In 2021, non-fungible token sales surged to more than $17 billion. The opportunities created by this rapidly growing sector aren’t only for artists and collectors: The market for NFTs also opens new doors for UX and UI designers.
My journey into NFTs began with my fascination with visual storytelling. Building on years of experience as a product and brand designer, I created the visual art project Dformer in 2019 and exhibited my work in Barcelona in 2020. At first I worked to mint my artwork, and then I saw an opportunity to use my UX/UI skills to help brands create engaging websites that make it easy for users to purchase NFTs. I also co-created a generative sci-fi collection called Omnimorphs and now I’m leading Omnimorphs’ metaverse expansion and consulting for other NFT brands.
There are many different paths to this space. I’ll share an NFT overview and insights from my experience that may help other designers tap into this exciting market.
A Brief Introduction to NFTs
An NFT is a URI link (a persistent static identifier) to a digital asset that has been woven into a public blockchain like Ethereum. It proves ownership of the asset, which can be anything from digital art collections to virtual clothing and furniture to an avatar for the metaverse.
NFTs are traded through cryptocurrency transactions. However, unlike cryptocurrency coins which are “fungible” or freely interchangeable, NFTs denote unique tokens with their own distinct identities. Uniqueness (for individual NFTs in a collection) and scarcity (for the underlying digital assets) inform valuations.
Major Players in the NFT World
Understanding the needs of players in the field can help designers identify opportunities and connect with those seeking UX and UI talent.
Digital artists and artist collective projects create digital assets and offer them for sale or auction on NFT platforms. Some artists create specific pieces to mint, and others develop a system for combining art assets to generate numerous collectibles. The Omnimorphs group is an example of this latter approach, as are some of the Bored Ape Yacht Club projects.
Corporate brands may offer branded NFTs for marketing purposes or the direct sale of 3D assets in the metaverse. They occupy a similar role to digital artists and collective projects but with a different intention. For global brands, NFTs are most often a means of marketing real-world products and services, and not their raison d’etre. However, some brands are making major investments in NFTs and related metaverse deployments. Examples include Nike, Louis Vuitton, Molson Coors, and Honda.
NFT marketplaces combine digital asset management with sale and auction functionality. They engage with the blockchains that store NFT transactions and the cryptocurrency wallets used to purchase them, collecting fees from transactions. Marketplaces like OpenSea verify the authenticity of NFTs (confirmed with a blue checkmark), offering reliability to buyers and sellers.
NFT Opportunities for Designers
There are many opportunities for designers seeking NFT roles and projects.
UX/UI and Brand Designer for NFT Projects
Established NFT projects, like the Bored Ape Yacht Club, often seek candidates with UX/UI and branding knowledge to enhance their web presence. For example, a designer might help an NFT project rebrand or create a website. Such a role is unlikely to require NFT experience and provides an opportunity to build knowledge and network. Many of my consultancy engagements have been with these types of projects, and I recommend that designers who are new to NFTs explore similar roles.
UX/UI and Product Designer for Corporate Brands
As brands expand their businesses into the virtual and NFT space, they will need UX/UI designers to support the sale of novel virtual goods and help bridge the gap between Web 2.0 and Web3. A 2022 Nike job posting for Lead Product Designer, Nike Virtual Studios seeks: “a Lead Product Designer to help envision and create our web3, Metaverse, and NFT space, focusing on creating virtual products, experiences, and marketplaces for our creator and collector community.” Most corporate roles aren’t suitable for designers without NFT or Web3 experience, but exploring these types of openings is a good way to identify the skills that brands are looking for.
This role is a high-demand position that requires a mixture of UX/UI and game-industry experience. The Sandbox, Decentraland, and Big Time offer such opportunities. Metaverse architects need 3D design skills and knowledge of how virtual items are sold or traded. Decentraland describes this role as including “modelling anything from mansions, to superyatchs [sic], to conference halls, futuristic HQs, to indoor/outdoor furniture, and even digital fashion.”
With Goldman Sachs projecting that the metaverse could eventually generate $8 trillion or more in annual revenue, and with NFTs playing a key part in most metaverse projects, the opportunity for growth in this area is phenomenal.
Not all opportunities will come from big names like Bored Ape Yacht Club or Nike. Designers without NFT experience may find more roles available to them among upstart projects. In these cases, practical metrics can help designers judge an NFT’s potential for success before accepting a role. Compare these numbers to get a feel for the best opportunities to apply your skills and gain NFT experience.
Value and Sales
Floor price is the cheapest available NFT in a collection (the most crucial metric for an NFT project). Market cap is the current cost to acquire the whole collection, indicating total project value. These metrics provide a sense of the project’s worth.
Daily, weekly, and monthly sales volumes indicate market sentiment and change over time. Look for consistently increasing volumes. Another useful metric is an NFT’s total number of sales. Current and previous purchase data indicate a project’s appeal and persistence.
Community and Engagement
The number of people who own NFTs in a collection, or owner count, signifies how popular a collection is. Who invests in a project also matters: If a trusted community member buys an NFT, it lends credibility and may fuel demand. Also consider the ratio between ownership and supply, which affects the NFT’s rarity and thus its value.
In addition to ownership, pay attention to broader community engagement, such as the number of Twitter followers and Discord members a project has.
Before accepting NFT projects, you should first understand the specific design challenges involved.
As you would with any project, keep users’ needs at the forefront. When working for an NFT seller, your client’s customers are NFT collectors. Your job is to make purchasing as effortless and reliable as possible. In my experience, careful UX design is crucial in this field because many users are unaccustomed to Web3’s unique features, currencies, and purchasing processes. Always consider a collector’s perspective to ensure your client meets their needs. User-centric questions throughout the design process include:
- Is the page, transaction, or collection safe?
- Are any actions irreversible?
- Can I lose money or NFT by taking an action?
- How long does an action take to execute?
- Can I get help if I make a mistake?
- How much do I have to pay?
- Where do I find confirmation of my transaction?
The Novelty of Cryptocurrency Use
Not all NFT buyers are accustomed to cryptocurrency wallet management. If a user enters an NFT website without a wallet, the steps to obtain one should be clear, including a link to a preferred wallet provider.
Since new buyers may not be familiar with cryptocurrency values, provide current dollar value equivalents, and ensure that all numerical data is visually prominent and easy to read.
Transaction Processing Time
New blockchain users may not realize that transactions can take many minutes to be confirmed. To reduce frustration, be transparent about this wait time before users make a purchase. When a transaction is complete, send a notification and include a link to the user’s marketplace account so they can view their NFT.
Users must pay gas fees based on the computing energy needed to process their transaction on the blockchain. These fees vary and may seem mystifying or even outrageous to first-time buyers. Understanding how gas fees work can save buyers money—up to thousands of dollars in some cases.
NFTs should list gas fees upfront instead of revealing them when a purchase is in its final stages. For example, they should highlight the fee when customers select their NFT to show the true cost, or an estimate based on recent transactions.
Despite marketplaces’ verification protocols, news stories about thefts of NFTs and illegitimate NFT minting point to security problems that need to be addressed. While the underlying blockchain is rarely at fault, in some cases UI and UX issues contribute. For any application, site, or service administering high-value transactions, those responsible for building and operating the system have a duty to minimize risk for their users.
Copies of many collections are minted on the blockchain, but such copies are worthless if they don’t originate from a legitimate owner. It is detrimental to artists and collectors when someone buys an illegitimate NFT. The buyer loses faith, and the artist loses money.
You can help protect an NFT community by creating an official collection link and educating buyers to use only that link, as scammers may copy social media profiles and even full websites. Inform users and community members through the project’s website and Discord to ignore any direct messages that appear to be from the project, because DMs are used for phishing attempts.
The Time Is Now
NFTs have a great deal of cachet due to novelty and media attention, not to mention the sheer amount of money focused on their creation and sale. Even though NFT sales experience volatility, the pioneer technology won’t go away anytime soon. As a vital part of Web3, the next evolution of the internet, NFTs will likely play a significant role in the future metaverse and yield numerous use cases that have yet to be discovered.
There are many opportunities for designers to support artists, collectives, Web3 platforms and marketplaces, and major global brands. UX and UI designers who want to tap into the NFT market should begin exploring opportunities and building their skills and experience now.