart contract is far from easy for the average person trying to understand the terms of use in the contract. One component of that includes the unreadable addresses that represent a user in a transaction. In many instances, users must memorize their address, a identifier of 26-35 alphanumeric characters for example, bc1qar0srrr7xfkvy5l643lydnw9re59gtzzwf5mdq, to make use of a product. If this industry is to reach mass adoption, it needs to introduce easy to use standards and tools.

Function, Meet Form
Steve Jobs is credited with leading a revolution in design principles by introducing the world to computers that could be both functional and aesthetically pleasing. Before Jobs’ paradigm shift, computers were clunky and impersonal. One need only notice the affection with which avowed Apple fans discuss their devices to realise the extent to which this has changed. Similarly, blockchain enthusiasts today obsess over the smallest technical details – e.g., an underlying protocol’s validation engine and transaction processing speed – while not understanding that the average business or consumer cares little about blockchain fundamentals. What they want and need are applications with intuitive interfaces that solve real problems. In addition, messaging on blockchain technology should speak to the people in terms they can understand rather than excessively complicated jargon. Simplifying the user experience and narratives with which they are described will go a long way to boosting adoption of decentralised technologies.

Need for Trust
Looking at successful consumer technology businesses of the last 20 years, a handful of consistent qualities are impossible to ignore: a clear purpose, the simplest possible user experience and all complex technology and processing hidden far away from the end user. Google, AirBnb, Uber and other unicorns all have large budgets dedicated to building new databases and networking devices, but we love them because they allow us to access the benefits of their technology through simple interfaces that are easy to navigate.

As the blockchain world continues to mature, products must put the user at the forefront of the product development cycle. Value will be defined up front, complexity will be replaced by simplicity, and the sole focus of product teams will be the end user and their problems.