Since I started working with Web3 and learning about it, I have turned into a curious user of whatever products I found. I needed to learn about wallets, platforms, and decentralized applications (known as dApps): how they look, what features they offer, how their flows work, and how they communicate with their users. It’s not a joke, I had benchmarking sickness! I have a bunch of folders with thousands of screenshots and notes on my computer desk. It was important for me to know what I would face as a UX designer in this new world.
My attention was drawn to the lack of good user experience, and I couldn’t help but notice the similarity to what Web2 experienced in its journey to become the internet we know today. In the beginning, information was communicated one-way (from companies to users) through flat, non-structured and neverending HTML pages. Now, it has become conscious of its users’ needs, habits and ways of communication. It introduced mobile friendly solutions and orientation towards user content creation and participation. Web3 comes with really good technical advancements and social foundations, such as decentralization, ownership and control of our own data. However, we can realize how difficult it is for some users to navigate and understand these products.
Considering that Web3 still has a long way to go and that everything seems a mess today, it’s essential to start this journey by mentioning some issues that UXers should pay particular attention to. Some of these issues we are already capable of facing based on what we have learned with Web2, such as good practices in usability, accessibility and content writing. Other aspects will challenge us to find new design principles as UX maturity reaches this Web3 world.
What are the 5 aspects of UX that Web3 could improve?
1. Dev-centered content
The first UX aspect that web3 needs to improve is the technical acronyms and strings of alphanumeric information that are very common. This can be very difficult for a normal human being to read and understand. CeFi, DeFi, ERC-20, Smart Contrat, custodial, non-custodial and gas are some of the most popular terms, and if you are not an expert user or a developer you would most likely get lost and disorientated. It also may make you feel that you are not part of this world and demotivate you.
In this early stage, most product decisions are made by experts or developers, due they have spent more time working on it, defining and creating the technical foundations of Web3. But, it seems that the complexity that this technology brings cannot be easily hidden and is presenting many challenges to users. So, it’s our job as UXers to make it easier to use.
Of course, our first step is to understand what is this all about so we can be accurate in our decisions and solutions. We must be careful with the labels we use, make sure that we are naming the elements properly, and being specific about what task is going to be performed on each screen. We will need to add tooltips, explanatory text, guides or even a glossary with friendly information (see this glossary that helped me a lot on this journey). We just need to know what technical jargon is needed, what information is helpful at the right time and what users really understand, in order to define the content and be confident with the way we communicate.
2. Asynchronous experience
Asynchronous experience is another UX aspect that web3 needs to improve. Among new users, DeFi (decentralized finance) transactions appears to be a complex and overwhelming task to perform in Web3. A single transaction could require multiple confirmations, as well as several pending messages that need to be accepted, and can happen on two different platforms (on your wallet and the dApp) minutes apart.
In most cases, the platforms do not provide all the information that the user needs to calculate, verify and accept the transaction. So the users must also check several sources or platforms simultaneously, such as the gas rate (fee), their token’s market performance (Token = any digital asset, cryptocurrency or NFT), the reliability of the address you are interacting with and so on. Also, most of this information is changing every few seconds.
All of this raises questions about what are we doing and where it comes from, which may be related to a lack of knowledge and trust. To help the user make an informed decision, we must understand what they need. So, we can provide links to the correct sources while being clear that we are redirecting them to an external tool. Also, we can provide the exact data they need in one place, as well as giving instant feedback to guide the user in this uncertain and asynchronous environment.
Nothing new, right? Nonetheless, since users are used to Web2 transactions, where it is rare for a payment to be canceled or for the user to remain unaware of a payment that has been made, we need to reduce the overwhelming feeling of Web3 transactions.
My last thought on this is about mobile usability, as these actions and queries happen across multiple apps, along with website changes, and the information we consult is usually complicated and full of data. It’s a big challenge to think in mobile-first solutions.
3. Response times for blockchain queries are slow
This is one of the aspects of UX that Web3 most needs to improve. Web2 users know that a 3 second wait for a system response is a long time, so we need to figure out how to handle waiting time on Web3. Now that we have gained trust and transparency, what about time waiting?
We need to take into account that if we are reading data that has already been written and confirmed in the chain it could be fast, but when we need to write data, it could be really slow. So, if someone expects to finish a transaction and then read it immediately after, the user will be disappointed. Depending on several factors (and the chain, not all of them perform the same way), the time frame can be from seconds to minutes or hours. Give you context, when a transaction is pushed to the blockchain, it does all the things that a traditional database does. However, it’s slowed down because of carrying more operations, including signature verification and tx validations with a consensus method that adds more time before a transaction can be processed.
Until now, it seems that this issue is just technical and, as UXers, we can’t do much. But, we know that people need to have information in seconds and Web3 products often appear to be broken or in an action that never ends. So, we need to be creative on how the users perceive the time. We need to be really clear about their actions status (ie. started, processing, finished), counters and loadings are a good tool to explain whatever the system is doing and how long it could take. Keep them on track!
4. New users mindsets are unknown
There is no doubt that Web3 brings with it major paradigm shifts, which will bring changes in the way users interact with it.
Decentralization will enhance the participation of the community in the development of this technology, which will provide transparency in the data and a sense of belonging. Taking the ownership of our own information will make us more aware of how and where to use it, and force us to take full responsibility for keeping it safe. Non-custodial wallets are already presenting these habit changes in the face of decentralized finances without knowing in advance if users will really get used to them and adopt them for good.
Knowing that Web3 is still in its discovery phase, no one knows what they want or how they want it. Even the market price hasn’t been set yet! It’s constantly changing at a speed that is difficult to follow, creating a sense of madness and stress. Will people adapt to this, or will this technology adapt to its new users mindsets?
To improve the UX aspect that Web3, It is necessary to keep our users close to us, to get to know them and to be aware of their needs and expectations, even if they don’t know it yet. But, it will be better if we discover the path together. Including user research, usability tests, metrics and other research methods that suit us, it will help us discover step-by-step the new mindsets and behaviors on which Web3 will be based.
There are plenty of active users who love to share information, whether openly or anonymously, on Twitter and Discord. There are even some Web3 projects for this; for example, there is a nice tool to obtain user insight, called Early Ones, that offers feedback and opinions from users that already are consuming Web3 products in its early stages. We just need to look around, find our target participants and do our research.
5. Lack of education to the newbie user
The last aspect of UX that Web3 needs to improve is the lack of education of the novice user. Newcomers can feel overwhelmed and disoriented when landing on a Web3 product for the first time. This happens especially on the first few screens of the product, which show all the information, features and options at once. There seem to be no instructions and the user is expected to figure out how to use it on their own.
And this is not so trivial, everything you do in blockchain/DeFi is on you. You are fully responsible, but also the one to blame. The users must pay attention and be aware of all their interactions. There is no going back in blockchain matters, here is no customer support to solve the mistakes. Your tokens, keys, or other assets could be lost forever if you don’t know what you’re doing. And keep in mind that nothing on Web3 is for free.
Thus, a newbie faces a high barrier to entry and is prone to mistakes when it comes to niche knowledge. Is the UXer that should prevent any kind of undesirable mistakes where possible.
It is clear that the blockchain itself is a complex theory and challenges the user to be informed, to study new concepts and to be in the flow. But, it takes a lot of learning to fully understand it, and it shouldn’t be this hard for newbies. We need to educate, motivate and guide them.
To engage new users smoothly and faster in this world, we need to devote resources and efforts to educate them and provide friendly and digestible information. Detailed manuals are not necessary, who needs to know everything all the time? But the use of FAQs, help docs and walkthroughs could be good options, as well as paying special attention to our onboarding flows. Also, we can add goals for users to achieve as they progress from newbies to advanced users, to become more and more proficient in the use of dApps. Therefore, this learning process can be simplified and more gradual.
This has been just a glimpse of some of the aspects UX that web3 needs to change. But, I know there are a lot of other aspects that we could improve to make our new users’ lives much easier.
Good UX practices haven’t yet emerged and we have many challenges to overcome. The expectation and the high bar that Web2’s users left us, will turn these challenges into a real statement as something to motivate us to improve ourselves. We are at a time when we need to use the best of web2’s design and mix it up with the best UX solutions that this new era will bring. Based, for sure, on new users.