Designing a Story
For blockchain companies, creating the revolutionary tech is half the battle. The other half is getting it out there into the world, educating users, and creating a general culture around these new advancements. One of the strongest catalysts for this type of growth is design – user interfaces, experiences, and engagements that simultaneously draw in new consumers and empower them with the new resources.
We at The Creative Crypto are always on the lookout for compelling designs in the crypto space, where bland animation explainer videos made on Fiverr seem to run rampant and actually do tremendous harm to the seriousness of the industry. Of course, the interface and UI of Narrative’s website and Alpha platform immediately hooked our attention.
Today’s interview is with Matt Brooks, Lead of UI/UX at Narrative and veteran designer, helping prepare the launch of the most anticipated social and content network on the NEO blockchain.
The Creative Crypto (CC): Hello Matt! Thank you for joining us at the magazine. Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into the space
My first formal education was in Graphic Design. After school, I actually went to the military, specifically serving in the intel community, which I thought would be a one-and-done thing after college. But what intel taught me was how to predict patterns and empathize with people and understand them so I can understand what they’re going to do. When I got back out into the creative space, the whole UI/UX field was emerging.
Years later, after getting the experience, Ted and Rosemary (Co-Founders of Narrative) approached me to join the team. What appealed to me was that they put design on the forefront, whereas I think we’ve all worked in companies where design is seen as the paint that goes on the walls after the house is built. In good design, you’re part of the architectural process. So they approached me, and their website was really what drew me in. You could tell they were taking it seriously and they wanted to make an impact with something. It really was a no-brainer to come on board. During the interview process, we didn’t talk about stuff like, “Are you rich?” or “Are you going to make us rich?” Everything was about quality and authenticity.
Also, I do want to start by giving credit where credit is due. Griflan, a design firm based in Atlanta, actually did the initial illustrations and animations for the website. What you see now is some of my work, but everything is based on their initial vision.
CC: Was this your first foray into the blockchain world? I’m curious, especially with Narrative’s mission, what they’re planning to do with this decentralized social media system. From your background as a designer / creative professional, what has your experience been so far?
My first exposure to crypto was about a year ago, and just within that year I’ve become a huge advocate for it. To me, it’s crazy that I’m working for a crypto company right now, when I didn’t know what Bitcoin was a year and a half ago. I see it as an opportunity, because it’s a space where a lot of people are still trying to figure out how it will work. Everyone that gets involved is essentially a pioneer that can turn it into something huge. My goal is avoid making something like a speakeasy for crypto; that’s not the route to take. This is something that needs to appeal to everyone in order to survive. Coinbase, as limiting as it is, has actually grown the entire industry, simply because anyone can do it. It’s very easy to use and there are not a lot of barriers. That is going to be our role as designers in this field, by creating a path of least resistance. Essentially, you want them to have no reason to say no to using it, which is going to be our biggest uphill battle, which I think is obtainable.
CC: In terms of your day-to-day, especially right now since Narrative is still in its alpha, what are your responsibilities and what are you working on right now? What is your best case scenario on how people would use this interface and tools that would come out with the technology?
So right now, we already have the alpha version, which will reflect what the experience is going to be like creating niches. We’re distilling and having good conversations about it by creating mockups, throwing those in the garbage, and creating new mockups based on feedback. We’re in a one-of-a-kind situation, where we have users built in, and they are the community and we have someone who we can go to and say, “Hey, what do you think about this? Is this a good idea? What do you want to see in it?” It’s not a situation in a startup where we try to create situations in which users might like it, because we already have users that are passionate and they have a wealth of knowledge and experience that they can bring to the table. So that’s been something that I’ve never had before.
Over here, the people aren’t products, but rather, they’re the driving force. My biggest goal is I want the users to trust us, and I want us to convey that authenticity because our whole mantra is to be transparent.
What I think we want to do is be straightforward and we want people to get authentic quality content. We want them to participate and we want this to be more of a utility, rather than a vertical company that’s just using the people as a product. Over here, the people aren’t products, but rather, they’re the driving force. My biggest goal is I want the users to trust us, and I want us to convey that authenticity because our whole mantra is to be transparent.
Narrative’s seamless “Niche” topic voting system
CC: On the technical side of things, are you guys tackling any of the unique pain points that are in the industry today, such as dealing with complex keys, passwords, difficult user interfaces, with steep terms that require a bit of learning? Are you thinking about those creaky pain points that are by and large holding the blockchain industry back from wider adoption?
As far as security goes, I’ll leave that to Rosemary or the developers to speak towards. But as I mentioned before, the path to least resistance is what we would want to go for. We don’t want it to be like, “Hey, do this and this happens.” We want it to be a conversation with the user. We want them to feel like an expert after their first or second use. I’m using my mom as an example as the inspiration for my base user. She loves Facebook, but if I can get her to do the same in the crypto-world, that would be great. We want them to get started, without having to divulge their entire life and history to understand it. We essentially want to do a level-up in the system where you would have more access, more features, more reputation, things like that.
CC: One of the hooks that we felt looking at Narrative, apart from the other social media sites in the blockchain world, was your integration with “Niches” and incorporating that in not only the business model, but also in the content and governance model of the platform. How do you think design flexibility will play a part? Can you give us a sense of what the platform is going to look like?
Okay well, let me flip it around. What is important to you as a publication? What would you want to see?
CC: I would like to see, let’s say, The Creative Crypto able to create a brand or niche, something that is customizable enough so that it’s unique for us, so it’s not just a Reddit or subreddit, but at the same time still be cohesive to always know you’re still on Narrative. Basically, flexible enough that it feels like our website, but not so flexible that it just melts away.
So that’s one of the conversations we’re currently having. How we go about it is really going to be up to the conversation we have and who we talk to. That’s something we’re discovering for ourselves right now.
CC: Is there anything you want to highlight in terms of the role of design of Narrative?
I want to go for a clean, simple design, something that focuses more on the content itself and not the bells and whistles. This is going to be one of the core features of Narrative and essentially when you suggest something, the community is going to vote on it, whether its a duplicate or whether it works. Whether they hate it or love the changes and developments, it’s completely up to them.
Upcoming “Ballot Box” feature for voting
So this is what we’re thinking through right now as far as interaction goes when you are voting. The concept of this is these individual ballot cards are going to be reusable throughout the application and essentially you are going to be able to track them visually and are going to be able to see images, upvotes vs. downvotes, etc. If you do decide to downvote, the card will flip, and you will have to give a reason for rejection. But this kind of gives you an idea of the UI and the direction that we are going to be going in. If you noticed, it’s a complete shift from what we have in alpha right now.
CC: What would you say generally from your own experiences to other creatives that are looking to get into the space, whether they’re artist, graphic designers, or videographers? What are some words of advice or encouragement you would give them?
The industry is moving fast, and if you’re not moving with it, you’re moving backwards. So if you’re looking to go into a company to speak about creative work, show up with ideas from day one. Pretend you’re invested in that company before you even talk to them, and come up with ways for them to improve their own website or product. I think that’s what people really want to see and like I’ve said, it’s kind of like a Wild West right now; we don’t know what it’s going to look like in five years. But a good designer stays current with trends, and a great designer knows what’s consistent and what will always work.
My goal is avoid making something like a SpeakEasy for crypto; that’s not the route to take. This is something that needs to appeal to everyone in order to survive… That is going to be our role as designers in this field, by creating a path of least resistance.
So keeping that in mind and just evolving and running at the pace, if not faster, than the industry, and trying to move it forward, you’ll be ok. Our jobs as designers isn’t to make things pretty as much as it is to be advocates for the users. You could be at a company meeting and be all about the bottom line, but the users do not have anyone speaking up for them, and that’s our job as UI/UX designers. We need to be that voice.
A giant thank you to Matt for joining us on this interview! If you would like to learn more about the upcoming Narrative platform, check out an earlier review we did of their whitepaper and get involved through the links below.