Feature, Not Bug: The Terrible Rationale Behind Web3's Product Design by@olafakomi

Feature, Not Bug: The Terrible Rationale Behind Web3's Product Design

In the time since Satoshi sent his first email, till now, the way we understand the blockchain has grown by leaps and bounds. However, there are still a lot of barriers that blockchain technologies have to cross before they can fulfil their potential. Too many founders today are caught up in the trap of increasing functionality and utility on their projects and neglecting user experience and user design. The poor or lacklustre product design of blockchain products is more of a feature than a bug, rather than a feature.
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Ola Fakomi

I spend most hours of the day designing and helping startups design transformational digital products.

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From the time since Satoshi sent his first email until now, the way we understand the blockchain has grown by leaps and bounds.


However, there are still a lot of barriers that blockchain technologies have to cross before they can fulfill their potential. Today, there's a lot of talk about scalability issues and interoperability concerns, but those issues, while important, pale In comparison to the enormous monster blockchain products have to slay; product design.


If you're a nerd, a geek, or someone who generally cares more about the technical aspects of things, you may not care a lot about the aesthetics of blockchain products. The colour scheme, the ease of use, and all of that may not matter to you. You'd probably care more about the smart contracts' validity and the project's possible utility instead.


But that's not how most people think. Too many founders today are caught up in increasing functionality and utility on their projects and neglecting user experience and user design. That tendency is one of the reasons why Web3 interfaces today suck.


If you're a product designer and have ever encountered a Web3 interface or blockchain product, you probably already know how bad it can be. Even if you aren't a designer, just a few attempts at performing a few tasks via dApps or wallets will make you rethink the whole adventure. One might even be led to imagine that good user experience and design were part of the trappings of Web2 that Web3 promises to let go of.



Feature, Not A Bug

Web3 developers may not say this out loud, but a fundamental philosophy behind Web3 design is no barriers. In some ways, that could be a good thing. Thinking outside the box could create innovative projects like NFTs and plots of land in virtual worlds.


But that could also be a bad thing, especially regarding product design. There are many design rules that you cannot just innovate around. You cannot creatively dispose of these rules, and you have to take time to learn and stick to them. Unfortunately for Web3 today, that's not the starting point that many blockchain product designers fancy. That means they end up reinventing the wheel — but in this case, the wheel they reinvent ends up being useless.

In Web3, everything — from the way we store information to the way products look, is subject to radical change. Ergo, it follows that the poor or lackluster product design is more of a feature than a bug. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," they say. But how does that saying work in an ecosystem where there aren't any sacred cows that cannot be radically changed?


Suppose you add the predisposition of Web3 founders to focus on utility and functionality, rather than design, with a massive incentive not to pay attention to Web2 design principles, what you get is an ecosystem that has a poor design by design. And that is exactly what Web3 is today. The important question now is, can this change?



Tech Constraints

While the product design of Web3 today isn't a mistake, it's also important to acknowledge the extent to which today's tech places a constraint on proper Web3 product design. First off, we need to understand the reason why Web2 products have such intuitive design. Did they just happen upon it?


The truth is that they didn't. All they did was create a clear idea of what their users were, have these users interact with the design, and iterate continuously based on those interactions. Doing that wasn't cheap by any stretch of the imagination, and it certainly helped that Web2 first-movers could set these designs even before the first product code was written.


Hence, they put the design before the building itself. Or in other words, the proverbial cart was put before the horse. The continued iteration of these designs, however, relied on having a critical mass of people interact with them day in and day out. Mobile phones were instrumental in this regard. Unfortunately, since Web3 is still very young, it doesn't have that critical mass yet. Additionally, mobile phones are yet to be optimized to operate these dApps.


This means there are fewer people to interact with these designs, and the people who do interact with them don't do it every day. Thankfully, there's a lot of work being done in that regard. Meta Mask is one of the first movers in the space, and chains like Solana are looking at a wholesale solution like Web3 phone.



Product Design is a Feature

Web3 developers may be alright with working in an ecosystem that systematically promotes poor product design. They may believe that it's better to reach for utility, functionality, and funding first. However, they must also, as a matter of necessity, realize that great product design in and of itself is a good function.


This may be counterintuitive, but it's true. Great product design has about a 9,900% ROI. When someone uses a dApp, you aren't only selling them the functionality of that dApp. You're also attempting to convince them that it will be easier, cheaper, and better for them to grasp that functionality than that of other traditional apps. Awful product design doesn't sell that at all and instead tells them that whatever utility is on offer isn't worth the hassle.


Of course, I'm not pretending that Web3 founders don't know this. The issue is that they are overstating the importance of utility and massively understating the importance of having good product design. To many of them, the benefits of Web3 mean people will adopt it regardless. To others, whatever problems Web3 design has can be solved as mass adoption happens. The problem with that rationale is that bad product design is perhaps the most significant barrier to the mass adoption of Web3.

If it isn't solved soon and reliably, it could be the stumbling block that holds Web3 at bay for another generation. Poor product design may be a feature of Web3 today, but it needs to be classified as a bug and removed immediately.


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Ola Fakomi HackerNoon profile picture
by Ola Fakomi @olafakomi.I spend most hours of the day designing and helping startups design transformational digital products.
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