Interview with Selene Jin, Director of User Experience


Last updated June 29, 2020, 11 a.m. | Posted by Conor Okus

selene.png
Listen to Conor Okus and Selene Jin

Click here to download the interview as an audio file

Conor Okus  

Hello, everyone, welcome to the Advancing Bitcoin blog. Today I've got Selene Jin, Director of UX at Blockstream. Today we're going to spend a little bit of time talking about onboarding new users in Bitcoin. Given that the narrative of Bitcoin has changed quite a lot over the last few years, and my own personal experience of trying to get people involved in Bitcoin and getting them to understand Bitcoin, has been quite difficult at times. I thought it was imperative that we take a little step back and try to understand, what are the important narratives and important stories that we should be promoting to non users of Bitcoin, and understanding why they're important and some of the barriers that we're currently facing for adoption. So I think Selene is in a perfect position to give a good insight into this. So welcome Selene!

Selene Jin  

Thanks for having me!

Conor Okus  

No worries. So I think it might be worth starting with your own personal journey into Bitcoin and discussing a little bit about how you got involved and how you learned about the technology.

Selene Jin  

Yeah, so I've been down the rabbit hole since 2017. I would say I'm still fairly new in this space, compared to a lot of people. But yeah, so originally it was an opportunity, Blockstream found me and they wanted to start having design of their products. So I just see, back then I didn't actually know anything about Bitcoin or blockchain and I just tried to do my own research online. And of course, as a lot of new users try to do, they come into Bitcoin alone. There were a lot of blockers and obstacles, hit along the way and super confusing. And I figured out, Blockstream seems to be quite a reputable company in the industry already. And even that kind of company in the industry, there's not a lot of UX being discussed previously. So I see a lot of challenges and opportunities in the industry and I want to, you know, make an impact through design, which I see is aligned with my entire career goal, always try to design with impact. So I just wanted to take the challenge, try to, you know, build better products and try to bring up the design, culture and maturity, not only in a company and even in the broader ecosystem, that was what I was aiming for. Yeah.

Conor Okus  

Okay, sounds good. I definitely agree that one of the areas lacking within the Bitcoin ecosystem is that kind of design led user experience focus products we do see at some companies, but broadly speaking, it's not something that's too apparent in the industry. We don't have good enough abstractions just yet. Many of the things that engineers find fun and useful are unfortunately being brought to the forefront for users. So it's wonderful that you're taking the time to find ways and find patterns to, you know,  make using Bitcoin a lot more easy to understand so I commend you for that. So yeah, so we're going to focus today on onboarding new users and stories and narrative so, again, just for yourself, obviously you joined Blockstream without a lot of knowledge of Bitcoin but what was your first understanding of Bitcoin?

Selene Jin  

To be honest, I tried to read the white paper, and I don't really get it. I mean, it seems like the concept that's being discussed there is straightforward but coming from a non technical background and no understanding of cryptography or anything related, it's just like, you know, it doesn't seem like English to me. So that that was the issue. And another issue was there's a lot of confusion back then while you're trying to search Google for what is Bitcoin or a related question. I'm happy to see that in 2020 right now you search the same question and it counts lists which are way better and you know, more clear results back then was super confusing. It leads you to a lot of altcoins and not to talk about the bitcoin.com which is super strong, their confusing noobs, and I think if it wasn't at Blockstream, I might fall into the trap because I just feel really confused and you know, there's Bitcoin there's Bitcoin Cash, okay. Is that one like a savings account another is like a checking account. I don't know. And yeah it just seems like a lot of things don't really make sense to a new user. I will say even after almost three years I'm still learning there's a lot of things and the rabbit hole is deep but overall the maturity in industry and the UX has been improved a lot already. So that's that's great news. And we need to move forward more.

Conor Okus  

Yeah, no, that definitely sounds good.

Conor Okus  

Yeah, I guess given that the cryptocurrency ecosystem has grown quite large in general, and there's many coins that use the Bitcoin branding, I guess it can be quite confusing for users. Definitely. So what kind've stories and narratives do you think are most important for people to promote and for users to understand because Bitcoin has gone from, I guess, peer to peer digital cash to kind've digital gold. And when I speak to people about Bitcoin being digital gold, it's it's quite a big leap from understanding digital gold as a store of value and giving you the ability to save and beat inflation and all of these things when the ordinary person doesn't even, you know, understand gold to be a store of value, even though it's something that's been around for thousands of years. What do you think are the most important things to get across to new people?

Selene Jin  

I think you brought up a really interesting point, which is because of all the craziness in 2020 where the Fed is constantly printing trillions of dollars. And people in Bitcoin start saying, oh, the Fed printing dollars is the best marketing for Bitcoin because, you know, all the people who get the incentive checks they're going straight into Bitcoin. Well, I think this is only partially correct because you know that it has to be based on one condition, that the general audience understands Bitcoin first. Right now I'm not sure if a lot of exchanges actually got a lot of incoming Bitcoin purchase orders. Seems like so, but not sure it was for more high net worth groups. Towards groups which generally have a good understanding of investment and money and all those concepts, or like how many average people, average neighbours or someone like that they're actually putting money into Bitcoin or there are many, just straight into stocks. Casino, right? So I think it's really important that we make people understand Bitcoin first. And I think to encourage people to understand Bitcoin, there are three rules we can consider when trying to build up the stories and the narratives. 

Selene Jin  

So the first thing I think is most important is the integrity. We have to emphasise that buying Bitcoin is investing and buying shit coin is gambling. Because, you know, the news is always full of pump and dump scams in crypto. And people don't see Bitcoin as any different, they see Bitcoin as one of the crypto and if crypto looks like scams they think Bitcoin looks like a scam. Actually that's very often when I try to talk with people who are outside of the space Oh, do you know about Bitcoin? What do you think about Bitcoin? You know, people's attitudes slightly changed over the years, but a lot of people still think it's a scam. It's just, you know, not that trustworthy, and it's highly related to the atmosphere and activity in a space because, you know, there are exchange that list a lot of shit coins, which I personally don't have any issue with that you know there's casinos and people go to casinos it's just like there's always people to play with that but the thing is, if you're in an exchange you list a shit coin and you market them as that's something that holds long term value and people believe in you and they look at it and plus another lack of knowledge is that people think you have to buy one Bitcoin still a lot of people think you have to buy one Bitcoin. So they think, oh, Bitcoins are so expensive, I couldn't afford it. So they just go with shit coins, or they think they've missed the momentum of Bitcoin already. The shit coin probably gonna go up 100 times. They're gonna buy shit coin. So it's all these narratives that lead people into traps and once people fail, like the idea of investment is gone. They don't believe in this anymore. So I think integrity is really really important. And recently there seems to be a trend of Bitcoin only exchanges and the brokers rising up. And I think that's very good for Bitcoin. 

Selene Jin  

Another narrative I think we need to focus on is the positive stories. So, because a lot of time people are hurt hearing the news of the price pump and dump and the illegal activities that's associated with Bitcoin. That's always the focus that the media is having. Right? Like, that's the most frequent news, you see. So as Bitcoiners how do we promote Bitcoin to make the useful, the actual valuable news louder to make people hear it. Like for example, I think there are a lot of exciting academic research and technical advances going on in Bitcoin. But we are not really loud on that, like people discuss it on Twitter and you know, like a quite technical way that, you know, first of all Twitter is there, there's limited people on Twitter, a lot of noobs we are talking about they are on Instagram, on YouTube, on LinkedIn or whatever platform, they are not necessarily on Twitter. And a lot of people if they ever get interested in Bitcoin, they're just going, you know, Google around, like, right now, if you try to Google a lot of technical aspect of Bitcoin that is actually going to be easy to understand and easily searchable it's it's not very you know visible right now. So that's something we need to improve just to build the credibility of Bitcoin and also ease people's concern and give them a positive image of their coin. 

Selene Jin  

And I think another thing I can think about is we need to bring more familiarity to people because right now there's a lot of inconsistent concepts, vocabulary we are using Bitcoin, as well as the Bitcoin brands. So for example, some people are saying Bitcoin is gold, and sometimes people saying Bitcoin is for fast, cheap payments. I think that's you know, like, people are trying to promote Bitcoin is a good thing and but like if people are all trying to promote in different directions, you know people that know Bitcoin have got very confused on that. So, for example, as you just brought up at the beginning, while we talk about Bitcoin is gold, like do people necessarily understand gold? Right? Like, what if we say Bitcoin is better than banking savings accounts that shows them the long term value, it actually goes up and it's higher than their interest, right? Like we educate more on the actual investment. Maybe like gold is a great metaphor, but like, we need to make it a way that people can associate with in their day to day life. That's what I think we need to make the concept as familiar and as simple as possible that people can relate it to what they already know about. So integrity, positivity and familiarity is very important for building better stories and the narratives for Bitcoin.

Conor Okus  

Nice. I love that, three nice high level ways of approaching it, integrity, positivity, familiarity. Yeah just to give my own opinions on it, the whole integrity side of it is definitely important. If you know you want to get someone involved in Bitcoin a lot of the time the only way for them to be onboarded is to either you know, if you have or are fine, with giving away some of your own coins, you can, you know, give them the kind of more raw Bitcoin experience and just, you know, get them to install a wallet and you can send them Bitcoin directly, and that will help show the kind of peer to peer way of accessing Bitcoin. But for many people, that's that's not going to be achievable, so you're more than likely going to want to send them to an exchange and like you just said an exchange in many cases can be quite overwhelming quite casino like, you see Bitcoin at what is it now I don't know like $9,000 or whatever and it immediately scares you away and you see this other coin as like nought point nought nought nought $3 and you think okay like this cost a lot less so maybe I should get this instead, not knowing some of the real differences between the coins. So that's, that's really, actually good. And then the positivity side, I think sometimes the Bitcoin community can be accused of, you know, tearing down other projects or other stuff like that. And for me, ultimately, it doesn't result in anything good. I think the community should try to focus on things that are going well in the ecosystem and things that are pushing the wider community forward. So definitely agree with that as well. And just on making positive news within Bitcoin loud, I like that expression you used, to make valuable news louder. And hopefully that's something we can do here at Advancing Bitcoin with the conference and with the blog and speaking to just a wider community, hopefully that's something we can help to promote as well. So yeah, appreciate those insights. So do you have any stories of trying to onboard a new user yourself? And it being, oh, wow, like this has been quite difficult. Can you maybe talk specifically about, maybe just a user trying to get involved in Bitcoin and then it was just like, wow, this is really quite difficult. And then, what was it that made it difficult in that specific scenario?

Selene Jin  

So as a UX professional, one of my habits is to understand people and understand our thoughts, understand their struggles. So I couldn't help but always ask questions around my friends and the people around me to you know, do you know about Bitcoin? So, I think over time, they will probably say, let's ask three common questions. So the first thing is that, you know, people feel like Bitcoin is not real, because they cannot touch it. They feel like it's without seeing it, it's as a computer problem, how does that even have value? So people have a very hard time associating Bitcoin with something of value, although like, actually the fiat currency was made out of thin air. They are not gold backed anymore the Fed just can print as much as they want. But people's mindset it's like something digital, programmed, you know, something that they don't associate with something that holds value or investments. So, yeah, so that is one difficulty. And another thing is if I ever tried to say Bitcoin is money then the next question people are going to ask is, what can I buy with Bitcoin and, you know, over the years there's a lot of experimental like, you know, there's a lot of merchants now actually accept Bitcoin and people try to travel with only Bitcoin. Those are really interesting experiments. But the thing is in daily life especially in developed countries like the UK or Canada or the States, the payments and the entire system is very mature and people don't have any issue with their day to day credit card, like Apple Pay or those payments, right? So like, if you're allowing them to try to buy things with Bitcoin, first off, they're not familiar and secondary experience is definitely not as easy as just using your regular credit card or Apple Pay. Right? So, then over the years I learned to not say that Bitcoin is money, I will tell them Bitcoin is a safe investment or Bitcoin is gold. 

Selene Jin  

And another question I often hear about, usually from people with more technical background, they think quantum computing is going to destroy Bitcoin. They think, you know, it might have some value now, but so it will be gone, they distrust Bitcoin. So, as people in Bitcoin we know that the current cryptography we are using is greater than a quantum computing can factor and also if public keys are not ever demonstrated to the network until an amount is spent and it just only uses an address once it's like a very good practice to prevent this from happening. In the future if there's like a broad quantum computing there will maybe also be quantum cryptography like right you can have a better algorithm to crack keys but then you can also have better algorithms to make keys. So in Bitcoin, we can justify that this might not be an issue at all, but it's really hard to explain to people outside of the space. So and then for any of those involved, with more knowledge and technical, getting actually valuable content, it's really hard to find just by googling, like if you google quantum computing versus Bitcoin I had a hard time trying to find a you know, valuable answer, and you have to dig really deep into YouTube or Twitter. And you have to bypass all the noises of shit coin and a Ponzi scheme on YouTube right so for any new people who come it's like full of traps you know. They can go wrong at any time, and never be able to go through it, So, well, yeah, so I think there's a lot of issues there. We can solve it.

Conor Okus  

Interesting, interesting. I've not had any people I've tried to onboard give me the quantum computing argument yet. They sound like quite advanced users to be honest. Or they have just seen something online and thought, and kind've run with that quite inflamed narrative as well. But yeah, that's interesting. So, as well as, onboarding new users who know completely nothing about Bitcoin. You made a quite important point earlier actually around are the people predominantly getting involved in Bitcoin already well educated when it comes to investing and so if that's the case, then the diversity within people being able to access Bitcoin may suffer. So how do we make sure that, it's not just, these huge hedge funds around the world or people who are already in positions of power or who are already very wealthy and don't necessarily need Bitcoin. Not to say that they shouldn't get involved but don't necessarily need Bitcoin it isn't a necessity. How do we make sure we still make Bitcoin accessible to as many different groups and individuals as possible?

Selene Jin  

Yeah, so I think there's a lot of things we need to break down in that question. So I will say, accessible in terms of understanding the knowledge is one key and another is accessible, in terms of they're able to use it. So there is a prediction, in the next five years, 8 billion people will have access to the internet, which means there are people from the parts of the world we've never thought of. They will be connected in the next five years. And what do they want? What do they already know? And what do they get excited about? We have to take that into consideration. And, you know, think about right now, SpaceX and a lot of people try to build satellites and make internet access as easy and as cheap as possible. So people are going to have low cost internet, they probably going to have solar power, so low cost electricity and they might still have very low income, for example the Bitcoin wallets we create now as the basic tool everyone needed in order to be able to access Bitcoin, can it be run, you know, on like a $10 device? Like that's something we need to consider right? And, and how do we make those people know that Bitcoin is their way out? Because as we discussed a couple of times today already, gold is a concept that's not very familiar to a lot of people. Right? So like, how do we make it understandable and simple enough so everyone can relate? So I think these are good challenges we can work on and you know, if everyone has access to Bitcoin it's going to solve a lot of issues we are having right now.

Conor Okus  

You make make a lot of good points around, there's a whole part of the population, the global population who are just being, you know, onboarded on to the internet, like you say and so their mental models around what it means to access digital resources and stuff are going to be completely different to those of us who have been using the web and the internet since we were very young. And so it provides a good opportunity to understand what their wants and needs are, and try to mould this technology in a way that is useful for them as well. Whether that be at the core level or maybe higher up in the stack of technologies we don't know yet, but it's important that we don't leave those people out of the story. As I think my personal opinion is that like Bitcoin is a little bit in danger of becoming a bit corporatized, if that's even a word, but it's in danger of becoming far from those kinds of people as well. 

Conor Okus  

So yeah, last question or two. 

Conor Okus  

So, from my time in the space and going to conferences and meeting different types of people, there's a lot of very highly skilled professionals, technologists, developers. And there's also a lot of finance people and economics people, especially from the Austrian School of Economics, very smart, very intelligent people. But there's not so many designers, people focused on user experience, people from more, "creative" industries. And it's going to be quite important that these kinds of people start making their way into the space for a lot of what we're saying to become true and easier for users. So have you thought about ways to help bring in more of the "creatives" into the space to help develop some of these narratives and help with kind of abstracting away some of some of the stuff that users don't really need to know, into the space?

Selene Jin  

Yeah, so there are a couple of times I tried to go to design conferences and actually ask designers about Bitcoin there. And a common issue is designers feel the same as other regular people we're talking about. A lot of designers distrust and hesitate to work on Bitcoin because I think it may fail and they think it may fail and the knowledge they gained will go nowhere. And that's a huge risk to their career so then they don't really want to design for Bitcoin. Another thing is, you know, compared to other emerging technologies on the rise right now, for example, VR, AR really, really took off during the pandemic. I personally got the quest and there's the AI and you know, since there's a lot of Interesting things to work on. And Bitcoin looks very technical and it's hard for people to get interested in the first glance. So I think that comes to two things we need to focus on. 

Selene Jin  

First thing is we need to solve what's the issues we listed for all the general audience, that's going to be bringing more creatives for sure. And we need to also build a design culture in the space. So, in terms of building design, culture is basically closing the knowledge gap. So first of all, outside of the space, the designers don't understand Bitcoin they're lacking resources to understand it and inside of the space, a lot of people with technical backgrounds also have limited understanding of design. So it's currently not a very welcoming atmosphere overall, for any creative profession to come in and try to make things happen. While people are still in the mindset that think designers only make things pretty, it's the last step of shipping some products. It's really hard for design to be effective. And it's like a trap that if any designer says this, they will like, try to stay away because it's going to make designers work really difficult. So I think building a design culture is very important. And also in terms of people concerned about their knowledge being not transferable and their career being, you know, not going very smoothly in the industry. We can also try to build a design community where we have more shared resources on existing products guidelines. And since we've already built what works, what didn't work so anyone who searched Google for anything related to Bitcoin design, they can just find some insight and take a peek into what it is actually like. And it gives people a better idea and a better confidence to decide if they want to design for Bitcoin. So I think one also when we have some more solid products like make the overall look less like a scam because like right now a lot of products they are just very, very unbearable. I will say for outsiders, where this world is already heading towards building. Not only good products but competing with excellent products. This space is in a very early stage. And for people outside who don't understand the technical limitations and the atmosphere, they just think it looks like a scam. So I think we need to ship some really solid products. And we need to build an open and encouraging atmosphere. So then more designers will naturally come into the space.

Conor Okus  

Wonderful, wonderful, I couldn't have said it any better myself. I'm quite lucky to actually work at a company where we have quite a big design team. And when you have design as a real, I hate to use this word, but  resource or real capability within your organisation, or just across an industry in general. It really just shows in the products that are built, it just shows that when users are able to just get it instantly without having to go through many challenges and many hurdles to  achieve their goals. It really does show in the products and, and services that people are able to use. And I think this is happening slowly, very slowly but surely in the Bitcoin space so we can definitely do more to try and create this design culture and help designers outside that ecosystem understand this space a lot more. Thank you for that. So that's that's it from me in terms of questions. Are there any final thoughts you'd want people to go away with before we wrap up?

Selene Jin  

Yeah, I think we have discussed a lot of interesting topics today. So a lot of issues are like long term issues. We really have to factor in and make it better, like, I feel like sometimes in this space, people are super enthusiastic and have very good intention, trying to educate people who are not in Bitcoin yet and try to, you know, bringing people in which lets them aware of the knowledge but sometimes it does feel like it's a bit too forced onto people and that's reflected in a lot of aspects including how, you know a lot of security features is designed in wallets and other products. So I feel like you know, like, forced will make people  have a fight or flight that kind of response. Stress Relief picture and tell people simplified and straightforward and familiarise concepts and lead them into the door and let them discover of course, we have to provide the resources that make them easier to discover what they want. But, you know, a more easy way to start with a bigger picture, start with simple concepts and bring people in, let them ask questions and provide the proper resource for them to find their own way. Let's say, yeah, I think that's the most important thing to bringing new users.

Conor Okus  

Okay cool. And where can people contact you and reach out to you if they have any questions or anything like that?

Selene Jin  

Yeah, ah, I don't usually use a lot of social media, but maybe the most frequently used is Twitter. So you can just shoot me a message there. My DM’s open, Always happy to chat.

Conor Okus  

All right, cool. Thanks for taking the time to speak to me today. It's been really insightful, and I will catch up with you soon.

Selene Jin  

Yeah, thanks for having me.

Conor Okus  

No worries, I'll speak to you soon.

Selene Jin  

Yep, speak soon. Bye.



Thanks for reading!

If you enjoyed it, please share it on Twitter.