Why Designers should care about blockchain

The technology revolution is here and it is not virtual reality or voice assistants: blockchain, a young industry where excitement is huge around cryptocurrency. However, blockchain is more than bitcoin and making fast money, blockchain evangelists think it can remarkably improve our life. But so far most concepts are technology driven and design in all aspects (CX, UX, Visual, Service and Product design) doesn’t play a big role when people think about blockchain and was not part of the revolution so far. That’s why this talk will explore the role of design in the blockchain space.

Many blockchain applications don’t have an interface yet or do not have an impact on the front-end, but how can we apply design thinking to experiment with and design future products and services based on the new technology foundation? How can we help others to better understand the value, benefits and opportunities blockchain could provide to people, users, customers, organisations and businesses? What are design principles to create trust in a technology that offers complete transparency, privacy and security? What are the next steps for designers to be part and influence the revolution?

Stefan Schroeder – Why Designers should care about blockchain

Stefan is crazy enough to be a designer, but he was also crazy enough to study maths for a couple of years. He is driven by the desire to make something that makes a difference. This leads to why he thinks we need more designers involved in blockchain.

A good designer is always a pissed off optimist. Challenge the status quo and make a difference. Make the world better, even just a little bit.

Two provocations:

  1. The future of innovation is not virtual reality, people plugged into the matrix. Does that really make the world better?
  2. The internet is dying. It’s broken. Back in the 90s we thought it was a decentralising force, that would give us power and freedom. But we have lost faith that’s happening.

So what is the revolution? Surprise surprise – blockchain!

A little history first. Blockchain started in 1991, when some smart people figured out how to describe a cryptographically secured chain of blocks. 2008 Satoshi Nakamoto publishes a paper about cryptocurrency (Bitcoin). 2013 Vitalik Buterin describes his vision for Etherium, extending the concept of Bitcoin beyond just currency – decentralised smart contracts (doesn’t that sound like the early internet?!). 2017 saw a huge surge of interest in Bitcoin and the mainstream became aware of cryptocurrency, but interest in blockchain remains minimal.

OK, so WTF is blockchain? Without going into crazy detail…

The blockchain is an incorruptible digital ledger of economic transactions that can be programmed to record not just financial transactions but [virtually anything] – Don & Alex Tapscott, authors Blockchain Revolution (2016)

Blockchain’s key features are control of data & sensitive information, connection of physical and digital, zero downtime, no third party… and simply being sure of things. We can create something we can truly trust.

Example problems:

  • A “fake pilot” who flew for 13 years without a license. But if that license was verifiable on a blockchain, it couldn’t have been faked.
  • The average person has to repeatedly provide personal information to apply for jobs or seek permanent residency. Once you hand that information over, you have no idea where it goes or who has it.

So what’s the challenge?

  1. Everyone is new to blockchain (this is also an opportunity for designers to get in early and help pioneer it)
  2. Blockchain has a usability problem (tech driven and under-designed, plus it needs to drive behavioural change)
  3. The challenge is not a new one (compare blockchain with the birth of the internet, there is a lot of knowledge to draw on from decades of experience building the web)

With blockchain we can create real world impact.

The UN is using Etherium in its World Food Programme, to distribute food vouchers. It reduced cost; removed opportunities for abuse or corruption; and increased privacy for refugees.

  1. Collaboration is the core of the vision for blockchain
  2. Define principles to set focus – eg. how do we design for trust? How do we create language that every user can understand?
  3. Apply human centred design

Start with knowledge. We need to educate ourselves better, educate our companies and clients. Showcase the way we could create value for them and our users.

@schrdrs | hackernoon.com/blockchain