Guiding principles to keep coming back to

Tip: I think these are the most relevant principles for Web3 design. When in doubt, revisit these notes!
This is like a “best of” edit of the cognitive biases page.

1. The Aesthetic-Usability Effect

Users perceive aesthetically pleasing designs as more usable. It’s trendy on LinkedIn to bang on about how UI ≠ UX. This isn’t well-known, but when you become a senior product designer, you’re actually taken into a secret room and told that they’re basically the same thing. Make the design beautiful, have excellent typography, and ensure good contrast. The site will be easier and nicer to use.

2. Doherty Threshold

Productivity soars when the system provides feedback < 400ms.
400ms was the value arrived at in 1982! It should probably be even faster now, like <100ms.
In user tests, I have observed people click things in dApps multiple times just because the system is slow and they don’t know what’s happening. If wait times are unavoidable, you can make them tolerable by adding feedback, such as progress bars and animation.

3. Cognitive Load

Don’t show every single metric you can think of. Fight hard against this temptation. Users are probably searching for only one or two main things when they enter a pool or vault or whatever. If you really have to show a lot of info (possible on a loan position), then use hierarchy carefully and consider hiding some in an accordion.

4. Anchoring

People tend to rely heavily on the first piece of information presented to them when making decisions. Pick the right thing, and make it obvious. In DeFi, this is going to be APY 90% of the time.

5. Mental Mapping (my pet theory 🧐)

A mental model is the representation of the experience that the user has in their mind.
A conceptual model is the actual UX given by the design and interface of the product.
To give a common example; when the Kindle first appeared, the mental model was “a book”, and the conceptual model was the UI with buttons and reading locations. These are quite close and we adapted quite quickly.
When there is a significant mismatch between the mental model and the conceptual model, the product is hard to use.
My theory is that DeFi is seen as hard largely because of various gaps between users’ mental models and the projects’ conceptual models.
A couple of examples:
  • Users don’t know the real value of every transaction they make. The mental model: I am exchanging money. The conceptual model: I am exchanging tokens in a new web3 economy.
  • Users don’t know what an Automated Market Maker is. The mental model: This is a bit like a bank? The conceptual model: Decentralized trading using algorithms to price assets in liquidity pools
  • Users want to save money. The mental model: I can deposit coins and earn? The conceptual model: Mining, farming, staking, CRV emissions, bribes, vaults, lockers, veTokens, vesting.
I’m fairly convinced that people perceive DeFi as hard, not (just) because of glaring functionality issues, but because it’s new and we lack the right mental models. The overall UX/UI is steadily improving but there are still huge issues around terminology and education.
For a start, how many people understand traditional finance? And yet we’re trying to onboard users by having them skip over the foundational models used there.
Then we’re introducing all sorts of new, and totally inconsistent, terminology like farming, mining, vaults, lockers etc! And new ideas like veTokens, bribes, protocol-owned liquidity…
Here’s what I think needs to happen:
  1. Use simple, and consistent, terms
  1. Educate users on these terms
  1. Do user research on current mental and conceptual models.
In this way, web3 now is actually very like web1 back in the day. Few people understood what imap/pop3 meant, but they knew what “electronic mail” was and they just wanted to set it up and get an email address as quickly as possible please. Few people knew what http or ftp or ssl meant, but they could just about open a web browser, find some “pages” and try to download some files.