Ouriel Ohayon is the CEO and co-founder of KZen, a cryptocurrency provider.
The following is an exclusive contribution for the 2018 year of CoinDesk under consideration.
See the cryptographic services you use regularly. Admit it: you're not in love.
Some of them are OK, most are terrible – you know. I'm not referring to the cosmetic appeal of those products, which for the most part seem like a "pre-dial-up", but on how they work, how they were presented on boarding, how they feel.
This is the current state of UX business in blockchain.
However, winter crypto or not, this did not stop the industry from growing until now. A lack of great UX was obvious, but not a breaking point. The question is whether we have reached a ceiling – where the market needs something dramatically better to grow significantly – in order to extend to new types of users, geographic areas and use cases not yet covered.
While everyone is anxious to see this market crash eventually stop and recover, I would say that this can not happen until the industry, as a priority, has taken on the importance of offering a better user experience.
But I have good reason to believe that 2019 will be the year we will start to see it happen in style.
The hereditary weight
To understand why, after almost a decade, we are still in the state where we deal with UX, we must understand that this sector was built mainly by engineers and, more recently, by some financial managers. And for these reasons, the priority was not on UX – it was not simply inappropriate to expect it, but also simply not possible.
The first years concerned infrastructures, protocols and ideas. This approach has led us to the first millions of users who have adopted bitcoins, ether and other currencies – in addition to a collective market capitalization of hundreds of millions of dollars. This, in itself, is an important achievement in an industry that is incredibly conservative and resistant to change.
Most contributors in this sector are brilliant thinkers and engineers driven by a mission, a dream and, rarely but sometimes, greed. This sector has attracted a certain type of profile and builders.
There is a reason why all these cryptographic services have similar sites, vocabulary and identity.
But there are also many constraints that have curbed the industry within the limits of what could be designed. To mention only the two most important: safety and regulation.
It is really difficult to get a nice product in use, fast, easy and, at the same time, extremely safe. The priority should always be security when it comes to financial activities. Add to this the need to comply with regulations – when they are clear and existing – that will add many friction points in the flow of a service, starting with the painful need for KYC and AML.
Not many industries have that degree of lack of clarity and the stack of complexity to be addressed. Not surprisingly, this represents a challenge for builders. Finally, let's not forget that there are only 10 years in this revolution: many things are still in progress, conventions hardly exist and no common standards and best practices have been established.
But here's the problem: users are difficult judges.
Their attention span, when it comes to new services, is extremely limited and, as a great designer once said, "a great product should be designed for animals, not humans." Most users do not care about the complexities. They want something that works, is easy to use and feels great. In particular, after having been trained in the last two decades to use excellent products and apps that work quickly and are easy to use, the bar users are used to is high.
And maybe this was good enough for the first users to adopt everything that was around. But we all know that a roof has been reached; At the DevCon of this year, a well-known cryptographer has even come to implore the CTO of a well-known hardware portfolio for a better user experience.
UX, set, go!
However, I have good reason to believe that 2019 will see a major change in the way the shipped products will be executed and presented to users.
Speed: In 2019, we will see technology stacks enabling fast payments, fast payments and fast on-boarding. Speed is one of the most important elements of a good user experience. There is no future for slow technologies: faster chains, faster side chains, faster consensus, faster method for KYC (especially with KYC laptop) will remove a big element of frustration off the table.
Thanks to this, builders will be able to concentrate on UX levels instead of having to solve things that do not matter to users.
People: People produce products. The industry has been attracted by one of the rarest skills in the industry: product manager and product designer, to whom I like to think as the client's supporter in an organization.
They will bring rationality and elegance into an industry that both needs so much. We also saw a much more diverse population in 2018: women, in particular, are better represented and I trust that this will bring a new dimension to the way products are imagined, explained and delivered.
Best use cases: Beyond speculation and remittances in weak economies, the crypt has not found a case of use that forces more users to adopt it. And unless we suffer another serious financial incident – which would push the crypto as an alternative currency as the primary use case – I believe that new cases of use with very pragmatic approaches will seem more obvious to users.
Even if the builders are able to remove most of the friction points, users must find an urgent reason to use an encryption service. I believe that games, access to property (digital property like NFTS, or fractional ownership such as real estate, art or commodities), passive income permitted by token staking and lending will be instrumental.
Better abstraction: No one needs to understand how an IPS or a router works to build something on the Internet or even use the Internet. It would be a terrible thing if it were so.
The crypto industry feels like a giant Lego set without a guide. Developers are building all the pieces and users need to understand it – hence the costly learning cost of the industry that requires a lot of understanding at the grassroots level.
I think that in 2019 things will start to be abstracted by builders and users so they do not have to understand how things work in particular in terms of security, private key management, security, KYC and privacy, and desktop to mobile portability.
First the cell phone: The cryptography industry has been until today a desktop-first industry. It is inconceivable that this remains so when clearly the most important IT devices are mobile. And this is clearly changing.
Developers are increasingly developing for mobile or mobile devices (even just mobile), app stores have a better set of rules and protocols to clarify what you can do and protect users from scams, mobile devices and operating systems with environments security designed better and built-in 2FA (also helped by Fortnite).
The moment is right
At the DevCon of this year – the biggest event in the industry for Dapps and smart contracts – the tickets were paid in fiat, had to be printed on a plastic badge and could not be transferred without a tedious manual procedure.
Even the Ethereum Foundation, which has resources and developers to develop an alternative solution, does not eat its own dog food. I was shocked this was the case.
A change of culture is needed for the way organizations think about their services. I do not think this sector will ever grow into something better and bigger until UX has been considered a top priority next to security. I believe it is the right time for this to happen and for some companies to be able to give an example, thanks to a new generation of talents and organizations with pragmatic use cases.
Because, at the end of the day, a great user experience does not concern cosmetics, or even on-boarding and utility. It is about giving meaning to people who are looking for answers to a problem.
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