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Understanding blockchain UX, remote working and the importance of a great product — Interview with Oana
Today is a special day because it brings the latest installment in our team interview series. Thank you to everyone for the great feedback we received on Twitter and Telegram regarding Terry’s interview in December.
Today’s interview is with Oana Mangiurea, SelfKey’s design lead and product manager. We cover a ton of interesting topics, like who provides a best-in-class user experience in the blockchain space, and what it’s like to work remotely.
Let’s get going!
Hi Oana, thank you very much for taking the time to give this interview. Could you start off by giving us a brief overview of yourself and your role at SelfKey?
Thank you for the opportunity Chris. My current roles at SelfKey are Lead Designer as well as Product Manager. While this could come surprising for most, we are a startup, thus everyone of us wears more than one hat. And to be truthful, being on top of this as a Product Manager, and thinking of all aspects of the business, as well as user’s needs really helps when designing our products.
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To finish answering this question, my background is in UX and UI Design, with some front-end development experience, which I did in my early career stages, and helped me a great deal along the way, speaking the same language as our developers. My passions are also quite related to my career, ranging from photography to industrial design.
As SelfKey’s product manager, you define the visual aesthetic and feel of the product. Do you try to adhere to set design principles? How are they implemented in SelfKey?
You know, I think if you search for design principles online you’ll probably find more than 100 different results, and that’s because each branch of design has its own set of rules or principles to follow.
When I joined Selfkey, the wallet was already launched and looking good at first glance, the team was testing different wireframes with the users, but still something was missing. I ran the first UX Audit on the existing product, as a whole, and it revealed some flaws in the wallet’s design. Right now we are in the middle of updating all this interfaces, making it more user friendly, better looking and overall accessible for people suffering from different impairments.
Going back to your question, a product has to be first and foremost useful. I would say we have developed our own set of rules to abide by. To name a few:
- Design for usability rather than the aesthetic, and this includes the often forgotten world of accessibility
- Use simple language that everybody can understand, as much as possible in the blockchain world
- Follow established patterns, if any. We don’t try to reinvent the wheel for the sake of being “innovative”, we want to make sure our users spend the least amount of time while performing any action in our wallet.
- Consistency. Using similar actions, hierarchy, and visual elements reduces the cognitive load of the user and also makes the product look more trustworthy. And we know how much that counts for startups 😉
- Provide instant feedback for the user actions.
It seems to me that most blockchain service providers use different design paradigms. Blockchain.com for example has a completely different look than Binance. Do you think there is such a thing as a typical blockchain UI design?
You shared some good examples, from different spectre of the blockchain world. We have the so called product showcase (blockchain.com) vs the exchange listing (Binance). So while they are completely different on their own, they do follow a typical UI design in their category.
Big headers, isometric illustrations, dark themes, they are overall web design trends, rather than blockchain design. In 5 years they could be completely different. That’s why I usually advocate for a design that focuses on functionality and not on looks. We’re trying to built a product that will look good even in 10 years from now, when who knows what the trend will be.
I personally think that blockchain startups have historically put function over form, meaning they sacrifice good user experience for increased functionality. Is there a blockchain platform that provides a best-in-class user experience in our opinion?
You’re so right. As for a lot of young products, people jump ahead and cram as much functionality in there as possible, thinking that this sells, and it’s one of the biggest reasons there are so little users of any kind of blockchain technology. I remember the first time I had to wrap my head around crypto exchanges for example, took a few days of research, and I still feel like I understand only 5%, lol.
Good thing, at some point in their history, they realized users fall in love with easy to use products so they started to think of user experience. As for my personal favourites, with lots of space for improvement, I would say Coinbase Wallet, BitPay and Steemit.
Applying those ideas to SelfKey, how would you like to see the SelfKey Wallet and Marketplace evolve over the next few years?
The answer should be the dream of every Product Manager or UX Designer out there: a product that will be loved and used by hundred of thousands or even millions.
Speaking realistically now I would like to see a shift in the tools used by government institutions, by banks, by medical facilities, and others alike, a shift of mentality, that will allow a smooth and easy KYC process, a prove of who you are as easy and natural as buying a coffee.
The SelfKey Wallet and the Marketplace should become one of the key players of this movement, offering access to high quality services, to anybody with an internet connection, in the most secure way possible.
I think I’m right in saying that you have worked both inside and outside of the blockchain industry. What do you think sets a blockchain product manager apart from his more mainstream counterpart?
I think this applies to any let’s say emergent markets, so as a product manager to such a market, I would probably spend more time doing research, identifying the user and market needs. Then it’s harder to stick to the roadmap that you so carefully planned, because the technology that we rely for future developments is also in it’s incipient phase.
At the same time it is all very exciting as well. I don’t think there’s a day that passes by without hearing of a new promising blockchain project, or learning something new about our users and their expectations.
Most of our readers will already have heard about the SelfKey Marketplace. Could you explain what it’s been like to work on such a big project and how our readers will benefit in the long run?
Lots of research (that should be written in caps 🙂 ) mixed with empathy. That’s sums it up on how it’s to work on such a project. For each marketplace that we would take into consideration we had to understand what happens in the “traditional” environment. What are the user’s pain points, what are his frustrations, what does he want to achieve, and at the same time, get the other perspective, how are all the service providers doing their job, what are the legal aspects for their jurisdiction and so on.
What resulted from here, and what you’ll be able to see in the upcoming months, are not just services listed on a page, but problem solvers to actual people’s need. So the long run will be ease of access, simplification, and hopefully more time to spend with your loved ones, instead of finding documents, copying them, legalize them, repeat over and over again.
Most readers will not know that the SelfKey team is 100% remote working. What are some of the challenges and advantages of remote work in your opinion?
The challenges depend from person to person. For me, one of the biggest challenges is the lack of people around me. I’m an extrovert and I like to exchange ideas or make a joke by the water cooler. But I can’t complain too much as there are so many advantages. Again, I’ll be subjective on this one, I like that I can finish work pretty early, so by 4pm I’m ready to hit the gym. There is no schedule I have to stick to, as long as I’m there for the company calls, so that leaves me with enough free time on my hands.
I also travel quite a lot, both me and my fiancé work remote, so there’s nice that we don’t have to stick to the traditional vacation days. Last thing to mention (the list is huge btw) is that there are no more Mondays to hate. There’s that awesome feeling you get on a Sunday evening, that the next day you don’t have to get out of the house. I have a fully equipped office in the house, but on Mondays I’m most productive from the middle of the couch.
For readers who might be looking into blockchain UX, is there a book, blog, publication or other media you could suggest in order to start acquiring the necessary skills?
There’s no such thing as blockchain UX, and that is the awesome part of this job; the same techniques apply no matter the industry for a user experience designer. As long as you have empathy, a curiosity for everything that you do, and the willingness to fight for your users you’re good to go.
But for those wanting to get into the UX space, I would recommend some basic online courses, provided by Interaction Design Foundation. You can learn much faster than from books, especially since there are hands on exercises you can do.
I think learning aids and tools are a really great way to get to know a profession. As a blockchain product manager, what tools do you need to be proficient in?
My tools of trade as a product manager would be:
- Aha! For all things product: from roadmaps to competitors, this tool has it all
- Github with ZenHub integration for development task tracking
- Asana for company wide tasks and projects management
- Confluence for any documentation that we produce
- Balsamiq or any other wireframing tool. Draw.io when we need to design flows.
- Notes, as basic as this tool is, I don’t need anything else for my thoughts or to-do list
As a final remark, what would you like to share with readers looking to work in the blockchain space?
I won’t tell you about what terms you need to understand, about the regulations that need to happen, about the current technology limitations, any new domain is hard to grasp at first. Just make the jump. Working for a blockchain startup has the same feeling as working from a garage in the 90’s Silicon Valley. This could be the beginning of something great, why miss it?