Guest post by Iryna Nezhynska
What should the user experience be for the Decentralized Web?
This is a short recap about how designers from blockchain and decentralized tech organizations all over the world gathered at the Decentralized Web Summit — Builders Day to ask important questions about the future of the web. First published on the Jolocom blog October 5th, 2018, this piece, Part 1 of a 2-part series, has been updated in anticipation of DWeb Camp’s “set-up-your-mind” session. We hope to jump-start conversations at the 2019 DWeb Camp ahead.
If the number of thoughts triggered by the Decentralized Web Summit 2018 in San Francisco was any indication of how much passion I would like to contribute to the burgeoning blockchain industry, then… Decentralized Web, my designer’s heart and mind are completely yours!
In 2018, more than 750 tech thought leaders interested in building the web we want — and the web we deserve — gathered at the old San Francisco Mint for the 2018 Decentralized Web Summit. There on Builders Day, I joined the UX/UI session as a storyteller so I could later share with the world what puzzles we tried to unlock at the time.
What happened on Builders Day?
On Builders Day there were no panels or talks. Instead, 100+ of the top builders of decentralized protocols and apps, along with leaders from the law, governance, the arts and global rights formed 13 working groups to discuss the roadblock issues to building a new decentralized web.
Our group, led by facilitators Michelle Lee from Protocol Labs and Amy James from Alexandria.io, got lucky number 13. Personally, I felt super proud that the session on design was the only one facilitated completely by ladies, so I simply couldn’t resist starting a tweet with lyrics: “Who runs the world? Girls!”
There was no advance registration for sessions. Instead organisers turned the group-forming process into a short trade show of topics (Dear Reader, note this! — it’s an idea worth stealing for your next event). Each topic had its own information stand where attendees could share their thoughts, frustrations or challenges they currently face within that area.
This first round of chats helped facilitators get a feel for the audience in advance, and the questions we noted down during the “trade show” became our starting point for the afternoon sessions.
Breaking the Ice
Following the trade-show, Michelle Lee suggested an icebreaker game I cannot fail to mention.
We created an imaginary axis across our space anchored by two controversial opinions. After Michelle read each statement related to the session topic, then participants arranged themselves along the line : What did they think? How strongly did they feel? Was there agreement?
The prompts hit at some of the thorniest questions in our field:
- “For any decentralized app that appears I can build a centralised one that performs faster.”
- “Users don’t need to understand decentralisation to benefit from it.”
- “We need to abandon UX of centralised web to create excellent experiences for the decentralized web.”
- “In the last week of work, did you create for end users or for developers?”
The physicality of this exercise brought to life the strong feelings many of us feel about these answers. After each question, we also dove into explaining why we felt the way we do. A few of the more interesting answers:
Question: “Users have to understand how decentralized technology works to benefit from it.”
Our working group agreed unanimously that people need to understand that something is better. They need to see the difference in benefits and understand the implications of using one technology over another. However, they don’t need to know all the details.
Question: “We have to abandon UX of the centralised web in order to create better experiences for the decentralized web.”
One strong answer: Can you imagine throwing out decades of practices developed by our UX heroes and mentors?
This surfaced the memorable realization that we don’t need to abandon everything at once and that different approaches to UX will emerge organically. We should not wait for users’ behaviour to change on its own. Instead, we should kick-start the process by building on behaviours that are familiar to people already so that they can more easily try out new things. And then, step by step, introduce new, better patterns of experience design.
The behaviour of users will change once they recognize differences between current apps and dapps. They will sit back, rethink, and change their behaviours. Only then we should adjust UX practises to meet these new patterns of behaviour and help people adopt decentralized products faster.
Going Deeper: Ideas We Put on the Table
Well, not on a table — on a whiteboard. And not only ideas — all things that bother us that day. Some of the brainstorm questions kept us running a discussion for the next 4 hours until the final call to join the closing keynote. They are also our (designers’) homework — we will not successfully move forward if we don’t find at least first hypotheses to work from moving forward.
I think it’s very important to remember that when it comes to adoption of new technologies our design decisions influence and literally “embed” new behaviours into people who adopt this technology. So the key question to me is: “Do we design to change or not to change behaviours that people earned using the centralized web?”
I’m very curious, as DWeb Camp fast approaches July 18-21, 2019, how many of these challenges will appear again as the questions that keep the cogs in our brains working late into the night. I hope this recap of discussions from 2018 will jumpstart our process, and accelerate the learning we need industry-wide.
Look out for Part II of this blog which will cover a few additional questions and ideas in more depth.