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Cryptocurrency UX Challenges

by Linda Lee, 2017-08-21

What is and is not a UX problem

It’s common to think that bugs are a UX problem. Let’s say that there is a bug that causes an application to stop working at random times. While this is incredibly frustrating to the user, this doesn’t mean it’s a UX problem (assuming that you don’t want it to stop working at random times, and that the fix is a change in infrastructure or code). Good UX practices means not frustrating the user, but this is ultimately a technical problem.

A problem is user experience (UX) related when everything technically works, but something is still causing users to have troubles completing their task. Examples of common UX problems include: long arduous forms that filter inputs and submit the information correctly, browsing on a non-mobile site that is hard to navigate on a phone, and not giving feedback when a user makes a mistake if the request fails to go through.

  1. People can’t see the benefits of using cryptocurrency.

    Cryptocurrency has different benefits, such as remaining independent of any specific nation-state, being transferrable across borders without huge fees, and providing privacy for transactions. But until people believe that these benefits exist, they will not see the need to use cryptocurrencies. On the other hand, the volatility of cryptocurrency prices along with a human bias toward loss aversion has people stopping before they start.

  2. Cryptocurrencies are hard to use.

    Using cryptocurrencies requires extra effort because it puts the workload on the end user--the end user has to download a wallet application before being able to make purchases, and receiving and sending both require user work. Additionally, user interfaces are laid out differently, and applications vary in what kind of capabilities they have. Users need to re-learn how to do things each time they use a different wallet or payment processing system (which is as weird as if someone had to re-learn how to use a credit card if they used a different card or if they were trying to pay at a different store).

  3. Using cryptocurrency requires knowledge of cryptocurrency.

    Using money does not require knowledge of how bills are minted and circulated. The ideal scenario would be that users would not need to know much about cryptocurrencies before using cryptocurrencies. But currently, users should probably know about their private wallet key, what a blockchain is and how long it takes for transactions to be confirmed, and how much extra to include for transaction fees. Because cryptocurrencies are decentralized and users effectively become their own bank, I don’t know if this responsibility can be fully removed from the user.

What we can do about it

  1. Educate users about the benefits of using cryptocurrency.

    Show people that cryptocurrencies are cheaper, safer, and nation-state independent. Educate users on the possibilities of microtransactions, being your own bank, and other things that are not possible with cash or credit cards.

  2. Improve the availability, accessibility, and interfaces.

    We can do things to make cryptocurrencies easier to use. This includes increasing the number of merchants which accept cryptocurrencies and to raise awareness of which merchants they are, improving the existing infrastructure so that cryptocurrencies are able to be used despite network conditions, and standardizing the UI across various wallets and payment systems to minimize the re-learning process. Even better, it would be great to make it really easy to use cryptocurrencies by providing tax documentation.

  3. Educate users about cryptocurrency concepts.

    Good user education is key. Interactions which gloss over all the terms leave people more confused. A lot of our design metaphors are wrong! A wallet does not contain coins because the coins are in the network, and the wallet is more like a keychain of keys--and if you hand off a key to someone you give them access to your money. There are no coins in digital currencies--they create leger entries with inputs and outputs that are infinitely divisible and recombinable (which coins don’t do).