I had a long and thorough conversation with a front-end cryptocurrency developer about pulling off a perfect user experience for an upcoming app. It struck me that every situation where the experience was best had the most severely limited choice, and every UX nightmare we were trying to hypothetically avoid involved essentially tricking the user into not knowing or seeing how the whole process worked “under the hood.” Good UX, essentially, is a magic trick.
Good user experience involves a lot of misdirection away from the inner workings
Providing a great user experience for the customer is more about deception than anything. Let me clarify: this doesn’t mean it involves lying to the customer, but rather in having them believe that the whole process is much more simple than it actually is. Apple products have intentionally stripped-down and limited interfaces to give the experience of touching physical objects instead of all the code that goes on in the background. Banks pay interest, many offer free checking, and seemingly let you withdraw your balance at any time, without letting on that they actually don’t have your money anymore and make you pay for checking services etc. by loaning it out at much higher rates. An automatic transmission vehicle simply runs smoothly, without showing off shifting gears, fuel injection, and all the various inner workings of the internal combustion engine. A good consumer-facing product has to feel like it really just runs on magic, and there’s a good deal of trickery and sleight of hand to get to this experience.
“Magic internet money” still feels a little rough
Despite being around for nearly a decade, cryptocurrency still largely doesn’t have this smooth and polished feel. You have to copy/paste long public keys that look very much like the cryptography that they are. You burn money simply reorganizing your account. Rather than simply working, transactions show up as unconfirmed and over time acquire confirmations, giving a frustratingly detailed answer to the basic user question: “Did it go through?” For “magic internet money,” cryptocurrency still feels pretty rough. Some products have introduced a greater degree of polish, like the Edge wallet, which has a username/password setup in place of the typical recovery phrase or downloadable backups, but such familiar experiences are few and far between.
Some hurdles will be difficult to gloss over
Introducing “UX magic” will be significantly more difficult with some setups. For example, any coin that does not leave more transaction capacity available than is currently needed, and allows a fee market to develop, will have a very difficult time getting that magic feel when transaction fees and times vary wildly. A poor but consistent experience feels more like “it works” than a highly variable experience, and customer frustrations at having to pay something one day and pay something different the next will render said product unusable. I’m especially curious to see how the Lightning network gets spun into a slick and consistent user experience, what with long deposit and withdrawal times, a fee to both open and close an account, and routing errors.
The project that successfully pulls off the magic trick wins big time
There are endless moving parts to cryptocurrency right now, and this will only get worse as new features and functionality become possible on the latest platforms. The gargantuan task ahead of us is to put a consumer interface over all that and leverage all the back-end functionality to somehow make that interface seem as smooth and magical as possible. This is one of the reasons that Dash’s Evolution platform, conceptualized in 2015, has taken so long to fully develop and implement: the more easy and mundane the user experience is to be, the more of a tricky balancing act the back-end infrastructure has to, especially when creating a decentralized system. Peer-to-peer digital currency is a glorious mess behind the scenes, and hiding this fact from everyday people is the ultimate magic trick.
Magicians don’t create anything extraordinary, and can’t simply be reduced to petty deceivers. They’re masters of the human mind and know how to make people believe they’re seeing magic instead of all the complicated and mundane work that is actually taking place. We need some magicians in crypto.