Like any innovation, be it the space race of the twentieth century or the internet revolution of the 1990s, the rise of blockchain technology is ultimately a competition. Companies are flocking to the cryptospace to quickly and efficiently develop tech solutions galore – financial products, video games, business software, you name it. The proverbial race is on.
In the chaos that is technological advancement, though, certain components of a product can be overlooked. These details may exist at the micro level and be easy to fix – think missing commands and improper syntax – but they can also be larger, like an overall clunky interface.
Specifically, one area of blockchain and cryptocurrency tech could use a facelift: trade platforms. On the end-user side, these platforms may appear bare. According to David Bleznak, founder and CEO of the crypto portfolio manager Totle, they almost look like "windows directly into the blockchain," which is "not a pretty look." User interface (UI) and user experience (UX), two significant aspects of product design, essentially fall onto the back burner.
Bleznak believes this is because, so far, it has been more imperative to place development focus on the backend.
"The short of it is that most groups have been focused on creating the appropriate infrastructure," he said. "There are still a lot of changes and new protocols and new systems that can be put into place that can further the technology at the infrastructure level."
Juan Hernandez, founder and CEO of the securities token platform OpenFinance Network, shares this sentiment, although he notes there are concerns with compliance as well.
"It's still just the early days – people are kind of figuring out how to connect the dots and ensure that the actual securities transaction flow is compliant," he said. "Unfortunately, some of the UI/UX has taken a back seat ... as people focus primarily on the compliance and regulatory issues."
However, these two CEOs have taken strides to develop platforms with UI and UX in mind, despite the general focus on infrastructure and protocol. The Totle team, for example, decided to build its platform user experience first.
"Our approach was that since there were dozens of groups trying to solve that problem [of infrastructure], the white space was more in the user experience," said Bleznak. "We started with the experience and the interface and then worked backward down to the protocol level."
He noted the company has received positive feedback for its development approach, although the process has taken a little longer than expected. Regardless, he said his company is developing its "product faster than 90 percent of the groups in this space."
To further improve its UI and UX, the Totle team hid the protocol level so that users can experience a system they recognize. According to Bleznak, it is something akin to "Robinhood or E*Trade." He elaborated "that it's just a nice, simple interface that allows people to change their allocations, and then with one transaction to the blockchain, we handle all of the difficulties for them."
OpenFinance Network, on the other hand, has a feature called the Investor Passport that consolidates know-your-customer (KYC) and anti-money laundering (AML) accreditation information. This is similar to the single sign-on capabilities of social networking apps. Hernandez said the platform "can provide that validation service so you can trade on other platforms, and those platforms can accept your Investor Passport data knowing it was verified by a regulated entity like ourselves."
Of course, KYC and AML regulations are inherent to the cryptocurrency-trading ecosystem, so a single sign-on mechanism is more of a Band-Aid. Hernandez sees these regulations as "an accepted standard" in the industry. To Bleznak, such accreditation is necessary "prior to entering the [trading] system."
Moreover, working in tandem with UI and UX to make exchanges more accessible are educational resources and information. The education component is not only important for consumers wanting to use crypto exchanges; it also applies to providers on the market. Hernandez said that while "putting out content and material" on the consumer side is necessary, so is "getting [providers] up to speed on any regulatory items that they might be missing … [and] up to speed on the best practices within the industry." This two-pronged educational effort, according to Hernandez, could help "define a level of standardization and uniformity so that there is interoperability between all the different portals and platforms."
One education-related concept the OpenFinance Network team is developing is a research feature that would allow users to obtain important information, especially as it relates to securities tokens, in an accessible format.
For these exchange platforms to grow, however, there needs to be a commitment to make it easier for others to participate, hence an emphasis on UI, UX, and education. Hernandez addressed this thought and said that although OpenFinance Network is currently focusing on active crypto users, he eventually wants the company to expand.
"We know we need to grow that pie, and that's what we're working on with our partners to basically amplify and help expand their reach – not only on our platform but all of our partner platforms that are plugged into us," he said. "If more tokens and more investors participate in our partners' offerings, then that's going to increase the number of tokens and investors that can participate in our exchange platform."
Bleznak echoes this sentiment, as Totle is also targeted toward the enthusiast crowd. He said that although he wants to grow the company's user base, he and his team are "realists." He maintained, "We're not pie in the sky with our efforts."
If crypto trading platforms want to reach new heights, as the saying goes, then their UI and UX need to be on point, lest the casual consumer be barred from the space. The community will not always be comprised of hardcore investors and techies. In fact, Bleznak said that cryptocurrency is at the tipping point and there could be a "ripple effect" whereby interest in the technology would spill over into the mainstream.
At the end of the day, blockchain and cryptocurrency development is still nascent, as both Hernandez and Bleznak have noted. Infrastructure must be built, and the kinks need to be worked out. UI and UX have understandably been given less attention.
That said, these aspects of product design are important to the success of the industry. I mean, nobody wants to use an interface that looks like 1990s ASCII art, right?