Bad design is holding blockchain back

Bad design is holding blockchain back

Setting aside the bad rep slammed onto blockchain by cryptocurrencies and the speculation that drives the entirety of the digital asset commerce, the decentralized technology has another major problem as it stands – design.

The boom of initial coin offerings, largely fueled by speculation, has given birth to countless startups trying to solve diverse problems with the power of blockchain.

Apart from a small number of exceptions, blockchain-based startups have so far failed to amass any solid userbase, being primarily focused on gathering absurd amounts in exchange for selling yet another (usually useless) digital asset.

We won’t be focusing on the projects that don’t even have working products prior to their ICO, 1 year after their ICO, 2 years after their ICO, etc – sadly those are still the majority.

The focus will be, on an abstract level, on projects that have actually created something with the funds they raised, but have garnered little to no attention.

Good design is as little design as possible

Blockchain technology is abstruse enough on its own. It doesn’t need to be additionally burdened with badly-designed products. While the failure of most projects to acquire any solid application is surely multi-dimensional, design seems to be a core issue.

Users need to be guided through the use of decentralized applications in a way that does not force them to comprehend the architecture of blockchain. Good design fixates not only on elegance, but on problem solving as well. And the way a problem is solved through design should be efficient i.e. focused on the essential parts without any unneeded complications.

In a way, each step added to a workflow, lowers the chance that a user will go through the entire workflow. For example, having a login page consisting of one button will, most probably, have a better conversion rate than a login page requiring the user to provide several fields of data.

The majority of modern decentralized applications seem to have a long list of high-level design issues. To name a few:

  • Disastrous layout
  • Terrible workflow
  • Incoherent colors
  • Appalling user experience
  • Crowded user interface

The end result is not the desired simplification of blockchain usage, but the exact opposite – obscuring a technology that is already quite difficult to understand.

Examples can be found all around the blockchain sphere and dapp stores such as MetaMask’s State of the DApps. A quick search finds the majority of dapps being involved in gambling or exchanging of digital assets, which further confirms the misguided focus of projects on cryptocurrency.

If blockchain technology is to gain any widespread applicability, progressive user interfaces need to derive from the depths of a chaotic batch of software that is the current dapp scene.

Recent examples of steps in the right direction include Etherscan and MyEtherWallet – two of the most popular blockchain user interfaces. Both of these tools have made large improvements to their design, following advancements in all of the aforementioned design issues.

The squiggle of the design process

A natural part of a design process alternates between a series of divergent and convergent styles of thinking, before getting to the relatively, but dependently stable phase of evolution.

Standard design process flow.

Where it seems most blockchain-based projects are failing is through the entirety of the first three steps, jumping straight to designing something they themselves don’t fully understand. This is a common rookie mistake inexperienced designers make, indicative either of lack of funds or lack of a design team as a whole.

Design worth

Here comes the question about design’s importance relative to overall functionality. While some areas of design come with improvements in functionality, others don’t do as well. Why waste money on design when the application works as intended?

Numerous reports have already shown that design-driven businesses tend to operate better in all aspects. In a popular instance, the Value of Design Factfinder report found that, the Design Index, an index of 61 design-led businesses, outperformed the Financial Times Stock Exchange (FTSE) 100 by more than 200% in the period from 1995 – 2004.

Design index by Design Council
Design Index performance compared to the FTSE – by UK Design Council.

The report also noted on the consistency of the performance:

Not only has the Design Index outperformed the FTSE 100, but that out-performance has been constant. The Index rose more in good times, and fell less in bad times. The difference hasn’t been fleeting or fluctuating, but solid over a decade.

Yet amazingly enough, blockchain-based startups rarely place any significant emphasis on design, while the industry desperately needs it. Intuitive and functional user interfaces can pave the way towards an understood and well-adapted blockchain tech.

The applications for blockchain seem endless and should not be dominated by cryptocurrency. Allowing more and more non-technical people to leverage the power of blockchain is certainly going to help grow the industry. The potential is huge and the problems are self-evident.