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23 . 5 . 18

Why blockchain needs design


Blockchain is transforming industries and communities all over the world. It will entirely influence the way we live and work today but people still struggle to understand it. This is why blockchain needs design:

In 2017, the HSBC Trust in Technology report revealed blockchain to be the least understood new technology of the past five years. 80% of participants had either not heard of it or said they didn’t understand it.

The report, which looked at the use of technology and its perceptions across 11 different countries, also showed an interesting paradox between perception of a technology and its adoption by people. For example, while people said that they valued the security of their personal data very highly and they understood that some of these new technologies could improve their security, they had not used them because they were worried about the security of the technologies themselves.

Lack of knowledge and misunderstanding impacts the trust that people have in emerging technologies and this holds back their adoption and use.

We know that understanding improves with education, familiarity and repeated use: this is where design comes in.

Design and user experience

Design wants to understand:

  • the needs of people using a product or service
  • the way a business works (its culture) and the environment it works in
  • and current and future trends

So good design will lead to useful products and services that allow and encourage repeated use and build familiarity for the person using it.

The design process

Designers use techniques to research things and collect information to generate and refine ideas, define the design challenge, and follow a continuous improvement-cycle of create, prototype, test.

An example of great design and user experience is how IBM have reimagined the food supply chain! A global supply chain, with people in different jobs and places is tricky and IBM had to be thorough as they investigated the chain and developed the new product. The IBM designers observed and spoke to suppliers, distributors, retailers and officials to find out about peoples’ current experience of the supply chain and identify areas for improvement.

During their research they found that shipments required up to 30 documents, shuttled between signatories by bike couriers, just to leave a port. These paper documents could also be forged easily. Their new blockchain platform provides a solution to this by storing all of that information and ensuring that it is accurate and accessible.

Before, a food contamination outbreak could take up to two months to track down on a traditional paper-based chain; now it could be instant.

IBM developed a platform to make information accessible to everyone on the supply chain and this information was used to improve efficiency, safety and transparency.

Read more: their research also identified some design principles essential to blockchain services

A. Consider how and when data is presented

Blockchain is the technology, not the product. You should be able to use the data and see that a function has taken place.

How the data is presented can also help to build trust: some people want to see the long cryptographic hashes of the blockchain even though humans can’t read them and they’re not actual useful to us – it just makes people feel more secure.

B. Create a consistent experience

Visual consistency is crucial to trust in a product or service. It also effects adoption and learning. Language should align with users’ natural language patterns and simplify complex concepts.

Visual language should always consider the new and unfamiliar nature of emerging technologies.

Users of blockchain services can be spread across borders. A global design approach will embrace differences in language and culture.

C. Educate your users

Time is (currently) a significant factor in blockchain services. Motion and animation can help to show what is happening in blockchain and reassure users that may be used to more instant interactions.

Changes made to blockchain are permanent so people will also need to be aware that their actions are irreversible. Designing friction to challenge users and providing feedback on their decision will minimise the risk and number of errors.

The onboarding part is important here. These first impressions are an opportunity to guide and educate users about a new technology.

More than cryptocurrency

Well-designed products and services will educate users through repeated use. Designers can make education even more efficient by simplifying and visualising complicated concepts.

If you google ‘what is blockchain’ you’ll find loads of techies who have embarked on a mission to explain blockchain to their Grandma (not with a lot of success). Often, the explanations will focus on bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies and they become get quite convoluted.

CB Insights describe blockchain as a ‘common digital history’ which is a lot more useful and understandable.

Blockchain may have started with bitcoin but it’s evolving all the time. There will be more and more cases where it can transform industries and the way we live and work, from finance, health and legal services to supply chain innovation, public infrastructure, digital identities and combating fake news. It could affect the relationships we have with other people and how we expect businesses to behave.

Over time repeated exposure to blockchain will increase peoples’ understanding of it and its possibilities. It is up to designers to balance the complexities of the technology with the way the user experiences it.

Want to know more? Discover how public-private partnership ID2020 is pioneering blockchain technology with biometrics to develop digital identities for the 1.1 billion people globally, including Syrian refugees above, who lack officially recognised identification. Or speak to Liz if you’d like more information on how we use design to build useful products that encourage familiarity and ease of use.

Image: MIT Technology Review

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