Host Insights — Web2 Design vs. Web3 Design
May 5th, 2022

As a native web3 tool, designing Dtravel involves unique challenges in comparison to existing web2 short-term rental platforms.

The web2 model enables companies to centralize their processes and data, which is efficient at the cost of relinquishing user control and ownership. Web3’s additional complexity stems from the decentralization aspect, which requires balancing familiarity with innovation to ensure the end product is user-friendly.

In this article, we’ll discuss the basic web2 and web3 design principles, what web3 design is solving and how Dtravel is implementing web3 design.

Web2 Design Principles

Web2 has been around for almost 20 years, which has solidified certain rules in web design that we’ve all now come to expect. Two of the most prevalent web2 design principles are Jakob’s Law and the Maya Design Principle.

Jakob’s Law

Created by Jakob Nielsen, who co-founded Nielsen Norman Group with Dr. Donald A. Norman, the former VP of research at Apple Computer, Jakob’s Law is simply a case of not reinventing the wheel. The theory states that:

“Users spend most of their time on other sites. This means that users prefer your site to work the same way as all the other sites they already know. Design for patterns for which users are accustomed.”

If you think about the most-used websites today, each has a very similar layout: logo at the top-left, account info at the top-right, scroll to view or learn about products/services, and a footer with links to other pages.

With this basic design employed by the vast majority of websites, users have a familiar experience even when visiting a completely new website, which allows users to focus on the product or service rather than deciphering how to navigate the website.

MAYA Design Principle

Developed by Raymond Loewy, the designer of the Coca-Cola bottle, MAYA stands for “Most Advanced, Yet Acceptable”. The logic is that most users can only adapt to so much; too great a deviation from accepted standards risks losing customers. In Loewy’s words: 

“The adult public’s taste is not necessarily ready to accept the logical solutions to their requirements if the solution implies too vast a departure from what they have been conditioned into accepting as the norm.”

When Apple released the iPod, the design was innovative while still being similar enough to mobile phones. With each new model, the design was incrementally updated with a larger screen size, smaller bezels, fewer buttons, and so on.

Releasing something totally new and foreign in design has rarely performed well, since users often can’t figure out how to use it. This is what has resulted in the uniformity of many websites and products across thousands of brands today.

Web3 Design Principles

The inherent problem that every web3 application is solving is the issue of centralization. However, most web3 applications today require some degree of technical knowledge, which presents a significant challenge when it comes to mass adoption. 

In web2, the focus of a website typically centers on the value proposition: “How does this benefit me?”. In web3, the focus — especially in these early stages, when these concepts are still new to most users — is primarily on education: “Why should this matter to me?”.

To mitigate the risk of overloading the user with complex technical jargon, the solution lies in striking a balance between explaining the benefits of the web3 application (the “why”) and the unavoidable technical concepts (the “how”) in the simplest possible way. 

Research conducted by beltran, supported by a grant from Aragon, proposes three main categories for addressing the education problem in web3 design:

  1. Essential decentralization explanations (the “why”)
  2. Technicalities that can’t be hidden (the “how”)
  3. Technicalities that can be hidden (the “how” that isn’t crucial or can be explained later)

The example used by beltran to demonstrate each of these approaches is the notion of gas fees, which we elaborate on below in the context of the three categories above.

Essential decentralization explanations

“Why do I have to pay gas fees?” is likely to be one of the main questions a user has when making their first web3 transaction. This type of question is essential to the functioning of web3 and the user’s understanding of web3, which should be addressed clearly and succinctly.

Technicalities that can’t be hidden

As the user continues their web3 journey, they may notice that gas fees change each time they make a transaction. This requires a more technical explanation, as it addresses the “how” rather than the “why”. To simplify this, the explanation should relate to legacy concepts (in this case, comparing gas fees to payment processing fees). As new solutions are developed to address these problems, the ultimate goal is to eventually hide even these technicalities under the hood.

Technicalities that can be hidden

While web3 users may be curious about what the terms “gas price” and “gas limit” mean, these are not essential concepts to explain, since they are often automatically set (and, in fact, many wallets already hide these under “advanced settings”). The ideal scenario is to initially hide as many of these technicalities as possible to streamline the onboarding experience. As the user becomes more advanced, these concepts may be clarified to continue the knowledge-building process.

What is Web3 Design Solving?

Web3 design aims to solve several problems present in web2 today, each of which contributes to the overall mission of decentralization. To have the best chance at achieving mass adoption, each solution should employ the three web3 principles covered above.

Trust

Every time we use a web2 platform, we trust that these centralized companies have our best interests in mind when it comes to our payments and data. Through trustless mechanisms made possible by the advent of blockchain technology, that trust can be decentralized and secured by nodes powering the network. 

But there’s also another facet of trust: the user’s trust in the platform itself. Scams have unfortunately become synonymous with cryptocurrencies and blockchain, so it’s imperative that a web3 user experience instills confidence. At the most basic level, this can be achieved by presenting relevant information clearly and in one place which doesn’t leave users guessing or send them on a wild goose chase across other apps or websites.

Transparency

Transactions made on the blockchain offer finality and verifiability, though web2 users aren’t accustomed to the idea of their transactions being viewable by everybody. While blockchain explorers are great tools, deciphering the various information can be difficult and intimidating for new users.

The simplest web3 design needs only to display key information in the most familiar way possible, such as by adding supporting transaction details like the USD equivalent and incorporating recognizable layouts.

Ownership

In web2, personal data and user-generated content isn’t owned by users but by the companies controlling the platforms. Web3 users have the freedom and control to decide what they want to share and determine how much (or how little) they want to be involved.

The increased ownership derived from web3 apps allows network participants to benefit from their contributions to the applications they use. By designing ways for users to be rewarded for their contributions, these interactions are not only valuable for users themselves, but to other ecosystem users who benefit from the network effect.

Censorship resistance

Without intermediaries to impose restrictions that arbitrarily censor user-created information, reviews or opinions, web3 users benefit from knowing that data is complete and isn’t artificially skewed.

This comes with the challenge of designing a system that effectively and sustainably incentivizes and promotes useful user content, which can be based on several variables such as user reputation, upvotes/downvotes and contribution history.

How Dtravel is Implementing Web3 Design

Taking into consideration the above web3 design principles and the problems web3 design addresses, Dtravel is adopting a multistage design approach to onboard community members quickly and easily.

Design Stage 1 (Hosts)

The first design stage simplifies the onboarding of property managers and hosts, establishing the supply side of Dtravel. Hosts will initially list their properties on Dtravel via property management system (PMS) partners like Hostaway, fostering familiarity while reducing the administrative burden of manually entering listing information. The Dtravel host interface will comprise essential functions and basic reporting for an easy-to-follow, uncluttered experience.

The main obstacle is ensuring hosts can set up and connect a non-custodial wallet to Dtravel. Because Dtravel uses smart contracts to facilitate trustless transactions, both hosts and guests must use non-custodial wallets. To assist with this process, guides and walkthroughs will be made available.

Design Stage 2 (Guests)

The next design stage shifts the focus to generating demand for host properties by onboarding guests. Though many of the early Dtravel guests are anticipated to be crypto natives, the guest experience needs to be designed for mass adoption. 

This means leading with the assumption that guests have no prior knowledge of the technology, therefore necessitating explanations of essential decentralization concepts (including the benefits guests derive from participating in a decentralized travel ecosystem) and unavoidable technicalities to guide guests through the booking process.

Design Stage 3 (Ongoing Education)

The third design stage, which will continue to evolve over time, involves expanding the web3 knowledge of both hosts and guests along their Dtravel journey to progressively decentralize the experience.

For example, in Design Stage 1, Dtravel will deploy smart contracts on behalf of hosts. During Design Stage 3, hosts will be able to deploy their smart contracts to attain complete ownership, if desired. A technicality that was initially hidden due to its complexity (i.e. smart contract deployment) becomes a feature that hosts can enable if desired as their web3 knowledge and confidence grows.

Designing the Future 

The accepted framework and rules for web3 design are still very much in the experimental stage. Jakob’s Law is not yet applicable since there is no authority on a web3 design that has achieved widespread adoption, and web3 is pushing the MAYA Design Principle to the limit.

Relative to web2, we’re currently around a similar period when the first interactive web pages were being designed. Back then, the difficulties lay in figuring out how to handle account creation, content publication/moderation and user interactions. 

In many respects, the same challenges are present in designing web3 today, with the key difference being that the end goal is decentralization rather than centralization. Blockchain wallets replace accounts stored on centralized databases, uncensorable content publishable by anyone replaces heavily moderated content publishable by those who have permission, and peer-to-peer user interactions replace those enabled by an intermediary.

The iterations of Dtravel’s design are, by extension, helping shape the status quo of web3 design. We’ll constantly be looking to our community to learn what works, what doesn’t and what can be improved. With many opportunities on the horizon and challenges to solve along the way, your contributions can help change the internet forever.

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