The Impossible Human Centered Design

Human Centered Design has never happened. Until Blockchain.

Block 01

The long journey to include users in designing products and services was not in vain. However, I will argue in this paper that actual technology available and the social and economic structure kept humans on the periphery: away from full benefits of human centered design. Collaboration helped users to co-create new business models but sacrificed privacy, centralised the Internet — born to be free — and consequently concentrated power in hands of few. Designers in a Blockchain world should considered users as partners for products and services and not only as a persona for research purposes. What is behind the Blockchain Revolution that would allow the realisation of full human centered design? What would be the role for designers in this new scenario?

Human Centered Design

Don Norman, who coined the term User Experience in the mid-1990’s, says that new technologies, new applications, and new methods are continually arising and evolving but seems to repeat the mistakes of earlier ones. For him, things are getting better, but as a result, the challenge are ever present. At this point he proposed human-centered design, an approach that puts human needs, capabilities, and behaviour first, then designs to accommodate those needs(1). Notice that despite “puts human needs” first and the Rationale for Adoption(2) mentioned a “substantial economic and social benefits for users”, there is not a stake from products and services co-created. Yes, it is known that a good experience granted when navigating in a Facebook app is traded for user’s data such as images, friends and family network, and consumption behavioural records — naturally with your consent. The problems is: users became hostages and privacy is never released back and “thanks for helping me making money from your information”. Is that all?

The Optical Illusion of Human Centered Design

The Risen of a New Class of Users

At this point, when all agreed to be part of the book of life — or database — a new technology came to offer an option for better deal. Blockchain with its decentralised architecture, creates a new class of users or Produsers (producers and users at the same time). It is possible to collaborate with design of a product or service and also act as partner. This portmanteau, Produsers, can be found in Axel Bruns’ book “Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life and Beyond: From Production to Produsage”(3). However, Proferssor Bruns orbits around the common property — e.g. Wikipedia — and individual rewards for contribution. Privacy or individualism is not the central point of his idea and data are not distributed and anonymity not available. Other similar word, in this case the source inspired this text, was mentioned in “Blockchain Revolution: How the Technology Behind Bitcoin is Changing Money, Business and the World” (4) by Don Tapscott and Alex Tapscott. The term used is “Prosumer”, when producers can be consumers. But the word consumers implies the act of consumption while users is freed of this association and could be more appropriate — it can be argued that the authors refer to the act of consuming information as well as the act of consuming products and services.

Human Centered Design with “Produsers”

The Attempt to a Deep Economic Theory

A deep diving into social and economic theories is attempted here as Blockchain can be seen as paradigm shift from what has been written. For instance, Karl Marx and his “Labour Power”, introduced in chapter 6 of the first volume of Capital, denied the concept of Human Capital — the knowledge, skills, competencies and other attributes embodied in individuals or groups of individuals acquired during their life and used to produce goods, services or ideas in market circumstances — defended by economists from his time. For them, Human Capital would make labour a capitalist by nature. Marx agues with them:

Labour-power is indeed his (labour) property (ever self-renewing, reproductive), not his capital. It is the only commodity which he can and must sell continually in order to live…according to those economists, that he is a capitalist, because he constantly has “commodities” (himself) for sale. In that sense a slave is also a capitalist, although he is sold by another once and for all as a commodity; for it is in the nature of this commodity, a labouring slave, that its buyer does not only make it work anew every day, but also provides it with the means of subsistence that enable it to work ever anew.
Karl Marx (5)

Therefore, users in current system, from Marx perspective, are slaves once information and consumption behaviours are constantly provided generating wealth for the “masters”. Irony?

The Ford T and Blockchain

Lets make simple. Blockchain could be seen as the Fordism of this Era — not again attempting to reach a complicated economic theory. Fordism, in an elementary equation, was a system that increased production of cars, Model T, by creating more efficient assembly lines and improved working conditions including better wages. By doing this Henry Ford pushed mass consumption once his employees could afford to buy his cars. Blockchain could have similar effect but in a large and global scale.

Finally, for this session, Blockchain makes possible to unite — a Karl Marx word — the invisible hand, from Adam Smith, and to abolish information slavery at once via liberalism, from Ludwig Mises, where property is the private ownership of the means of production.

“Private property (interpreted here as user’s privacy) creates for the individual a sphere in which he is free of the state (or status quo). It sets limits to the operation of the authoritarian will as individualism is the best basis for a cooperative social order.”
Ludwig Mises(6)

Block II

Design for Monetisation — A Case

Imagine the following scenario (from “Blockchain Revolution: How the Technology Behind Bitcoin is Changing Money, Business and the World” by Don Tapscott and Alex Tapscott):

Nike running shoes could generate and store data on a distribute ledger, Blockchain, that, in turn Nike wearer could monetise as agreed in the smart contract. Nike could offer a tiny piece of its shares with every pair it sells, if the customer agrees to activate the sensor in the shoes.

The authors of above idea suggest that information provided by Nike running shoes could be even sync to other wearables. But let’s take the proposal further with the these possibilities:

By having access to users records, pharmaceutical companies could select specific groups for analysis of a health condition:e.g. a new drug could use the data of active and sedentary people taken from Nike shoes, compare with levels of glucose and bloody pressure data collected from wearables and public medical records provided by GPs. Nike would monetise by participating of the revenue generated by a new drug created as well as would its costumers. Technology available today almost make this scenario possible if not for two reasons:

  1. Micro payments, US$ 0.00001, is not viable as many intermediates — banks, credit cards, Paypal and similar — increases the cost of a financial operation. With cryptocurrencies payments, there are not such costs;
  2. Even if the entire web of information could keep anonymity of the users, imagining the state-of-the-art Internet security protocol — at the end, the payment would tear the veil of the privacy once the money or monetary earnings should go to a regular bank account or credit card, identifying the participant.

This image bellow illustrate the vast field to be explored by having an IoT component in a running shoes. Private enterprises could use data to improve employees living quality and reward them for that. The enterprise would benefit from less absenteeism from occupational health issues.

Warren Wong @wflwong (Unsplash)

Finally, Blockchain will required from designers a complete different approach. For the first time in years, the hope of a real decentralisation is back and consumers would demand more than a good interface or interaction. They will demand partnership from central controllers and more participation on results, financial or not, or on decisions when consensus will be called into the picture. Designers will not only have users. Designers will have a new boss.

Next Steps

I will publish new business cases from different sources. Some of them already in operational, some of them part of an Utopia. But what is life without a dream?


(1) Norman, D. and Norman, D. (2013). The Design of Everyday Things. New York: Basic Books.

(2) Human Centered Design, Rationale for Adoption

(3) Bruns, A. (2009). Blogs, wikipedia, second life, and beyond. New York: Peter Lang.

(4) Tapscott, D. and Tapscott, A. (n.d.). Blockchain revolution.

(5) Marx, Karl, Labour Power, Capital Vol. 2,

(6) Von Mises, L. and Greaves, B. (2005). Liberalism. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund.

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