5 Key Differences between Web2 and Web3 UX/UI Product Design

Posted on Jan 30, 2023

5 Key Differences between Web2 and Web3 UX/UI Product Design
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Disclaimer: This article shares best UX practices that we’ve seen over the years in designing for crypto & Web3 products. YOU are responsible for the safety of your funds, tokens, and assets. This should not be taken as financial or custodial advice, and we recommend that you consult with a financial advisor. 

Web3 is a hot topic these days. Since we’ve transitioned into a Web3 UX/Design Agency, we often get asked what the differences between Web2 and Web3 UX/UI design are. Our team has been designing in the Web3 space since 2017. We’ve had the opportunity to work with some truly incredible teams: MyCrypto, Solana, PolyientX, Jito Labs, and Aptos Labs – to name a few. 

Working with a variety of Web3 teams has given us unique insights into the space and how it really differs from designing in Web2. But, in order to dig into the biggest differences, we first need to understand the evolution of Web1, Web2, and Web3. 

The Evolution: Web1 to Web2 to Web3 

The internet has evolved significantly over the last 30-40 years. The way it works today is unrecognizable from the days before GUI (Graphical User Interfaces) came to be. 

First, came Web1. The earliest version of the internet was based on a read-only system. This meant there were tons of static websites that anyone could visit and absorb information from. At this point, normal people like us couldn’t “write” to the internet or publish anything ourselves.

This changed when Web2 joined the party. The rise of Web2 brought about an era of “read AND write.” Now, anyone could create spaces on the internet… Xanga, anyone? You could have a blog, launch a website, or even share content on social media. You were able to participate more fully on the internet. 

We’ve been sitting squarely in the Web2 space for a couple of decades now and we’re seeing a new kid on the block: Web3.  

three white boxes on a mottled grey background, with each box containing an image and text explaining the difference between Web1, Web2, and Web3

Web3 not only allows people to read AND write, but it also enables them to own their own information. This means, I can put content on a decentralized blog and not have the fear of it being taken down, blocked, or banned. In a world run by “blockchains,” I actually own my information. Web3 is also marked by the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning or the idea that automation can make systems run better than humans can. (For more on Web1, Web2, and Web3, check out this great article we found! And, if you’re feeling a little lost on the concept of blockchain, watch one of our favorite videos on how Bitcoin actually works.) 

So, as you can see, the fundamental differences between Web2 and Web3 affect the platforms that they enable. For example, on Facebook (a Web2 Social Media Product), I can log in with my email address and password. However, on Magic Eden (a Web3 NFT Marketplace), I need to use a decentralized digital wallet to log in.

Right away, we can see that this means the UI changes, the user flow is impacted, and the experience of the end user is affected. The platforms (or products) start to become fundamentally different. And therefore, product design and user experience design for them, need to shift and accommodate this new space. 

Let’s dive into how…

01 | Common UI Patterns Are Yet to Be Defined

The rise of Web3 has brought in layers of new technologies. There are many new patterns that developers are using to build products and connect them to blockchains. Because these tech patterns are new, the UI patterns built for consumers are also new. 

Until Web3, we didn’t have the prevalent problem of “handing off” transactions from dApps to digital wallets. We didn’t have the issue of dealing with multiple transactions to get one thing done (like creating a loan on Compound). We didn’t have the problem of wildly varying transaction fees due to block sizes. 

Green and white cubes with dApp images attached to a circular network on a mottled purple background

All of these new problems are actively being worked on by many different teams. And yet, we don’t have universally accepted patterns. 

For a designer or builder, this is daunting… 

…and exciting too!

This means we get to invent the patterns. We get to be the ones to create what a good Web3 UX looks like and watch as others build upon what we’ve created. This is one of the biggest reasons we wanted to dive into Web3 at Matcha Design Labs. We wanted to be the UX/Product Design Agency that was part of inventing the UX/UI patterns for Web3.

02 | Abstraction is Far Away

Web3 is still early. It’s clear because of how little we actually use it in our day to day (for now). And let’s be honest, most people don’t truly understand Web3. It’s extraordinarily difficult to “get” - all the technical layers, massive amounts of data, and intricate connections. 

For most end users, the current complexity is overwhelming and frankly, not worth spending time digging into. Until we can “mask” the complexity of Web3 to a point where it feels invisible, effortless, and easy to everyone and their grandparents, we will still be considered to be  “early Web3.”

So, what does this mean for designers?

It means we need to become a different breed of designers altogether. We need to be the ones who aren’t scared to dive into the technical layers. We need to be able to use hardware wallets, play with the command line, and deeply understand the intricacies of how things are connected. 

a faucet image with crypto tokens that have the aptos logo flowing out of the tap on a mottled green background

When we understand these things deeply, we get to be the ones who create abstraction for the end user. We get to be the ones who make that incredible “buttery smooth” user experience. We get to make Web3 accessible to all. 

(We really enjoyed Stefan Von Imhof’s writing on the concept of Abstraction. Check it out here!)

03 | Web3 is Hacker/Pirate/Phish/Scam-Friendly

In another article, we talk about how important safety and security are in Web3. The problem of security on decentralized systems is huge. It’s one of the biggest barriers of entry for most “normies” and it’s one of the biggest ways people get burned in Web3. 

Because everything is trustless on the blockchain, no one entity owns the keys or access to the funds. Everything is in the hands of the end user. 

This is where the danger comes in. 

a western scene with web3 cowboy riding a brown horse heading into the distance, the background consists of a mottled purple sky and red hued canyon scenery with a green cactus

It’s so easy to click the wrong link in a Discord channel during an NFT drop because you really want to get your hands on a super rare Honey Genesis Bee. You’re in a rush so you drop into the link, connect your Phantom Wallet, and then suddenly, your wallet is drained… 

And you feel a pit at the bottom of your stomach. You were just phished. 

Today, the system is still vulnerable to bad actors. The decentralized nature makes it especially so because there is no single entity keeping tabs on things.

This means the products we create for Web3 need to start becoming immune to these types of attacks. How? You can read this other post to find out ;) 

04 | With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

So, we’re designing for Web3, which is basically the Wild West, right?

No one really knows what’s happening behind the scenes (unless they’re a blockchain developer). So users who are interacting with the dApps we design, are trusting us (the design team) at some level. 

As we create new patterns, flows, and solutions, we need to be mindful that we can really steer the users in the right direction. It’s important to double check and test everything. 

Copy can be misunderstood. 

Crucial onboarding steps could be skipped.

UI could be in the wrong place.

And then chaos can ensue. 

This is one of the biggest reasons we push for user testing with our Matcha Design Labs clients. We want to make sure we are creating the best possible experience for all the users who will interact with products we create. 

images depicting user testing with people and stages of product development on a mottled purple background

Awareness, proper testing, and being good stewards of our “design power” is crucial to helping the Web3 industry grow, gain credibility, and thrive… and it starts with us – the designers. 

05 | No One Has The Answers

One of the things I love about the Web3 space is the humility we see when talking to builders. People are quick to admit that they are still figuring things out and that they don’t necessarily have the solution… 

We’ve seen this so many times, that it’s given us confidence as Web3 UX/UI Designers. We know that we don’t need to have all the answers when it comes to the tech of Web3 or knowing how it works. 

We simply have to be brave enough to keep asking questions in order to come up with the answers alongside our clients. We’re not afraid to pull strings and dive into the gray area of a project (in fact, that’s where we thrive). 

A good Web3 Designer must be able to deal with the unknown. And they need to remember that they’re in good company– no one really knows the answers. We’re all just here in a corner of the internet, trying to figure it out together! 

As you can tell, Web3 requires a new kind of designer. One that thrives in the uncertainty and unknown. One that can be a good steward of design in precarious situations. One that can be empathetic to the low moments (and high moments!) in the Web3 space. 

At Matcha Design Labs, we train our designers to do exactly this. We are constantly sharing examples, articles, and design ideas with each other so we can grow as a Web3 UX/Product Design Agency. 

If you like the way we think and believe we could help your team, we’d love to chat! Drop us a note here :) 

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