Designing for the 5th Paradigm: Blockchain and Design

in blockchain •  last year

As the blockchain becomes mainstream, more designers are needed to make this complex technology easy to use.

Bitcoin’s use of blockchain has revolutionized transactions, finance and even the notion of trust as we know it. Contrary to some definitions out there, the blockchain doesn’t introduce trust into a system — it eradicates a need for trust period — and this is what makes a system more trustworthy. It seems confusing at first but as Nikunj Jain explains,

"The most noteworthy feature that makes blockchain secure is that it is based on a completely trustless system. The permissions to read and write the data on blockchain are equally distributed among all the users connected to the network and no user is given any special privileges when it comes to making any decisions.”

No user means, no central figure, be it an individual, organisation, groups regardless of status and even government can interfere with decisions being made. In fact, trust becomes irrelevant, and a suddenly new concept for a user of a system.

As Bitcoin’s underlying blockchain structure became more understood and desirable, we see it now being adopted by all facets of society, witnessing the advent of the “5th Paradigm” in computer technology — helping define the “Connected World “ phase which will define civilization for the next half century.

Simply overlaying current technology paradigms we can use infinite use cases of the blockchain for example allowing easy, low cost, secure, permanent and find-able registration of intellectual property, contracts and even records such as election promises , as well as the application of intangible digital assets such as music, art, thoughts, ideas with ‘theoretically’ no centralized authority to determine the value of such assets apart from the users. With an abundance of new disruptive technologies coming out the demand for better designed systems on trustless tech will be the next important step in the future of design.

So how can design thinking be applied to the future of blockchain? Today, design and trust are inseparable and this poses a few interesting challenges when designing the 5th paradigm:

  1. User experience design is all about creating trust
    So how can trust be applied to a system built on trustless technology? The answer lies in the fact that while blockchain technology provides confidence that your transactions and decisions are fast, free of manipulation and immutable (never disappears), there is still a need for trust to be established in the interaction between the system (facilitator) and the user — if trust is not present in the facilitator then the user will have no faith in the new trustless system. Designing a trustworthy user journey and user interface will be even more paramount in the blockcain-tech industry and the need for product designers, user interface designers and user experience researchers will will, in my opinion, become one of the most important roles behind engineers.

  2. Usability and uncertainty: an odd couple
    Taking part in a trustless environment is really difficult because of our reliance on third parties and middlemen for all of our lives. This uncertainty produces a lot of usability issues — how can you use a system you are inherently afraid to take we are currently witnessing issues with trust in driver-less cars. Letting go of trusting ourselves and more into the machine has lead to designers to focus on user interface design where the car always shows what it is doing in that exact moment, and what it sees around them — the same thought needs to be put into applications on the blockchain. Airbnb’s approach to trust and design is to help minimize uncertainties and setting expectations early — setting the stage with the introduction, then getting out of the way.

  3. Improving experience within unfamiliarity
    The blockchain will need interfaces and with all interfaces first impressions are important. Not only are users new to the concept of blockchain, but they’re new to the whole concept of making decisions without a 3rd party to process these decisions. To be fair, they don;t need to. A user on a system utilizing blockchain tech shouldn’t have to understand the intricacies and complexities of it. What’s most important is for the user to have a seamless experience as they would on any other well designed system — with relevant visual ques, information and feedback when they need it enabling them to trust themselves while using the interface.

As blockchain makes its way into the mainstream, it will be up to designers to take its technical complexity and produce usability — the blockchain will need interfaces, architecture and journeys making the role of the product, user interface and user experience designer ever more important for the future. Allowing users to reap the benefits of a trustless system while continuing to provide a pleasant experience and interaction will be the challenge of the future of design as we enter the 5th paradigm.

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