BitCoin: How to Make Cryptocurrency Engaging with Human-Focused Design

Bitcoin needs to be more human-focused

When fortunes are made and lost in new technology frontiers, someone will write a story about it. BitCoin has been in the news a lot, and probably will stay in the news for the foreseeable future.  This happened before with Web 1.0 and Web 2.0.
Obviously, anyone trading BitCoin, or Ethereum, or LiteCoin, is interested and engaged (probably daily) with news and actual transactions of the digital cryptocurrency. BitCoin creates a sense of missing out combined with incredible unpredictability.
We know from human-focused design that the human brain likes unpredictability and is very curious.  But how can BitCoin (or the blockchain technology at its core), be designed better so as to be truly engaging in the long term for humans?
After the speculative interest, the scarcity, the unpredictability, all fall away, will there still be a natural human way to engage with BitCoin? (Or whichever digital currency wins out and becomes mainstream?)
Let’s take a glance at why BitCoin is interesting, then examine how we might design it to be even more engaging for the long term.

BitCoin is scarce (scary), and unpredictable (and yet we love it!)

BitCoin seems to have it all from a behavioral science perspective.
But for the moment, BitCoin and other cryptos are all about what we in Octalysis Design call Left Brain / Black Hat. They incorporate intense fear of missing out with massive unpredictability.
BitCoin is built on new technology (blockchain) by an anonymous person. No one really knows who created it. Nice, we have an origin story of mysterious flavor–who doesn’t love that? If that doesn’t make you curious, nothing will. Oh, and to acquire it, teams of miners have networked hundreds of computers to ‘mine’ the scarce resource.
As an investment vehicle, BitCoin has hard-to-track unpredictability. It’s price moves faster than the winds in a storm at sea. People have made and lost incredible value trading, just like the age of exploration merchants sailing the trade winds to and from the spice islands.
BitCoin is in the news. So  you can’t not pay attention. And like an pop culture or tech phenomenon, people like to talk about it. Knowing just a few more soundbites than your peers gives you a leg up in cafe or bar-style conversations.  You might even impress someone in a negotiation setting.
There is a glimpse of epic meaning, too. We’ve already discussed the origin story. But consider the following: the concept of a non-fiat, or decentralized currency, brings to light good democratic feelings. Liberal humanism with the spice of democracy is one of the fastest growing belief systems in the current moment.
There are feel good stories to back up the safe-haven of crypto. For some people, in countries where fiat currencies have inflated out of proportions, BitCoin and other cryptos were literally a way for people to save the value of decades of work (which would have been washed away by their country’s fiat currency inflation). See most recently: Venezuela. People here were able to use cross-border money transfers driven by BitCoin.
This is all fine and good, but…

Why BitCoin is boring

BitCoin doesn’t do anything. It is simply another indicator of value in a world where more and more people don’t know what to do with their money. There are reasons to be bearish about BitCoin.
BitCoin isn’t really safer than your fiat currency, at least if you’re in most stable countries. If someone hacks your BitCoin wallet and sends all your BitCoin to someone else (the hacker, usually), you can’t get the BitCoin back, because all transactions are final. This fact stands in stark contrast to fiat currencies held or backed up by institutions like big banks or companies like PayPal, who monitor fraudulent activity and reimburse customers. Here we see loss and avoidance in clear display.
For traders and the average holder, BitCoin’s value fluctuates eclectically. Yes, no one can take it away from you if you are storing it in a crypto wallet or on your device (outside of the hacks previously mentioned), but its value is subject to much scrutiny amidst the hype.
As of late 2017, there’s not that much BitCoin will easily buy you in the consumer world. Outside the exchanges, BitCoin is not a common transactional payment at your local coffee shop or bakery. So the BitCoin you have just sits there and accrues or depreciates in value, depending on the tides of the market. Some people just don’t want one more thing to worry about.
For many, ideas of democracy and freedom fall flat.
BitCoin may not be the crypto that ends up being valuable. It might be another crypto which emerges later.

How to make BitCoin and crypto more interesting

Since BitCoin is primarily an investment vehicle (with unknown outcomes), why should the common man or woman want to invest time and energy to:
a) get Bitcoin or
b) do something with it once they have it?
There are many banking institutions, firms and technology companies working on making crypto part of their future services, or making crypto easier to attain. But they don’t have to be the only ones.
What anyone working on  BitCoin and crypto and blockchain needs to consider is this: How can BitCoin and crypto be turned into an experience for a person to enjoy for a long time?

Cement the value proposition, starting with epic meaning.

Most descriptions of the democratic nature of cryptocurrency (the non-reliance on corrupt governments or self-interested banks) are overblown, or at least omits one key detail: that BitCoin itself is not immune to corruption. Few people truly understand the intricacies of BitCoin and its underlying blockchain technology, and these people have the most interest in spreading the positive messages about democracy, decentralization, and freedom. Who doesn’t like freedom? Sometimes these stories sound too good to be true, which isn’t a good sign for the astute consumer. If these messages can be brought down to the practical level, where a common man or woman can see how this epic meaning affects his or her life today and next week, then crypto will get more attention from these commoners 🙂 (including me).
Examples like Po.et,  which reclaim value for content creators, publishers, and consumers, is an example of a blockchain application that is built on the epic meaning and calling of returning value to the people who created the value. These applications need to be inserted more vigorously into the conversation.

Use creativity to build applications, infrastructure, communities, and ecosystems.

There are many promises being made about what the blockchain can do for our future, but the only application of blockchain technology that matters today is cryptocurrency, which, as we’ve discussed above, boil down to a simple investment vehicle.
Once the other promised applications of blockchain technology are built, from an infrastructural and consumer standpoint, it will become more interesting for the regular person on the street. The point here is to create motivation through Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness.
Just one potential example that will require some design: When I can use blockchain technology to get credit for great undercover journalism in a war-torn country, maybe I could gain reputation among a cohort of international journalists. This is reputation a university will never grant me, but the blockchain could.

Take me on a Journey

The experience of BitCoin is not yet a journey many people want to take. Instead of thinking of the purchase as a function-focused transaction, the human element needs to be added.

Discovering Bitcoin, buying it, nurturing  it, making it grow, and using it for some meaningful activity will allow users of BitCoin to have a fully-realized motivation experience with the product.

We would love to see an app which turned your BitCoin purchases into an avatar or creature which needs to be taken on a multi-year journey. Visualizations have been shown to create intense attraction and engagement from Tomagotchi through to Farmville and Snapchat.

If this journey incorporates the evergreen Core Drive: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback, so much the better. If every day I need to water my plants to make them grow, the more engaged I will be. This metaphor needs to be applied to the entire BitCoin and blockchain space.

Make cryptocurrency human-focused

Even if I invest time in getting crypto and putting it in a wallet (and learning how to manage this wallet and the various streams of news around Bitcoin), there is not much for me to do with it. By contrast, I can do much more with US dollars, or Pesos.
When BitCoin and blockchain technologies build for humans and human needs today, instead of in the future, they will broaden the usage rate of these somewhat difficult to understand and use technologies. When BitCoin and blockchain technologies are designed to create a user journey through the 4 phases of an experience, they will begin to prosper.
The Octalysis Group has a proven track record of analyzing new technology and business models to bring products to market for maximum impact and engagement levels from humans.
Give us a shout!
Joris@OctalysisGroup.com
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