Jan 19, 2024 · 11 min read
Can we ever truly humanize crypto? Can we make crypto simple and user-friendly?
The short answer: no.
But to understand why, we need to dive into the complexities and limitations of the crypto world.
Let’s explore both what is being done and what is being missed.
The Silicon Valley elite, in their high-tech bubble, play with digital coins and encourage the rest of the world to follow suit. Crypto is the future they say, and there is some truth to that — blockchain technology has the potential to change the world if applied correctly.
Unfortunately, the current form is highly speculative — almost gambling — and the rest of the world isn’t ready to play these games. They have low wages, tight budgets, mortgages, and even families & kids.
Yet, with effective marketing, budget, and influential gurus, any dream can be sold. Thus, in 2021 the dream of crypto investing, a Web3 future, and NFTs was crafted and marketed (in the land of Mordor where the shadows lie).
And the timing was perfect. COVID: people were bored, sitting in their homes, saving money (no more commuting to the office), and had extra time to learn, explore, and invest.
In 2023 I joined a crypto company called Flooz as a Product Designer. I wasn’t aware of the many problems of crypto, and for me it was just an exciting new technology.
The Flooz team was different from the typical crypto fanatics. They already existed before crypto (as an app for influencers), and transformed into a crypto startup after getting swept up in the crypto wave.
Their new mission was to onboard the next 100 million users onto the blockchain, humanise Web3, NFTs & crypto, and make it accessible to everyone. It was about more than technology; it was about giving equal financial opportunities to everyone, everywhere, through their smartphone.
I was drawn to this ambitious mission in 2023 and joined the Flooz team. I was responsible for designing the Flooz: NFTs & Crypto Wallet App, which was available on iOS & Android. Users could buy, trade, and manage crypto assets across Ethereum, Polygon, and the Binance Smart Chain.
But let’s be honest — the world of Web3 is a rollercoaster: thrilling, daunting, and filled with diverse and strong opinions (like the posts by Stephen Diehl).
I can offer you a firsthand account of what it’s like to design for what they call the “future of finance”.
I want to share my learnings and reflections on working with a new financial technology that directly impacts users lives, so you can become a better, more thoughtful designer.
At Flooz, like with any crypto wallet app, we faced a range of typical user experience challenges. In this case study, I’ll focus on a select few that stood out for the lessons they offered:
The next logical step, upon facing a challenge, would typically be research. Except, we’re talking about crypto startups. So there is no time, budget or willingness to invest in user research, set smaller KPIs, or run usability testing.
The crypto world moves too fast to pause and plan. So to keep up, you copy features from competitors, ask your community for feedback, chase the stakeholders’ vision, ship new bugs (oops, I meant “features”), and run even faster.
This is why 90% of crypto wallets look the same, have the same features, face the same problems and lack human touch.
They play safe. They adapt familiar Web2 patterns to Web3. They mimic larger wallets that, unlike you, might have budgets for research and usability testing (or not).
But this isn’t unique to the crypto space. It’s quite similar to any innovation breaking into a super competitive market created around hype.
As a fresh and small crypto startup, what you lack most are users. In the crypto space, it’s not as if you have something unique or different to offer. You have exactly the same features and possibilities as the 100+ other wallets in the market. So, how do you get these users to choose your wallet?
For the sake of the story, it’s important to explain one of our biggest bets: launching in the African market. Africans do not trust their government and banking systems due to their exceedingly high inflation rates (172% in Zimbabwe, 45% in Ghana, and 20% in Nigeria according to statista.com). So the idea was to assist African economies by giving them alternative financial solutions.
However, it turned out, they don’t have money to buy cryptocurrency and cover the fees, and more critically, they simply can’t.
Take Nigeria, for example. Its complicated system of multiple exchange rates makes it difficult for anyone to access US dollars. But to buy crypto, you need dollars. And according to a World Bank report, only 45% of Nigerian adults have bank accounts.
To purchase crypto they need to contact a local “crypto dealer”, who will purchase crypto on their behalf and transfer it to their wallets. Then, it’s up to them to find a way to pay for this expensive service.
And a more unexpected challenge for a Silicon Valley entrepreneur: in many African countries they can’t even load crypto wallet apps due to terrible internet connections.
Before the Flooz team completely realized these obstacles, we had already successfully planned, designed, and launched an affiliate program to acquire new users in Africa.
The concept was really straightforward: affiliate and referral programs work for any app, right? That’s how big names like Amazon, Uber, Airbnb, and Revolut gained their users.
In our referral program:
1. Influencers apply to become affiliates.
2. They invite their followers to the Flooz app.
3. They earn $1 USDT (a crypto stablecoin equivalent to $1 USD) for every user who becomes an “activated user”. An activated user is one who has bought any crypto and performed one swap — exchanging one token for another.
Also, they earn a small fee from the trading activities of these users.
Well, as an influencer, you can probably convince your followers to install an app. But getting them to spend money on something they don’t fully understand, especially with fees that are larger than the amount of tokens they receive — this is where things start to get more complicated.
And this was precisely why our affiliate program struggled to yield results in the African market (or, let’s be honest — any market).
A recovery phrase (also known as a seed phrase) is basically a unique series of words used to authenticate and encrypt your wallet access. The problem is that it comprises 12 random words which you need to enter in the correct order to restore your wallet.
And here we are, dealing with Web2 users, many of whom use a single simple password for all their accounts. Knowing this, we ask them to securely store 12 random words, essential for accessing their money.
Understandably, regular people often lose their seed phrases. They’re accustomed to the real world, where if you forget or lose your online banking password, you can simply call the support team or, sometimes, visit the bank office to get a new password and regain access to your account and assets.
But that’s not how it works with crypto wallets. If you forget or lose your seed phrase, everything is gone. All your bitcoins, NFTs, or any other assets are lost forever.
Many crypto wallets have been searching for ways to solve this challenge in an easy yet secure manner. And they kind of found it — Cloud Backup. Following the trend, we quickly added the option of cloud backups (iCloud for iOS, Google Drive for Android) to our wallet.
The catch is that for a secure cloud backup, it still needs to be password-protected. And since we’re dealing with a financial product, this password needs to be strong.
People don’t always understand what a strong password entails, so we included suggested steps to help our users create stronger passwords.
We also introduced a minimum requirement of 8 characters to finish your cloud backup. Then, it’s up to the users to continue with a weak password or to tick all the boxes and create a strong one.
At this stage, it’s crucial to understand how crypto wallets earn money.
There’s a group of major payment providers, like Moonpay, Ramp, or Mercuryo, that enable you to buy, swap, or sell crypto assets using your regular payment methods.
In other words, they exchange cryptocurrencies for “fiat money” (the crypto term for regular money). And they don’t do this for free — for every transaction, on top of the blockchain processing fees (also known as “gas fees”), they add their own transaction fee.
This is where crypto wallets come into play. They partner with these payment providers to either get a cut of the fee or to add their own fee on top of the provider’s transaction fee. In summary, every time you buy, sell, or swap crypto, you’re paying three layers of fees.
I know, it’s a bit confusing. Why would anyone pay these intermediaries? Well, if you want to exchange smaller amounts of crypto assets in a user-friendly manner, or keep all your assets in one place (like your NFTs and multiple wallets), you need a crypto wallet.
Now, it becomes clear why there are so many crypto wallet startups. They don’t have to deal with complex financial institutions, they don’t have to create their own payment systems, or even access any of your data. They simply act as an interface for interacting with the blockchain (where your assets are actually stored).
Therefore, to make money, crypto wallets rely on transactions. The more transactions they have, the more fees they collect, and the happier they are.
Let’s assume we’ve done our best to bring users to the app and secure their wallets. But then there’s silence… No transactions are happening, and no fees are being earned. They just HODL, or don’t have any crypto at all. That’s bad for crypto wallets.
We conducted competitor research, engaged with our community, and noticed a common blocker. Users were unsure about which tokens to trade, where to find information on these tokens or Web3 trends, which influencers and experts to trust, or how to avoid scams.
So, we decided to tackle three challenges at once (Transparency, Trust, and Education) with a single feature: Discover.
With this new magical tab, users can learn about trading tokens, search for any token or wallet, view content from proven industry experts, explore the latest social posts, and learn important crypto basics.
Thus, we dove into the design, incorporating various content types (blog posts, TikTok & YouTube videos, Twitter posts, lists of wallets or DeFi apps to follow) and several token lists (like trending, biggest winners, and biggest losers).
Eventually, we realized how long it would take to develop this vast content machine. We bit off more than we could chew.
We did implement a simplified version though, featuring a few blog posts and token lists. As you might guess, this didn’t much affect the transaction situation.
By the end of summer 2023, investors had lost hope of bringing back the crypto hype and seeing a return on their investments. As a result, many crypto startups struggled to secure new funding rounds. In addition to this “funding winter”, new government regulations and platform restrictions (like those from Apple) negatively impacted the industry.
This led to a wave of crypto layoffs, and many wallets simply decided to shut their operations. This was also the case for Flooz’s wallet. The Flooz team chose to discontinue further development of their wallet and instead focus on expanding their web platform.
And this is where my journey with crypto ended. I have no regrets about joining the Flooz team, they are an amazing group of people.
However, while working there I became increasingly frustrated and disillusioned by the crypto industry. Despite working at a relatively ethical company.
It’s yet another example of silicon-valley startups solving 21st century, developed economy problems. For tech workers and millionaire investors, losing a few hundred bucks playing with digital coins isn’t a big deal. And they lack empathy for people in less developed countries, for whom crypto isn’t a game.
As for my own experience, I learned how easy it is to be attracted to shiny new ideas. I wish I had explored the industry more before jumping in.
Secondly, I realized how we designers from developed tech economies are also in our own bubble. We’re used to our fast internet, the latest MacBook, and the newest iPhone.
So we also need to pause and reflect. Am I solving a real problem? Do I help all people? Does this solution harm users? Is my design ethical?
If we want to live in a better world, we need to think about ethical design. If you’re interested in learning more, I recommend checking out Mike Monteiro’s Code of Ethics.
There is no future for crypto in its current form.
Now, having seen the “behind-the-scenes” of the crypto bubble, I can say that its widespread adoption is not coming any time soon, at least not in the form of scammy tokens and meme-based NFTs.
There’s still enormous potential for blockchain infrastructure to assist with various data challenges, online identification, and transparency. Financial & real estate investments, insurance services and more could all operate on the blockchain, eliminating the need for a middleman.
And users don’t necessarily need to be aware that they’re using Blockchain. Just like customers in the Starbucks Loyalty Program don’t know they’re being rewarded with NFTs (Starbucks calls them digital collectible “journey stamps”) or that the program runs on blockchain technology.
We don’t need to concern ourselves with which blockchain stores our purchases. Moving forward, most people using crypto to buy something might not even realize it.
I hope you made it through this crypto journey with me.
The visuals throughout this case study are my own UI experiments based on Flooz Wallet. The light theme doesn’t feel futuristic enough. So I enjoyed exploring dark-theme UIs and neon interfaces for this case study.
If you have any feedback or questions, please feel free to reach out.
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