Usability: The ease of use and learnability of a human-made object such as a tool or device. In software engineering, usability is the degree to which a software can be used by specified consumers to achieve quantified objectives with effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction in a quantified context of use. Source: Wikipedia
Also known as: Blockchain’s gajillion dollar question. Potentially its Achilles’ heel. And maybe one of 2019’s great unknowns.
Like any new technology or platform, blockchain-based decentralized applications (Dapps) require new users to learn and adopt new behavior patterns. But these new users face an extremely steep learning curve—preventing them from engaging with or adopting Dapps.
For the past year, our team here at Blocknative has been reading up and experimenting by building our own Dapp prototypes. Like many Dapp developers, the more we tested these Dapps, the more unsatisfied we became at how difficult they were to use. Fortunately – due to the efforts of key industry players jump-starting the larger conversation – the subject of blockchain usability came to the fore in 2018. Here are few of their most notable contributions:
- The Ethereum Foundation made user experience central to the programming at Devcon 4 in Prague.
- Sarah Baker Mills led the launch of the Rimble Design System at ConsenSys Design.
- Beltran Berrocal published the Web3 UX Design Principles to help democratize Dapp design best practices.
- Austin Griffith introduced Ethereum Meta Transactions to onboard users to Web3 without having to first hold Ether.
- Mitch Kosowski launched ETHPrize as a community research project to identify and solve the most critical issues facing the Ethereum ecosystem — including usability.
- Alex Van de Sande pioneered Universal Logins to replace complicated login sequences with familiar patterns.
- Connie Yang at Coinbase shared her rapid user testing, prototyping, and tools for facilitating debate with the broader Web3 community.
- And much more we’re likely leaving out…¹
This work proved vital — and motivational— to development teams like ours as we struggled with the user-hostile Dapp experiments we'd built. So, out of pure frustration, we decided to tackle the problem head-on and began building a lightweight, automated system to assist in onboarding new users to Ethereum-based, Metamask-enabled Dapps. Simple enough, right?
Not so much. After a few false starts, we realized that moving the needle on Dapp usability requires a well-crafted, end-to-end approach. Our research revealed four core capability areas to be addressed:
- Readiness Assessment: to programmatically detect, in real-time, each user's technical readiness to engage with the Dapp.
- Onboarding Assistance: to provide an out-of-box, componentized UI that guides users through the actions they need to take to be ready to use the Dapp.
- Transaction Awareness: to give onboarded users real-time feedback on their in-flight transactions, including handling common pitfalls and errors.
- Performance Analytics: to provide baseline visibility into the 'wallet funnel' from top-to-bottom.
Then we obsessively tested every user situation we could dream up so that our system could gracefully handle as many edge cases as possible. We pursued a balanced look-and-feel to inspire confidence and add a sense of familiarity without calling too much attention to itself. We made each major capability modular so that Dapp teams – like yours! – can integrate exactly the elements needed.
Along the way we settled on a name: Assist. Because that's what we set out to do for Dapp developers and their end-users.
We've been heads down designing and building these core capabilities and have barely begun to scratch the surface of what's possible. While we can't predict what the future holds, or what kinds of Dapps are currently under development, we hope to make positive contributions to the field of blockchain usability. This makes us excited to share what we've been building and to do whatever we can to accelerate the arrival of the block native generation.
Will 2019 be the year of blockchain usability? Heck yes. So let’s get there. Together.
We’ll be sharing more in the weeks ahead. We've recently started testing Blocknative Assist in the real-world, so please let us know if you're interested in learning more. And everyone who is curious will have the chance to go hands on with our code at ETHDenver 2019. We look forward to seeing you there!
In the meantime, just sign up for our email list to get an advanced preview of Blocknative Assist and our live demo.
 Our apologies! If you’re doing relevant work in blockchain usability, we’d love to hear about what you’re building.