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Behind Coinbase Learn: An Exercise in Listening to Our Customers

By Author


, December 14, 2018

, 8 min read time


Since Coinbase was founded in 2012, we’ve always prioritized listening to our customers as we’ve built our products. The earliest adopters of crypto came to us largely sold on crypto already — their primary questions tended to focus on the “what,” “which,” and “when.” But more recently, as the space has gotten more attention and moved into the mainstream, we’ve started to see people visit Coinbase to learn more about “why” crypto exists.

Coinbase launched its user research department in April 2018 with its first full-time user researcher (me). Today, our team of three is dedicated to understanding our customers (and potential customers)–and we use the learnings to design and continuously improve our products. Our job is to understand customers’ needs, goals, and motivations, as well as uncover how to serve a growing audience we have come to call the “crypto-curious” — new entrants to crypto who are interested in learning about the basics. We bake all of our consumer insights into products as they’re being built by collaborating with product managers, engineers, designers, and writers.

To see how this works in action, we wanted to share an end-to-end view of Coinbase Learn, an educational resource we launched in September 2018 that we created based on insights that came directly from our customers.

Where we started

Since I joined Coinbase, we’ve conducted more than 200 interviews to understand what will lead the way to mass adoption of cryptocurrency. We’ve talked to folks who’ve been crypto enthusiasts for years, as well as people who experimented with buying $10 of bitcoin to see what all the fuss was about. And, perhaps most importantly, we’ve talked to many people who have never purchased any crypto at all.

Across all audiences, people were telling us that they wanted a better understanding of how it all works. Cryptocurrency is complicated, and there are lots of loud voices in the room, so it can be hard to know where to turn for information. Many of our research participants told us they had tried Googling for answers, but that the “beginners’ guides” they found were too complicated.

We realized that if we aspire to be the most trusted place to get started with cryptocurrency, we have to do more to educate people — not only those who are potentially interested in buying cryptocurrency, but also folks who are just beginning to explore. Therefore, our goal with Coinbase Learn was to provide a single, accessible place for anyone to learn about cryptocurrency in plain language from a trusted source.

STEP 1: Organize the questions

To start, we compiled a list of all of the questions that crypto-curious people had ever asked in research sessions. We’ve heard everything from “Can I use a credit or debit card?” to “What’s the deal with Satoshi and Dogecoin?” (Fun fact: Based on our research, Dogecoin is one of the most widely-recognized cryptocurrencies in the US.)

It soon became clear that the questions fell naturally into five major themes:

  1. Crypto basics

  2. What makes crypto special

  3. Staying safe

  4. Buying crypto

  5. Selling and using crypto

Then, we had to narrow down the list. Each theme has an enormous range of sub-questions within it, including questions about hardware wallets and cryptography from more tech- and finance-savvy participants. But in order to reach the largest audience, we needed to start at the very beginning. Why does cryptocurrency exist? Why should people care about it?

We settled on 21 of the most common and important questions. We felt that number covered all of the most critical areas of confusion, but did not overwhelm beginners with an encyclopedia of all things crypto. We could always build a bigger library later for folks who want to know more.

STEP 2: Make it simple and searchable

We then set out to answer those 21 questions as clearly and simply as possible — no technical jargon, no sales pitch. It’s harder than it sounds!

Our copywriters worked tirelessly to strike a balance between clarity and accuracy. On one hand, simplicity was our number one priority, and we strictly avoided blockchain language such as “collision resistant hash function”. On the other hand, we had to ensure that crypto experts agreed with our answers from a technical perspective. They put their drafts through many rounds of feedback with crypto experts at Coinbase, and we carefully deliberated over every. single. word.

We also had to ensure that we were meeting people on their own level: Did our questions and answers match the terms people were Googling for? Not only does this ensure our beginners can find our answers when they search, but it kept us accountable to address the most common areas of inquiry, in language that people were already using and would understand best.

We tried to tailor our language around common search terms and optimize our page for searchability. For example, we avoided the term “digital currency”, because very few beginners use that phrase. Instead, we use the term “cryptocurrency”, which is far more commonly searched. Each topic is also individually SEO-optimized, so searchers with a specific question will land directly on the modal that addresses it, rather getting dropped at the top of the page and having to dig to find their answer.

STEP 3: Design for exploration

When designing the page itself, our goal was to support a journey of exploration into crypto. What kind of design would empower people to choose their own adventure with the topics that were most interesting to them, but also provide soft guidance if folks weren’t sure where to begin?

Early design explorations of Coinbase Learn

From a structural perspective, it was important to keep everything on the same page, rather than send people on a wild goose chase to multiple sources through inconsistent experiences. One place, one trusted source. The order of the topics, with the light grey path starting at the top and winding slowly further down, tells a story that starts with the very basic level of understanding and gently guides the reader from broad explanations to progressively more specific and action-oriented instructions. The questions themselves are “snackable”, in that you can skim and easily pick only what you like.

Even our illustrations were chosen to support the theme of exploration. We brainstormed with our staff illustrator on visual designs that would inspire discovery. One of our initial ideas was a scuba diver theme: Dive into crypto to uncover the nuggets of information beneath! Ultimately, we found ourselves going back again and again to a theme we love for crypto — exploring in space. Crypto is a universe of endless possibility, and we’re discovering new worlds together.

An early sketch for Coinbase Learn. Dive into crypto with us!

STEP 4: Consult the crypto-curious

We did multiple prototype testing sessions of the Coinbase Learn design with our target audience: folks who have heard of bitcoin, but don’t know much about it and want to know more. The sessions gave us valuable feedback on the navigation and content, allowing us to iterate multiple times and make improvements to the experience.

Users’ overall reaction to the page validated our initial strategy. Participants told us that they liked the level of information and the modular design of the clickable topics. One participant said, “I like that it’s not a whole bunch of information, and I don’t feel completely overwhelmed.” Simplicity: check! They also liked that it “felt honest” — not like we were selling something — and that it “doesn’t make [me] feel like an idiot.” They reported feeling a higher degree of comfort with crypto after viewing the page, so we knew we were on the right track.

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A user testing session over video chat

The sessions also uncovered a number of seemingly subtle UX fixes that had an outsized impact on the navigation experience. For example, initial versions of the site didn’t have an X at the top of each modal, so people had no idea how to “escape” a topic and felt a little trapped. The grey path was also a more recent addition. In the first version, it wasn’t clear that you had to scroll down to get to the answers, so people didn’t know where to go when they first landed.

All in all, the short and sweet answer strategy worked so well that we actually left users wanting more. Participants really understood and enjoyed the shorter and simple answers, so they learned a lot about crypto. The more they learned, the more interested they became — to the point where they requested more information to be accessible from the page. We’ll count that as a success! Eventually, we’d like build a bigger learning hub to support the next level of that journey.

STEP 5: Continuously listen and improve

Launching the product in September allowed us to get a new kind of insight from customers — seeing what they’re engaging with the most. Analyzing the page’s data, for example, told us the top two most-clicked questions on the page. They tell an interesting story about people’s biggest crypto questions–can you guess what they are?

  1. When is the best time to buy cryptocurrency?

  2. Which cryptocurrency should I buy?

This is consistent with trends we’ve seen across many research studies: Although the majority of crypto-curious people prefer to start with the basics of how it all works (and we designed the page with them in mind), people who are ready to buy are more interested in knowing how to buy and sell more intelligently.

For precisely this reason, we’ve added informational asset pages to help people learn the difference between currencies and what to consider before making a purchase. We’ve also added a price list for major cryptocurrencies to help folks track the market and “watch” price movements for currencies they’re interested in. And we launched the Coinbase Bundle, which simplifies the decision of which coin to buy by offering a preset basket of major currencies to purchase.

The best innovation doesn’t always come from complex moonshots and whiteboarding in rooms — it comes from listening to people and doing your best to meet their needs. We’re proud of the process we followed for Coinbase Learn, and we hope this is just the beginning of a journey to educate the world about crypto.

It takes a village to launch a product, so a huge thank you to everyone who helped us throughout this entire process:

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