I remember my first CryptoKitties experience.

It was 10 months ago, in the height of the craze about these post-modern Neopets. I was painstakingly walking through each step of moving my ETH into Metamask and trying to figure out what this concept of “gas” was. I remember my transaction failing multiple times because each time the gas amount I entered was too low. Eventually I got frustrated and quit, not as much “deciding” to HODL my ETH as much as being held hostage by the confusing of my wallet. (A few weeks later I received a CryptoKitty for my birthday because my fiancee took pity on me.)

The point of this story wasn’t to talk about how awesome CryptoKitties are (but I’m happy to do that anytime). It’s to discuss the challenges we as builders face in introducing new users to crypto. Cryptocurrencies, the concepts surrounding them, and the process of paying with them can be incredibly difficult to understand for people who just want a little bitcoin.

After working as a PM in the industry for a little over a month, I’ve seen that there are two major crypto startup mindsets: 1) Build for the crypto expert or 2) Build for the crypto newbie.

There are no shortage of companies building for the sophisticated user, but very few building for the new user. To truly grow this space, we have a responsibility to help onboard new users and give them a positive experience. Wallets and Exchanges in particular carry a heavier burden as they’re one of the first points of interaction a user has with crypto. The positive news is that many of the biggest companies in crypto understand this and are continually improving their products to educate users.

Research has shown that the human brain’s capacity for new concepts is quite small, only holding 7 unrelated concepts at one time. The more we can tie an action or concept of blockchain to a metaphor from today’s world, the easier it will be for new users to grasp. Using proven best practices from Web 2.0 can work really well here when you think about every app having some sort of onboarding / education component. These three questions below can help you decide when to introduce those new concepts to a user.

Three Questions to Ask When Building in Blockchain

  1. Is an understanding of this concept critical to a user’s success in my product?
  2. Is there a familiar corollary for this concept in Web 2.0 that I can draw on?
  3. When is the right time to introduce this concept to the user during their session?

Tying Major Concepts in Blockchain to Today’s World

A best practice in apps is to use familiar UI/UX patterns for non-differentiating features, and save the creative design for the core features of the product. Here are a few concepts in crypto that are easily translated to real world ideas to avoid forcing users to switch into working memory:

Accounts & Public Addresses

If you think about a public address and private key as the username and password of an account in crypto, it makes it easier to envision typical account actions being taken for a crypto “account.”

Public Addresses have multiple problems that need solving.

  1. They’re hard to remember, easy to get wrong, hard to unwind. Addresses are just a string of characters. If you’re sending money to someone and make one typo, it’s an irreversible mistake and the money goes to some Nigerian prince.
  2. There are different addresses for each currency. Depending on how many coins you hold, you could have more than 10 addresses to keep track of. If you’re using multiple wallets, each wallet also has a public address per cryptocurrency for you to keep track of.
  3. You can’t learn anything about them at first glance. You have to do some digging to learn the identifier that tells you whether an address belongs to Ethereum or Monero or LiteCoin.


At the end of the day, a public address is a signifier of a person. What could we do to make identifying that person easier?

  1. Email was the first protocol of the Internet, built to send messages to each other. Is there an equivalent protocol here, for us to send money to each other regardless of the company we send from? Could someone one day set a custom public address that can be used across services?
  2. Readability in addresses. ENS is one example of companies starting to tackle this. Companies are also taking their own steps to mitigate the risks associated with public addresses.
  3. Customizability in part of the address. We try to set the same handle across our social media accounts. I’m cthrin on Twitter, Medium, Telegram and more. Could my public addresses look like cthrin3w892rjf7jfkdlsnw83sh?

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