Only 12 months ago, the term Blockchain was barely on our radar. In 2018, however, it’s one of the most talked about in tech. The clock is ticking on how long it will take for blockchain technology to severely disrupt some of our most trusted services and upset the middlemen who have enjoyed high returns for being exactly that; the ‘thing’ that makes a transaction trustworthy.
Industry disruption, however, depends on widespread adoption and that means providing users with an experience that’s as seamless as they’re used to.
So let’s consider what Blockchain is and how it will affect the user experience of conducting simple online tasks. Moreover, as user experience and interaction designers, how can we make users feel comfortable with, and trustworthy of, this relatively new technology.
Blockchain is NOT Bitcoin (or vice versa)
I’ve been chatting with lots of people about Blockchain recently and there’s definitely a common mis-understanding about the differences between Blockchain and Bitcoin. Let me try and clear this up for you!
Blockchain is the framework; the technology which enables transactions using cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin or Ethereum to happen.
Do users need to be educated in the benefits of Blockchain?
The decentralised nature (rather than the centralised internet we’re currently used to) is the main selling point of Blockchain. The principles of fairness and transparency are the cornerstone of its existence as a new technology. Saying that, the average user, client or customer tends to think very little about the underlying technology behind their internet purchase – they trust that it works, is secure and that it’s an easy and enjoyable experience.
Let’s take e-commerce as an example. The average user doesn’t know, heard of (or care) if the site they’re buying a garden shed from is built on WordPress, Shopify or Magento. They do, however, expect to be able to search for a product, browse, add to cart and checkout with ease.
And that, as UX designers, is what we need to keep at the forefront of our minds.
The technology is the vehicle whereas the user interface will continue to be where we make or break an experience and our bank balance. Surely whatever the technology, our approach to UX doesn’t really need to change.
Or does it?
Blockchain and user experience
The majority of blockchain transactions start in a wallet just like the one shown here from Coinpunk. The user interface (UI) looks pretty familiar to us and includes a list of transactions, receive and send ‘buttons’, sign in and out and the current cryptocurrency value in USD (in this example, Bitcoin).
Designing for Trust
The major difference users will experience between using a wallet and a PayPal account is the additional area entitled ‘Confirmations’. As consumers we’re used to getting immediate notifications that a transaction has completed or been confirmed. Depending on the cryptocurrency, it could take anywhere between minutes and hours for a transaction to be ‘strongly confirmed’.
Blockchain transactions take way longer than we’re used to, sometimes up to several hours. Designing micro-interactions such as status and progress updates need to be at the centre of our UI design.
As Joseph Bonneau points out in his article about Bitcoin transactions, there is a distinction between unconfirmed and confirmed transactions.
At a high level, a transaction is only confirmed when it is permanently included in the Bitcoin blockchain. The blockchain is a ledger of all transactions in the history of Bitcoin. It is append-only, meaning new data can be added to the end of the ledger, but data can never be removed once included. This ledger is necessary to prevent double-spending, which is a key technical challenge in designing any cryptocurrency. (Joseph Bonneau)
Let’s keep our micro-interactions familiar as users adapt to this new technology by using the following, for example:
- Red, amber, green
- Spinning ball
Authorisation of a blockchain transaction is a one-way street so once a transaction is complete, the payment is in full possession of the recipient – a bit like using cash really! To get a refund the recipient would need to create a new transaction on the Blockchain back to you.
Interested in finding out more about Blockchain and UX? Get in touch – I’d love to hear from you!