Marrying Technology and User Design is No Easy Task for Bitcoin
If you had to choose between the release of Lightning Network’s mainnet and a sleek, easy-to-use, user interface for your Bitcoin wallet, which would you choose? Perhaps your answer depends heavily on how you imagine the future of the pioneer currency. If mainstream adoption is the primary focus, then perhaps the latter may be the best choice.
Clunky User Design: Does it Actually Matter?
Reflecting on the first few occasions, one operated their first cryptocurrency wallet is probably accompanied by some cringe-worthy memories. Even now, following the most recent release of the Bitcoin Core wallet, many of the design features have been left relatively untouched.
Users are met with an industrial gray reminiscent of an early-rendered Windows operating system, unsmoothed buttons to open and close new functions, and a relatively spartan welcome to arguably one of the world’s most disruptive technologies.
To the layman, comparing version 0.15.1 to 0.16.0 would seem fruitless; they both look relatively identical. There is, however, a rather important difference between the two.
The newest release comes fully equipped with SegWit, making all transactions faster and cheaper by default. From a technical standpoint, the integration of this feature is perhaps one of the greater achievements of 2018. Before, if users wanted to send transactions using a SegWit address, the process was much more tedious.
It meant first opening the Debug window, then clicking the “console” tab, and then typing in “addwitnessaddresss addr” with “addr” being a legacy (or existing P2PKH or P2SH) address from which the transaction could be sent. After, the software spit out another series of numbers, except this string begins with the number “3.”
And, voila, you’re on your way to speedy transactions and supporting a much leaner Bitcoin network. But if you consider the first industry crypto is looking to topple day-to-day transactions, then the above method hardly competes with Visa and Mastercard. And that actually might be a good thing.
Design will Solve the Problem of Adoption
One of the inherent risks of rushing technology, in order to meet eager mainstream users hoping to lease their first Lamborghini, is that it can be incredibly difficult to turn back. Any discrepancies regarding privacy, for instance, are writ large and sometimes irreversible.
Second, if not cognizant of the above-mentioned transaction updates, a firm may also be single-handedly responsible for clogging the entire meme pool. This barrier to scalability is especially problematic if said firm becomes incredibly popular in the short-term.
At a certain point, people are just going to want to spend their money regardless of what happens to the health of any given blockchain. If it looks nice, transfers value like you want, why would you go back to a gray Debug window?
As such, some users may never turn away from the Coinbase’s of the crypto world because the on-boarding process was just so simple and the blue and white theme reminded you so much of another site with which you transact so often. As designer Yazin Akkawi puts it, “Cryptocurrency’s rise thus far has seen a similar trajectory of technological revolutions throughout history: they prove their usefulness in the early stages from forgiving early-adopters and achieve mass adoption through usability and design.”
Finally, herein lies everything that is at stake regarding Bitcoin’s user design and experience discussion; bringing a currency for the people, to the people, while maintaining the highest standard of security and efficiency. No easy task, of course, but critical if the cryptocurrency market is to compete in any signficiant way with the likes of Apple Pay, established banks and other payment apps.