Removing Fear From Bitcoin With Better Design

Bitcoin is ruthless and unapologetic, but using it doesn’t have to be. As we design products built on Bitcoin, we need to stay focused on removing as much fear as possible, while still maintaining the integrity of Bitcoin’s primary value propositions.

People generally don’t like to be scared. I’m taking about real fear, not scary movie or haunted house fear. Like accidentally sending all of your money into an irreversible black hole fear. Or losing your retirement fund because you forgot a randomized twelve-word sequence fear. The kind of fear that dissuades new users from joining the Bitcoin network, and crushes the souls of Bitcoin noobs who make simple, yet fatal mistakes.

I think there will always inherently be a heightened state of awareness that comes with being a financially sovereign individual, but that doesn’t mean people should be scared every time they want to send someone money, or even just keep self-custody of their wealth. As designers, we need to focus on removing as much of this fear as possible.

By design, Bitcoin’s features make it less forgiving than traditional financial systems. Transactions are immutable and irreversible, wallets are only as safe as you choose to make them, and there is no central authority to contact if you make an error or lose your money. By opting out of the fiat monetary system, you’re choosing to take responsibility for your own wealth, at the cost of losing the assurance that someone will fix it you if you make a catastrophic mistake.

While designers work to remove the fear of using basic Bitcoin functionality, we have to simultaneously protect and preserve the immutable, decentralized, peer-to-peer nature of the Bitcoin network. We can’t sacrifice security for convenience, and this is the crux of designing for bitcoin.

One popular solution is to provide centralized services to custody and control Bitcoin wallets and transactions. Most newcomers feel more comfortable giving large institutions custody of their Bitcoin. Not because this method is actually safer, but because many self-custody wallets have failed at removing fear from their user experience. It can still be intimidating and complicated to perform simple but essential tasks like setting up a hardware wallet or node and sending Bitcoin to your account.

I’ve heard some Bitcoiners shaming new users for not keeping custody of their funds or making simple mistakes, but the blame ultimately lies with the designers of products built on Bitcoin. We can’t expect a normal person to want to spend countless hours researching Bitcoin technology. Not everyone who uses Bitcoin wants to be a hardcore Bitcoiner, and that’s ok.

We’ve come a long way, and the future of Bitcoin is looking great. As the ecosystem evolves and new users pour into Bitcoin, user experience will become the leading factor in which products are adopted and which are abandoned forever. Let’s make sure the ones that are adopted are not just the easiest and most enjoyable to use, but also preserve the core values of Bitcoin itself.

Check out the Bitcoin Design Guide!

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I’m a UX designer based in Chicago.

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Reed Henning

Reed Henning

I’m a UX designer based in Chicago.

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