Alex Van de Sande 

Designing for Identity  

Core to our digital lives is the idea of identity. 

We use our or identity to use our favorite messaging apps, book an airbnb, or connect with an uber driver. The question then becomes, who really owns this sense of identity on the web? is it you? 

Unfortunately , there is a an incestuous relationship between your sense of online identity and the business models that the companies employ in order to sustain operations, this their defensible market position, with your data. 

These facts have got me thinking about the role of design in identity and blockchains, they were greatly inspired by the conversation I was lucky enough to have with Alex Van de Sande, heres what I learned. (For the full podcast conversation, listen below)  


  • What is the type of problem that we are trying to solve? The Facebook problem— what does that mean? The idea of identity on the internet, and the idea that the internet should work based on identity, and the biggest provider of identity on the internet is facebook. This means that our is Freedom tied to some server, somewhere “in the cloud”. This means that you are trusting one person or entity for the freedom of expression on the internet. How does that relate to design? It means that we must keep in mind the idea of designing for openness and non attachment in dapps. Users are now in the know, they now have freedom and this must be top of mind. 
  • Designing new online communities. How does design inform digital governance? The tools of voice vs. exit, in building communities we must give users voice and the ability to exit. We do not have this in our current social networks. Eg. in twitter you could vote, but you don’t have much power, no one will listen to you. You could exit Facebook, but there is really no alternative. 
  • The private key paradox: We are telling users two opposing things, and it is an open problem to be solved. First we say, be incredibly safe with your private key — do not tell it anyone. Then, on the other hand, we are saying make any copies of it, when the easiest way to make backups is from screen shots, etc .. which ends up in some server and then is easy to be lost. 
  • Designing for identity: “In the blockchain, no one knows you are a fridge” 
  • Blockchain Design process: A designer needs to understand what happens under the hood, they need to know how the tech works and what its capabilities are. If you don’t understand how it works — you are not designing, you are doing fiction. In blockchain design, you need to understand the limitation and capabilities of the technology and why

Key question’s: 

What can I create as a designer that I can abstract the notion of all the technicalities? do my users need to care about this thing? is there a way that I can remove the complexity and just focus on helping them get where they want to go? And in order to adequately answer these questions we must answer What does my app really do? Why does it really exist? Where is helping my user get to in their life? 
  • Action Movies & The The Purpose Of Design: In a movie the audience is always aware of what is happening, the audience is always aware of what is urgent and not urgent. If we could imagine a movie interface, the key question would then become what is it that you need to show? what is it that the audience must understand in this scene? We must always give context. 
  • Blockchain Transparency: If movies are context, what is transparencies role? On blockchains dapps you can provide so much info, when can I show that info? To, from, value, and data (Basic info) — but not easy for the user to understand. The key question is: How can we turn blockchain data into actionable knowledge and understanding for users of varying skills? 

The above list does not in anyway do justice to the depth of knowledge that Alex Van de Sande provides in the audio recording, to listen in full simply click here.