James Hall Edge & Node UX Design UI Design Web3 The Graph Mulesoft Utah Topia

GRTiQ Podcast: 107 James Hall

Today I am speaking with James Hall, Design Manager at Edge & Node. If you’ve ever visited The Graph website, then you’ve seen many of the contributions James and his team have made – from the smallest design elements, like the buttons on the site, all the way up to the design of the user experience and interface.

During this enlightening interview, James talks about his journey into Web3, Edge & Node, and The Graph. And if you’re a long-time listener of the podcast, then you will recognize many familiar storylines in James’ story that are shared by prior guests, including a period of time when James met and worked alongside the founders and other early community members of The Graph at MuleSoft.

As you will hear, James has a well-thought-out and deep conviction for the utility of The Graph, the Web3 ethos, along with the design of The Graph protocol and its incentives structure. We also talk about his move from aspiring architect to UX designer working in tech, his initial reluctance of crypto, and then his move to Edge & Node. And toward the end of the interview, James will introduce you to an analogy he uses to explain how The Graph works – and it’s a new one that I’m sure you’ll find helpful!

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We use software and some light editing to transcribe podcast episodes.  Any errors, typos, or other mistakes in the show transcripts are the responsibility of GRTiQ Podcast and not our guest(s). We review and update show notes regularly, and we appreciate suggested edits – email: iQ at GRTiQ dot COM. The GRTiQ Podcast owns the copyright in and to all content, including transcripts and images, of the GRTiQ Podcast, with all rights reserved, as well our right of publicity. You are free to share and/or reference the information contained herein, including show transcripts (500-word maximum) in any media articles, personal websites, in other non-commercial articles or blog posts, or on a on-commercial personal social media account, so long as you include proper attribution (i.e., “The GRTiQ Podcast”) and link back to the appropriate URL (i.e., GRTiQ.com/podcast[episode]).

The following podcast is for informational purposes only. The contents of this podcast do not constitute tax, legal, or investment advice. Take responsibility for your own decisions, consult with the proper professionals, and do your own research.

James Hall (00:00:14):

I love that everyone pushes in the same direction with The Graph ecosystem, that everyone’s goal is to make data access abundant and affordable and performing.

Nick (00:01:04):

Welcome to the GRTiQ Podcast. Today I’m speaking with James Hall, design manager at Edge & Node. If you’ve ever visited The Graph website, then you’ve seen many of the contributions James and his team have made, from the simplest design elements like the buttons, all the way up to the overall design of the user experience and interface. During this enlightening interview, James talks about his journey into web3, to Edge & Node, and The Graph. And if you’re a longtime listener of the podcast, then you’ll recognize many familiar storylines in James’s story that have been shared by prior guests, including a period of time when James met and worked alongside the founders and other early community members of The Graph. As you’ll hear, James has a well-thought-out and deep conviction for the utility of The Graph, the web3 ethos, and the design of The Graph protocol and its incentive structure. We also talk about his move from aspiring architect to UX designer working in tech, his initial reluctance towards working in crypto, and then his move to Edge & Node. And toward the end of the interview, James will introduce you to an analogy he uses to explain how The Graph works to friends and family, and it’s a new one we haven’t heard before and I’m sure you’re going to love it. As always, we started the discussion by talking about James’s educational background.

James Hall (00:02:22):

Yeah. I studied architecture at the University of Utah. I did my undergrad there and wanted to go to UC Berkeley for grad school. That was my dream. Didn’t get accepted to their architecture program, so revisited my options at the University of Utah and spent some time investigating their dual master’s program, so I ended up getting a master’s of architecture and an MBA from the University of Utah. In my MBA program took the advantage of the opportunity to do a lot of independent studies, so they were really open to whatever the students wanted to pursue, and ended up doing a product design independent study with a great professor from RISD and ended up also doing a UX independent study. That’s how I set the wheels in motion to get out of the architecture industry and into the UX space.

Nick (00:03:20):

Your education in early career, obviously, was focused on architecture, and this is a GRTiQ first. I don’t think I’ve had a guest on the podcast yet that had a background in architecture like you do. What do you think drew your interest into that field?

James Hall (00:03:33):

I spent time as a kid, my parents weren’t very keen on video games, and I don’t have techie parents, but they did have a computer that had architectural design software on it. I don’t know what it was called. It was some crummy house floor plan tool and I would spend weekend afternoons just designing ridiculous houses and that was what I could do on our computer that was fun. I think looking back at that, that’s definitely where the interest started. My father worked construction and has a really great brain for how to build things and how to look at a plan and turn it into a three-dimensional form, so I think there’s that. And then on my mom’s side, my grandmother’s a sculptor. My grandfather was an interior designer, so I think it’s the marriage of a lot of family history, too, the practical building on my father’s side and the art and design from my mother’s side.

Nick (00:04:30):

Given that background, are you ever surprised that you ended up in tech? You didn’t grow up in a household where you were spending a lot of time playing games or rebuilding computers. Is it a surprise to you that you ended up in tech, when you think about it?

James Hall (00:04:43):

Maybe to some degree. I think on my sixth grade What Do I want to be When I Grow up Report, I believe it was computer game designer, so there was definitely some inclination towards tech, but it didn’t really formalize until grad school for me, when I thought, “Maybe I don’t want to be an architect. Maybe I need to look at some other options,” and then UX emerged as a possibility there.

Nick (00:05:08):

When you look at architecture, I know there’s different types, and I haven’t studied this very much myself, so I’ll probably sound like the novice that I am, but I know there’s different types of buildings and different types of genres, for lack of a better term, in architecture. Is there a favorite structure that you have or a specific type of genre that really appealed to you when you were studying architecture?

James Hall (00:05:30):

Definitely mid-century modern. We talked a lot about it in architectural history classes. Early modernism emerged from Germany, really, in the 1930s and ’40s, and then went global as the international style, but mid-century modernism was a unique vein within that broader movement. It was filled with a lot of postwar optimism, so right after World War II, there was a lot of new materials emerging that were being deployed in interesting ways in architecture, and my favorite part about it is it connects the interior space to the exterior. There’s a lot of visual connection with nature inside of mid-century modern structures, When I moved back to Utah, we bought a mid-century modern house because of that, that I really wanted to raise my kids in that type of environment, so it’s definitely my personal favorite, as far as styles go.

Nick (00:06:28):

And is there a iconic building or structure that captures that, for listeners that want to Google this and get a sense of exactly what we’re talking about?

James Hall (00:06:35):

Yeah. The roots of the movement are definitely in Los Angeles in the Case Study Houses, which was a program run by several prominent architects in the 1950s. Charles and Ray Eames have a house that’s part of the case study movement. A lot of the early iconic modern home imagery out of Los Angeles was taken in the Case Study homes. They’re definitely the roots where a lot of the DNA was formed.

Nick (00:07:05):

James, is it true that architecture and maybe the really visible stuff, the things you see in cities or in more prominent locations, is an artifact of what’s going on at society levels? Is architecture a mirror that you could go back and look and evaluate maybe certain social elements that exists in history?

James Hall (00:07:29):

I would say definitely so. I think that’s true of most artistic human expression, sculpture and painting and architecture, all are mirroring what’s happening more broadly in society. I think currently it’s hard to name the predominant style in architecture today, but it does have a lot of postmodern elements, which emerged in the ’70s and ’80s as a rejection of that modernist movement. Deconstructivism is also a more modern style, but it’s not my personal favorite because it feels almost anti-human or dystopian in a way, but that’s really on brand with culture today, too, that there’s a lot of fraught feelings around the direction that we’re headed as a civilization. I think that architecture does hold a mirror up at times to reflect back how people are feeling.

Nick (00:08:27):

Well, let’s talk about this journey, then, that you must have taken from architecture into software and into tech. We’re going to talk a lot about more specifically what you’re working on now, but at a high level, how did you make your way from architecture into tech?

James Hall (00:08:42):

As I mentioned, I did a dual master’s program. In the MBA program they gave us a lot of leeway to create independent studies and I used that as a way to get some educational foundation for software design, product design, and had some great mentors there. I was also very fortunate the director of the MBA program at the University of Utah had just previously left Stanford’s Entrepreneurship Center, so she was very well-connected in the Bay Area. She helped me get an internship at a company called Optality and helped just get the wheels rolling, of getting my feet wet, getting some connections in the tech space, and then after I finished school, I thought a lot about how to craft that narrative. What was the story I was going to tell of, “Yeah, I wanted to be an architect, but I don’t anymore”? The things I learned in my architectural education and career had clear value proposition for problems in the tech space. I was lucky enough to land a great gig at MuleSoft as my first UX design role and that laid the foundation for me to build on through the rest of my career.

Nick (00:09:51):

Well, I want to talk a little bit about MuleSoft, but before we get there, I want to break down some of these acronyms, and every industry is guilty of this. Every industry has acronyms for different things and you’re mentioning things like UX and UI design. These are very common acronyms in tech. If you don’t mind, can you just break down what is meant by UX design and what a UX designer typically does?

James Hall (00:10:16):

I don’t think you could even get identical descriptions among the UX design community, but I’ll take a stab at it. For me, UX includes all of the technology product design space, so the information architecture, meaning, how is a product structured? How does the navigation work? It also covers interaction design, like how should a text box work when I click into I?, what changes about it? How does it signify that it’s the active element on the page? When I click a button, how do I get the response that something happened, so the interactions and micro interactions, and then also the interface design. UI usually stands for user interface design and is how it looks. Overall it’s how the products are structured, how a user would move through the product experience. Is that experience legible and are they able to successfully accomplish their goals? And then finally, how it looks, which is where the brand and style comes in for a product experience.

Nick (00:11:18):

So that UX designer, that’s short for user experience. Are they primarily then the ones working on UI, which is that user interface? In other words, do the UX designers design and build the UI experience?

James Hall (00:11:33):

Yes, typically. It definitely depends on how a team is structured and how someone views their role. I personally have specialized more on the architecture and interaction side of an experience, so what steps does a user take? I often don’t dabble in the UI side. I’m not that great at it, frankly, and love leaving that up to stronger UI designers, who have more maybe aesthetic sense or feeling on how it should look.

Nick (00:12:03):

As a discipline, the UX designers are paying attention to user behavior. They’re trying to figure out if users are engaging with the UI. They’re trying to figure out optimized steps that a user should go through and a host of other things. Is that a fair characterization of the types of things you’re watching and designing for?

James Hall (00:12:23):

Yep. On the interaction side, what I care most about is, if I were to give you a task, open up your browser and find a map with directions to the nearest ice cream shop, then I would be watching, how do you find the app? How do you navigate within the app? Are you able to successfully put in the right search terms that will result in what you’re looking for, and can you figure out how to get the directions working, for example? It’s much more about what steps are you going to take and can you find what you’re expecting those steps to look like in that flow to complete the task successfully. It could be all black and white UI. It doesn’t necessarily need style and branding. It’s mostly about your ability to successfully accomplish your goals while using that tool or product.

Nick (00:13:19):

Outside of The Graph ecosystem, is there a specific app or website that you’ve come across where you think, “Oh, boy, they’ve raised the high bar of what great UX design looks like or should feel like?”

James Hall (00:13:33):

That’s a tough question. I think UX and UI designers are perpetually dissatisfied with the product experiences that they have. I think the first time I used Uber many many years ago, that felt like a magic experience to me of, I don’t have to hail the cab, I don’t have to take public transit, the car just appears, payment is taken care of in the background. I think that experience doesn’t hold the same magic for me. Often it’s frustrating because that drivers don’t want to take you on the route that you’re asking and it takes longer to get a driver. I think some of it has shifted over time. I’m not sure I can think of a better example.

Nick (00:14:15):

James, do you use the things you learned studying architecture in your work as a UX designer?

James Hall (00:14:22):

Definitely. Design with a capital D is really just an application of specific methods and principles, and I would say that those methods and principles hold pretty true across any design discipline, that you’re identifying a problem, you’re coming up with various ways of addressing that problem, and then testing and narrowing and refining until you land on a solution. That was something I learned in architecture school. That problem space was focused more on spatial flow and how someone moves through a series of spaces, but usually commercial buildings have a goal in mind for the users as well, like can we successfully get them to the elevator so that they can find the right floor in the building or signage, or things like that. I think UX also is spatial in a sense, maybe not three-dimensional, but you are moving through a series of pages, you are interacting with different elements that can provide the guidance or wayfinding as you move through that experience. I think that while the outcome is obviously very different, a software tool versus three-dimensional space, a lot of the means and methods of arriving at a solution are very similar.

Nick (00:15:42):

Well, let’s now turn our attention a little bit to that big move into tech and getting started at MuleSoft. For listeners that have been tuning into the podcast since the beginning, they’ll know that MuleSoft’s come up many times in several different interviews. I’m thinking about Carl Hagerling’s interview, Brandon Ramirez’s interview, Yaniv Tal’s recent interview, and of course, Nena brought it up as well. So let’s talk a little bit about MuleSoft. A lot of people involved in The Graph seem to have spent some time there. What can you share with us about what you were doing there at MuleSoft?

James Hall (00:16:13):

It was my first UX role. I definitely had to build some credibility and I’ve definitely made some mistakes along the way, but similar to what I was describing earlier, I was in charge of the interaction design for a developer IDE tool called Anypoint Studio. MuleSoft provides integration tooling, so they help you connect APIs and move and transform data, so there’s a lot of corollaries to how The Graph works in that ecosystem. I was working on a really technically rich and complex tool for Java developers, so jumped right into the deep end, as far as very hard products to understand with very difficult use cases. I had some really great teammates there and mentors that helped me through that process, ended up doing a full overhaul of that products that I was working on and then worked on some web tools as well, in my time there.

Nick (00:17:15):

As you were getting your feet wet and getting further and further involved in UX design, did you have the epiphany of, “This is it. This is what I want to do. I’m so glad this turned out the way it did”?

James Hall (00:17:26):

It was maybe a little more rollercoastery on the way to that epiphany of, “Did I make a terrible decision?” But eventually, once I found my feet and I understood what value I could add, I think it really became rewarding. It was fun to work on very technical challenging problems.

Nick (00:18:52):

Well, long before Yaniv and Brandon would meet Jannis and go on to launch The Graph protocol and go back and bring on Nena, go back and bring on Carl, and eventually you at Edge & Node, you met them and it was before The Graph obviously was launched. I think it would be fun for listeners just to hear what your experience was with meeting a lot of that original core team while working at MuleSoft.

James Hall (00:19:16):

I helped hire Carl at MuleSoft and was part of the hiring panel. He had recently moved from Sweden to San Francisco and was looking for a product design role, and we worked really closely for probably about a year and a half. Day in, day out I was working on the interaction side, he was working on the UI side and the brand side, and really loved my time working with him. He’s a really amazing designer and one of my all-time favorite coworkers.


Yaniv had somewhat of a rebel vibe, I would say. He was hired on as, I think, a senior UI developer, and he really just went after what he thought was the best course of action and didn’t worry so much about the politics and whether or not he had permission, per se, and he made stuff happen. It was really amazing. He helped us ship our first official iteration of the design system there, and I don’t think that would’ve happened if we hadn’t had Yaniv leading the charge.


Nena, I didn’t work super closely with her, but I remember talking with a design coworker who said that she shipped faster than any UI engineer she’d ever worked with, so Nena had a great reputation at MuleSoft. Brandon was really quiet. He sat, I think, in our row for several weeks, but he was a headphones on guy. One of my great regrets at MuleSoft is that I didn’t get to know him better at that time. I really love working with Brandon now and really respect and admire him. He’s very fun to just talk with about anything and everything, and I feel like that was a missed opportunity. I didn’t have a strong first impression of Brandon, but very happy to be working with him now.

Nick (00:21:02):

Do you recall ever hearing any early whispers or ideas being shared among those early folks about The Graph?

James Hall (00:21:10):

I don’t remember anything specific about how The Graph exists today. Yaniv was really focused on improving front end systems and component libraries, and most of his focus was there. MuleSoft generally was really early in the API management space and API connectivity, so we were talking a lot about building these webs of interconnected data nodes, but we were selling it to Fortune 500 corporations, which would’ve been inherently siloed, so it wasn’t the same public data infrastructure that The Graph is today. I don’t recall hearing anything specific, but we were definitely in that general thought space at MuleSoft.

Nick (00:21:57):

Well, that’s a really interesting point. I want to double click on that, but what you’re basically saying is that it’s not a real surprise to you that people that would go on to launch and found The Graph protocol had worked at MuleSoft, or at least in that space, because of some of the things you mentioned there about working on and thinking about APIs. Is that fair characterization?

James Hall (00:22:16):

Yeah. I think, too, everyone that was at MuleSoft probably had a good sense of the problems with the traditional web2 architecture and stack, especially data silos among different corporations or entities. And for me, once I really started to understand The Graph and its value proposition, it was like, “Ah, this is a solution to so many of the problems that were really difficult to solve from a MuleSoft business model perspective.”

Nick (00:22:45):

Well, that’s super interesting, James, and I want to ask just a quick follow-up, which is, the nature of these problems that you mentioned that MuleSoft probably came across, can you just share one? What would be one of those types of problems, that when you figured out what The Graph was doing was an aha moment? Of course, Yaniv, Brandon, and Jannis and the team went on to solve these types of things.

James Hall (00:23:07):

Yeah. I think one area that was really challenging back in 2014, 2015 was creating a uniform interface for interacting with APIs. MuleSoft had created its own language, so to speak, or method for creating API interfaces and it was called RAML. There was also YAML in the marketplace and I think some other competitors had done some alternative things as well. Today The Graph uses GraphQL as that interface language and the way that you construct the endpoints, the subgraphs that you’re going to be interacting with. I would say that The Graph and GraphQL probably hasn’t fully solved that problem yet, but it’s great that there is this consistent way of documenting and looking at API interfaces and then being able to interact with them as an end user, so I think that GraphQL is really amazing for that reason.

Nick (00:24:11):

Hearing you talk about this and describe it, I get the sense that UX designers, people like you, James, are only one or two steps away from being coders and developers. Maybe I’m overreaching here, but you seem to grasp the technical side of things and I’m just curious. Is that a prerequisite of being an effective UX designer? You have to be able to be familiar and comfortable with some of the code and developing elements?

James Hall (00:24:36):

It definitely depends on the products that you’re working on. There are some UX designers that will be front end engineers as well, to some degree. I find that they’re always better at one than the other and it’s very hard to be perfectly balanced across those different skillsets. I think that finding UX designers that are able to dive into technically challenging or complex spaces is more difficult. If I were working on a social app or something like that, I don’t really need to care as much about how the underlying architecture and how the backend systems are going to work, but in a technical space like building developer tools for people in The Graph ecosystem, we do need to care a lot about those constraints and think about how they will either impact our users or their perception of how easy or challenging a problem that they’re solving is.

Nick (00:25:31):

James, after your time at MuleSoft and before you went on to join the team at Edge & Node, you made a stop at Topia. Just curious what Topia is and what you did there.

James Hall (00:25:40):

Topia is an HR tool for managing remote teams and for helping employees move around the world. The product space was much less technically complex and the users weren’t developers. They were HR employees. As we were helping customers of Topia move their employees around the world, one thing that became pretty frustrating was all of the complexity around cross-border movement and dealing with different government requirements or complexity, and it often felt like the end result was to punish the people that were moving around the world. It became, I think in a way, helped me understand the value of web3 and the borderless nature and the global footprint of web3, in that ideally we don’t have to deal with the complexity around tax and payroll issues between countries or getting visas to go from one place to another, especially if you’re headed to that destination to add value to the local economy and bring your perspective as an outsider to potentially add richness to the locals. A little bit on what I worked on there, I took the role because I was going to be the first designer, again, and would be able to build a design organization. For me, that was a really fun problem space to hire a team and build out a design culture within an organization that previously didn’t have any designers in it.

Nick (00:27:15):

Well, as I mentioned, the next stop you made after Topia was to Edge & Node. For listeners that aren’t familiar with what or who Edge & Node is, Edge & Node is one of the core dev teams working on The Graph. What makes Edge & Node unique from other core dev teams working on The Graph is that it was founded by a lot of the starting team that launched The Graph protocol. After launching the protocol, they spun into a core dev and then the RAF Foundation has brought on several more core devs, all of whom are contributing to building out the protocol. Before I ask you a question about how you found yourself at Edge & Node, I’d like to go back in time a little bit here and ask you, when did you first become aware of crypto and what your first impressions were.

James Hall (00:27:56):

I first looked into crypto in probably 2014, 2015. I tried to buy some Bitcoin and the UX was so sketchy and scary that I was like, “Forget it. It is absolutely not worth the risk. I don’t understand fully what I’m about to do,” and it was just too uncomfortable for me. Once Coinbase came out in 2017-ish, I did buy some Ethereum and started to just dabble a little bit in the space, in trying and understand what the value proposition was, what crypto offered. I didn’t get in super deep.


I also would meet with Carl occasionally in that time when I was at Topia. I would have long layovers near where he lived, so I’d catch a train and go chat with him, and he kept telling me about, “Oh, I’m working on The Graph with Yaniv and with Brandon,” and he would tell me it’s indexing the blockchain. To me, that meant very little because I didn’t understand, really, what a blockchain was. I did generally understand the concept of indexing and I didn’t ever dive into it with him. I usually would ask about some of the other side projects Carl was working on. I regret not having him walk me through The Graph more deeply back then.


At the time I felt like a lot of these emergent work tokens seemed like baloney. You release a white paper, you say that your token will provide some work value, in air quotes, but there wasn’t a way to redeem those tokens for value. For me, it just felt like the crypto space was a very opportunistic way of raising capital very quickly without actually shipping. Those were my early impressions.

Nick (00:29:46):

I’ve had the opportunity to interview different people working throughout web3, and I ask on occasion, what are the next big mile posts or things that we should be watching for, for greater adoption of crypto and a proliferation of web3 in the market? One thing we need to see is more devs building in this space, but there’s also this secondary thought, which is something that you experienced when you first became aware of Bitcoin, that UX design, that it isn’t really friendly quite yet for the mass market. I’d be curious to know if that’s your position as well. A lot of things has changed since 2014, so maybe part of your answer is yes, but it’s gotten better, or not. I don’t know. How would you feel about that?

James Hall (00:30:29):

It’s definitely better than 2014. It’s much less sketchy feeling to go and buy crypto. Obviously, there’s some emergent best practices of what to do after you buy it on an exchange and all of that. I think that UX is still one of the greatest limiting factors for web3 adoption. I would also, in the same breath, say that I think in infrastructure is another thing that’s holding it back. One reason why I’m really excited to be working on The Graph at Edge & Node is we’re providing that infrastructure, that innovation, that benefits end users can actually take place on. I think we’re still in that beginning phase of, let’s get all of the groundwork in place and then we can allow the more end user-oriented developers to build that innovative new stuff that will welcome a new wave of users into web3.

Nick (00:31:23):

Let’s talk about, then, that move to Edge & Node, moving out of web2 at Topia, going full speed into web3. You mentioned that you had talked with Carl a little bit after he left MuleSoft and you had left as well. How did you become aware of, number one, what The Graph is and the conviction you developed for it, and what was that path or journey you took to Edge & Node like?

James Hall (00:31:46):

It happened really quickly. I was quite comfortable at Topia. My team was happy. It was a very enjoyable work environment, pretty low pressure. Then Carl reached out in December, 2020. I think a group of us prior MuleSoft designers were just catching up and he’s like, “Hey, I need to hire a designer. Any of you interested?” At first I was like, “Nah, I’m good,” but then I started thinking a little bit about it like, “Oh, I should actually figure out what Carl’s doing.”


I spent a weekend going down the proverbial rabbit hole and spent hours just learning about blockchains, about the potential benefits of web3, and building a mental framework for how The Graph fit into that picture and what services it was providing, and really quickly was totally sold that this was really amazing movement and it was something that I wanted to be part of. So I reached out to Carl and said, “I know I said I wasn’t super interested. I’m absolutely interested. Tell me what I need to do next to apply for the role.” Had a few conversations with Carl and met with Yaniv and then accepted an offer and started just a few weeks later, so I went from skeptical about crypto and web3 to working at Edge & Node in about a month, I would say.

Nick (00:33:13):

That’s incredible and that is super fast. I’d love to know, and I’m sure it’s very nuanced and maybe you don’t recall all of it, but as you’re doing this lightning round of study and trying to understand blockchain and how The Graph fits in and what web3 is or how crypto works, was there one thing at the top of the list, this one epiphany or aha element that really just tipped the scale, where you caught all the momentum? I’d love to know what that was.

James Hall (00:33:42):

My favorite class in my MBA program was a macroeconomics class. It’s really the only economics class I’ve ever taken, but it was really impactful. I view myself as a pretty logical individual and learning about the underlying mechanics of how economics work was really resonated with me. As I started learning about web3 broadly and the potential it had to bring radical information transparency to public behavior and spending and all of these things, that got me excited. And then the thing that really hooked me was the economics of The Graph ecosystem. I really think it’s a work of art, that all of the participants in The Graph Network have mutually aligned incentives to help the network grow, to be good citizens, to look out for each other, and it’s definitely evident in the culture of the community as well. You have a question about how to be a better Indexer? Guess what? There will be other Indexers there that you’re competing with, but they’ll be answering your question and trying to help you on your way because as The Graph improves and becomes stronger, everyone benefits. For me, that moment of realizing how complex the economics were, but in a way that all led to this radical collaboration and cooperation, really, for me, that was when I was totally sold and when I reached out to Carl was after that.

Nick (00:35:20):

I’ve got a lot of follow-up questions about that that we’ll get to. Before we do, though, I would need to know about the conversations you had with friends and family about this move, because as you’ve shared thus far, you studied architecture. You bundled that with a degree in business, so you got the MBA as well. You leveraged that into a role in Silicon Valley, working with some important tech companies emerging in the San Francisco area, and then you decide to pivot into web3 and this emerging industry. I got to imagine family and friends were trying to figure out exactly what you were doing now.

James Hall (00:35:55):

Many of my friends and family don’t really understand what I was doing before what UX design was, especially in enterprise software. It’s usually a little bit more opaque than, “Oh, I work on the three buttons on the Yelp page.” That’s a much more understandable design space. I would say it was already opaque. It’s gotten more so now. It’s interesting. Occasionally I’ll chat with people, because I don’t live in a super high-tech environment with a lot of friends that work in tech, and many of them will send me articles about scams in the web3 space or DeFi space, and it’s often with a are-you-sure-you’re-not-crazy vibe, and I don’t mind that at all. Usually I’ll offer to share, if they want. I definitely try not to be a pushy crypto guy that’s like, “Hey, let me try and indoctrinate you.” That’s definitely not my MO, but I find the space very interesting and love learning about it, so I’m always happy to share that with others as well. I have had some good conversations with others trying to explain what web3 is and what part The Graph plays in that broader picture.

Nick (00:37:11):

If you don’t mind, I’d love to just get a sense of what those conversations are like when you do describe what you’re working on and what The Graph is. Full disclosure, James, part of this is certainly intrigue in how you answered those questions, but also I think it’s very valuable for listeners to hear how people within the ecosystem are describing The Graph to others. I know there’s been a few guests of the podcast that have left some analogies or metaphors for The Graph that have been very helpful to the community. So if you don’t mind, what would you say? How would you describe what The Graph does?

James Hall (00:37:42):

My focus usually is around the economics and transactions within The Graph ecosystem. My favorite metaphor or analogy for The Graph is a farmer’s market. The way I set the stage is The Graph Network is the parking lot and the sign out on the street that says, “Farmer’s market on Saturday.” It’s not the booths. It’s not the people. The Graph Network and infrastructures that Edge & Node is helping build and that the foundation is helping nurture is the parking lot. In that parking lot we create an environment that welcomes the farmers, aka Indexers, to show up and to sell their products to the consumers, which are data consumers. The farmers, they don’t all sell the same types of goods. Some have a specialty. Some may have 15 varieties of carrots or no carrots at all They all get to decide what they think the market wants and there’s price competition between those vendors in the farmer’s market or Indexers in the analogy.


They have an incentive to sell their goods at optimal price to sell to make the most money, but they also need high-quality products or they’re not going to get return business from the consumers. And then the consumers are coming each week and they’re finding the data that they need from each of these vendors and building potential relationships and getting real value. They don’t want to go grow a backyard garden themselves. They want to be able to go to this market and pay experts who are much, much better at farming, or indexing in this case, than they ever would be. Also, I guess there is the nuance of the currency of this farmer’s market is not denominated in dollars. We do use the work [inaudible 00:39:31] GRT, and that’s how transactions are made to facilitate economic value exchange within the network.

Nick (00:39:37):

The Graph is a farmer’s market, I love it, and it’s a GRTiQ first and a new metaphor for the community to use. James, I’m sure that’ll pick up some momentum and you’ll probably hear that out in the wild one day when you’re at an event or something from another community member. Let’s talk about what you’re doing at Edge & Node. I am going to assume it’s UX design, but because of the listenership that I have here, I think it’d be fun not only hear what you’re working on, but can you provide a couple real examples of the types of things you’ve designed while in your role at Edge & Node?

James Hall (00:40:10):

I now have shifted to a design manager role within the design work. Prior to that, I was a UX designer. Some of the things I’ve worked on, when the decentralized network went live and we rolled out Subgraph Studio, I had been working on Subgraph Studio for several months before it released. The billing flow that you load GRT into and then pay for queries with, creating and managing API keys. I worked on all of that. One cool project was the NFT ownership transfer for subgraphs, that you could essentially send the subgraph to someone else’s wallet in the form of an NFT and then they could take ownership of that subgraph, and then also just improvements on Explorer as well, how you find subgraphs and are able to ensure that they have the data that you need and get you rolling with setting up billing and all of that to participate in the network.

Nick (00:41:06):

Well, those contributions are incredible, James, and I’ve interacted with some of those and I’m certain a lot of the users have as well. Kudos to you and the team for creating really great product and interfaces, and it’s nice to know and hear the voices of the people behind it all. I want to ask you this question about architecture and structure. Again, being a little bit of a novice, my understanding of an architect is they build and design structures and buildings. To be able to do that well, they probably need to understand a little bit about structure and about foundation and the strength or integrity of what they’re building. Applying that lens that you would have as an architect, when you look at The Graph from a structural perspective, what do you identify or what do you observe as the most important part of that structure, maybe the “foundation,” if you will, of the structure of the protocol?

James Hall (00:42:00):

For me, this is a pretty easy answer. I think that for me, far and away, the foundation of The Graph is Indexers and their ability to show up every day and provide high-quality, high-performance responses to queries. Without really great Indexers, The Graph ecosystem never gets off the ground. That core value proposition of get data off the blockchain that data consumers want, if they aren’t able to do that in a way that satisfies their service requirements, their speed requirements, their uptime requirements, then The Graph won’t be successful. I really think that Indexers are that foundational piece and without them, The Graph crumbles.

Nick (00:42:49):

Well, James, that’s a great answer and I’ve had the opportunity to interview a lot of Indexers for the podcast and like you, I have a ton of respect and really love the Indexer community at The Graph, the way they work together, and the services that they provide. I want to go back to something you said earlier, and I think it pairs very well with the answer you just provided, which was this conviction you developed for the economics at The Graph. Do you mind just unbundling that a little bit here? What is it about the economics of The Graph that really drives some conviction for you? You said it’s almost like a piece of art.

James Hall (00:43:23):

I love that everyone pushes in the same direction with The Graph ecosystem, that everyone’s goal is to make data access abundant and affordable and performant. Indexers have strong incentives to compete based on speed and cost and perform. All of that lends itself to internal competition. I think even though there is competition, there is the collaboration I mentioned earlier, that Indexers are looking out for each other as well. Longer term, I think that’s one reason why The Graph wins, versus a centralized competitor, that as Indexers are competing, it drives down the overall price of serving a query. Indexers should still be profitable. That’s an important thing, that they know their margins and are able to run a business successfully, but it won’t have the black box nature of a web2 or a centralized pricing alternative to The Graph, where you don’t really know what the costs are and you can’t shop around, so to speak.


Whereas a data consumer, you can optimize for a price in The Graph ecosystem and maybe you’re willing to sacrifice a little bit on performance in favor of cheaper costs. I think that that nuance is relatively small, maybe, but in the big picture, that’s one reason why The Graph is able to become the powerful network that it is. I also think that it has some compounding effects that each new subgraph that comes into the ecosystem makes The Graph closer to that one-stop shop, where you can come and get all of your query data that you need.


I think sometimes people can get a little bit hung up on the inflation and some of the ways that the value flows through the network. I think one important thing to keep in mind is that The Graph, as an ecosystem, is really just getting started. As we drive more of the queries from the hosted service onto the network, that in the future, maybe the economic variables are able to change under the direction of The Graph council and that it will mature like any other entity would over time.

Nick (00:46:20):

James, I appreciate that overview of the economics and I can hear the conviction in your voice for the value that The Graph creates and want to just ask you, how do you then interpret on the occasions that you come across cynicism, criticism of the industry that there really aren’t any projects out there in this crypto wild west that are creating real value? How do you respond to that?

James Hall (00:46:44):

I think that was my viewpoint back in 2017 as well, that I was seeing these work tokens emerge and they were promising a lot. I didn’t dig into them super deep, but it just felt a little phony to me, so I understand why people might feel that way. I think it’s easy to feel that way in the absence of a good example of the opposite, and I think that that’s what The Graph is becoming. It has a work token that provides real utility to people. It’s not to everyone today, but if you’re building a decentralized application, you can skip the backend infrastructure and just use The Graph as your data provider. To me, that’s real value. You’re able to create a subgraph that returns just the data that you care about and send optimized queries. You can do a lot of fine-tuning because we do allow users to create their own subgraphs. They don’t have to just come and pick something off the shelf and make sure that they conform their use case to what we offer. Rather, their use case can dictate what we offer as an ecosystem. I think that for me, The Graph is providing a really amazing example of crypto projects that justify their own existence and provide real value rather than just hot air or whatever, vaporware.

Nick (00:48:08):

James, I want to build a little bit on that and just ask you about the importance of The Graph, and I want to do it more at a top level. The question is, why is something like The Graph a decentralized data solution important for the world?

James Hall (00:48:24):

I think compared to siloed, walled-garden web2 projects that would provide data access, The Graph is really a breath of fresh air. I was recently reading a book and one of the points the author made is that corporations become less efficient and closer to dying, the bigger and older they get, and he contrasted that to cities which are decentralized.


Corporations are centralized entities that have a centralized governing body, and that body dictates the focus of the corporation and priorities and all of that. Cities, on the other hand, are much more organic and decentralized in their governance, in their growth, and that’s driven largely by economic factors within the city. The really interesting point was that very rarely do cities die, that cities become more efficient and more stronger over time because of their decentralized nature, where corporations become more slow, more ossified as time progresses. As a result, to me, The Graph is very much on the decentralized city model of, let’s let this grow organically as use cases unfold and emerge and as innovation on how to index and how to provide the data emerge, where a corporation might be more rigid and structured and unable to pursue some of the flexible opportunities that The Graph can.

Nick (00:50:00):

Taking that momentum there, and by the way, I love that answer, if we use that momentum to also address this question about web3 and why it’s important for the world … Similar to you, I have parents that aren’t techie. They don’t really know how to use a lot of the tools that people are using in web3. So my question is, how do you think web3 impacts just regular everyday folks if it’s more broadly adopted?

James Hall (00:50:28):

Today I don’t think that web3 is doing a ton for everyday people. I think we’re still in that infrastructure building phase and maturation phase that we talked about earlier. I would love to speculate a little bit on what I think what web3 could bring, and I’ll try and do it briefly.


To set the stage, when I was back in business school, I did an internship at this startup called Optality. Optality was trying to help build personal data models that you could then use in negotiation when you bought something from a vendor. It might be your health data, it might be your financial data, it might be different elements of what you prefer as an individual. Then you could go to a vendor and say, “Here’s my personal data profile without revealing my contact details.” Then many vendors could respond to an RFP, so to speak, from a normal person who wants to buy something like a car or a refrigerator.


Optality wasn’t able to fully execute on that vision. I think it was frankly too early in the web2 paradigm, this was back in 2012, but that same business idea or this model of empowering consumers, to me, is really exciting, and I think that web3 could be the ecosystem under which that model flourishes. There’s this famous marketing quote of, “50% of our advertising is wasted, but I can’t tell you which 50%,” and there’s an estimated $100 billion annually spent showing ads to bots and botnets. The push advertising world, I think, is very inefficient and also the user experience of receiving ads is not a good one. I would love to see if web3 could allow us to take back some power as consumers and have better, more efficient transactions with vendors.


I mentioned refrigerators earlier. In the future of web3, let’s say my refrigerator breaks. Today I get hammered with all of these impressions of where to buy a fridge and every one of those impressions have a cost associated with them. I get mailers every week from the local appliance store. I see billboards on the highway. I see ads in Facebook, whatever. All of them are just throwing money, in the hopes that when my refrigerator actually breaks, their ad is the one that connects with me, and then I go and purchase a refrigerator from them. In the web3 context, I would love for there to be a guild of fridge sellers that have a marketplace that when my fridge does break, I can go to them and say, “Hey, I am ready to buy a refrigerator.” I can use zero knowledge proofs to reveal all of the pertinent data, but without telling them who I am and where I live. Then they can tailor their offering to me and maybe they come up with different offers based on price sensitivity or maybe they know I love convenient delivery on the weekends, whatever, and then I can then choose from those vendors when it’s actually optimal for me.


Really, I think web3 has the potential to turn the push marketing economy on its head into a pool economy, where we as consumers aren’t barraged with advertisements all the time, but we can engage with vendors when it’s opportunistic for ourselves. I don’t think that that would ever happen in web2. Most of web2 is governed by huge corporations that make a lot of money off of advertising, so they have no incentive to make our lives, our user experience as consumers better. I think web3 might be the first place that we’re able to make that happen.

Nick (00:54:25):

A very common question I ask on the podcast when this contrast between web2 and web3 emerges is, does web3 and web2 coexist in the future or is this a little bit of a zero-sum game, where one of them is going to win out in the end?

James Hall (00:54:41):

I think there probably will be some two applications that kick around that have maybe better intentions than the average web2 company. I don’t think that it’s going to be a massive flip either, that five years from now everything changes and we dump every web2 product in our lives and adopt a web3 alternative. I think that the economic flexibility of web3 and the freedom that it could provide to us as just normal people will be really attractive and it will be hard for web2 business models to survive in that ecosystem. Maybe my prediction would be, I don’t know, 50 years from now it will all be web3, but I don’t think that it’s going to be a massive sea change overnight. I think it will be a gradual shift for us.

Nick (00:55:33):

What excites you most about the future of The Graph, James?

James Hall (00:55:36):

Whew, that’s a big question. Right now am really excited to watch it continue picking up inertia. When I joined before the decentralized network launched, I felt like we were all pulling very hard, trying to get a flywheel effect going. How do we get the first few subgraphs on the decentralized network and then beyond that, how do we enable Indexers to be more productive and how do we help consumers find the data that they need? All of those incremental changes build that inertia and that momentum, and I think that by the end of this year, we’re going to have a surprising amount of that inertia, so I’m really excited for this year and what it holds.


I think that we’re focused on the L2 migration, which is going to open up participating in The Graph to a whole new audience. In some conversations with users, they’ve mentioned that if they hold a small bag of GRT, it’s expensive to delegate and to participate because of gas costs, and we’re working on improving that. I think that there’s already good product market fit for The Graph and the ecosystem, and I’m just really excited to help continue refining, making small incremental improvements that then help that growth compound.

Nick (00:56:55):

Well, talking about that growth, and I love the vision there, it might be fun to look backwards as well and just ask you, how has things changed within the ecosystem since you first went to work at Edge & Node?

James Hall (00:57:08):

We’ve definitely matured in our focus and prioritization, especially within Edge & Node, but I think generally in the ecosystem. We’re more in tune with where we need to be investing more from a UX perspective, and we’re working hard to smooth out some of those rough edges that may still exist. I think network quality of service has improved by leaps and bounds since it launched. That’s been really exciting. I think that there was maybe some skepticism when I would say I was part of that group of, can we ever get quality of service to match or exceed the [inaudible 00:57:45] service, and that’s happening and it’s really exciting to see this decentralized network mature so quickly. I think one thing that’s nice now is that there’s less noise in the ecosystem and in this current state, builders are still working hard to build and to ship and there isn’t some of the distractions that maybe existed in 2021. I think that as a result of that, we’re going to be surprised by how much progress has been made.

Nick (00:58:14):

James, I feel like part of the answer you had about the vision for The Graph, this is an important year. You said it yourself. As you span out and just look at milestones, and I’m asking this for the benefit of listeners, things that they should watch for as The Graph continues in its own evolution and growth, what are some important milestones that you’re paying attention to or watching?

James Hall (00:58:35):

I think one near term milestone is the migration to Arbitron for the network, which will make it much cheaper for everyone to participate. Indexers can change allocations faster because gas costs aren’t a big factor, so that’s a near term one. I think longer term, my eye is really on query volume and the growth of queries on the decentralized network. I think that as that number goes up, the incentives should shift a little bit. I think a lot of Indexers today are more focused on the inflationary rewards of the network and not so much on the query side. That will change naturally as there’s more economic incentive to move towards serving those queries and competing for queries. That’s one thing I’m excited to keep watching and I think that this year should see a lot of that shift from queries on the hosted service to the decentralized network. I think the network economics will get better as that takes place.

Nick (00:59:40):

James, I just have one question for you before I ask you the GRTiQ 10, and this question is one that I always like to ask someone that I’m interviewing who left another field and entered into this field. To be more specific, I know you studied architecture, but you immediately found yourself in web2 and were working on those things. Hearkening back to what you studied and some of the things you learned pursuing a career in architecture, do you ever have moments where you see blockchain or web3 and you think, “Oh, wow. This will really disrupt or improve the way architects will do their work”? I’d be curious to know, just do you have any sensibilities about any of that?

James Hall (01:00:21):

I don’t know that there’s a specific application that feels really blatant in its application to architecture. I think there’s a few areas that could emerge. I think the jury is somewhat still out on metaverse and whether or not that becomes a meaningful near term part of our lives, but I do think that that has a really interesting new space for architects to play. They would not be constrained by gravity or whether or some of the factors that are really important in the built environment. I think I could see some architects focusing more on metaverse architecture potentially, if that really takes off. I also do think that AI will have some disruptive effect on architecture in the coming years, especially on the basic, mediocre side of the architecture equation. I think that will be interesting to see how it plays out. I don’t know that web3 will have an answer to that, as far as helping those unemployed architects get involved some way.


One thing I really hope does happen, though, is that through the DAO coordination model, we could see a reemergence of the rich patron of the arts, where I could see similar to ConstitutionDAO, a group of people that help self-fund works of architecture that are for civic good and can employ architects to do meaningful work often. So much of architecture today is governed by what they call value engineering, which essentially means make it as cheap as possible. I think that there could be some interesting possibilities as we coordinate in a new way through DeFi and decentralized governance, that could open up new doors for architects that wouldn’t be available today.

Nick (01:02:20):

James, now I’m going to ask you the GRTiQ 10. You might be familiar with these. These have become a real listener favorite, but these are 10 questions I ask each guest of the podcast every week with the intent of helping listeners learn something new, try something different, or to achieve more. Are you ready for the GRTiQ 10?

James Hall (01:02:37):

Let’s do it.

Nick (01:02:48):

James, what book or articles had the most impact on your life?

James Hall (01:02:52):

I really love a book called a Confederacy of Dunces. It’s a dark, absurd comedy set in New Orleans and really has essentially the prototypical internet troll, pre-internet days. It’s not something that I try to strive to emulate in my life, obviously, but I think the way that it painted these characters that you may despise while you’re reading the story, but there’s an element of heart and love that you’re actually happy for them in the way that the book concludes.

Nick (01:03:29):

How about this, James? Is there a movie or a TV show that you recommend everybody should watch?

James Hall (01:03:34):

I really loved Everything Everywhere All At Once. That came out last year. For me, that probably toppled my previous favorite movie, which is WALL-E, and I think that Everything Everywhere All At Once had so much heart. Obviously, it’s wild metaverse science fiction, but at its core it’s about family relationships and people who are striving for a better life and the importance of kindness. That was just such a beautiful, profound movie.

Nick (01:04:08):

If you could only listen to one music album for the rest of your life, which one would you choose?

James Hall (01:04:12):

Lately it would be Punisher by Phoebe Bridgers.

Nick (01:04:16):

What’s the best advice someone’s ever given to you?

James Hall (01:04:19):

I had an architecture school professor quote Socrates, and this is my favorite quote. “There is no solution. Seek it lovingly.”

Nick (01:04:27):

What’s one thing you’ve learned in your life that you don’t think most other people have learned or know quite yet?

James Hall (01:04:32):

I really like reflecting on Hanlon’s razor, which is never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. I think that often we feel like people are out to get us, that’s a very dominant theme in society today, and I think really it’s just carelessness or stupidity that leads to a lot of those outcomes.

Nick (01:04:55):

What’s the best life hack you’ve discovered for yourself?

James Hall (01:04:57):

I am definitely not a productivity guru. I think if I could encourage all the adults listening, and the kids, go ride bikes. For me, that’s like what makes life way better. I’m always happier after a ride.

Nick (01:05:12):

Based on your own life experience and observations, what’s the one habit or characteristic that you think best explains how people find success in life?

James Hall (01:05:22):

I think success is a pretty ambiguously defined concept for a lot of people. I would say that the one attribute of people that I consider successful is kindness and their ability to treat other people with dignity and respect, so kindness would be … Yeah.

Nick (01:05:41):

James, the final three questions are complete the sentence type questions, and so complete the following sentence. The thing that most excites me about web3 is …

James Hall (01:05:49):

The potential to return the internet to the hands of the people.

Nick (01:05:53):

And how about this one? If you’re on Twitter, then you should be following …

James Hall (01:05:57):

Okay. I’m not on Twitter, so can I answer YouTube?

Nick (01:06:00):

Of course.

James Hall (01:06:01):

If you are on YouTube, you should be following Van Neistat.

Nick (01:06:04):

And then lastly, I’m happiest when …

James Hall (01:06:08):

I’m on a road trip exploring quirky places in the United States with my family.

Nick (01:06:21):

James Hall, thank you so much for your time. You’ve been very gracious and I really appreciate a lot of things you shared today. I’m really excited to see this farmer’s market idea and a lot of the other insights you share, grow some momentum within the community. If listeners are curious about you, want to learn more about what you’re doing and some of the things you’re working on, what’s the best way for them to keep in touch?

James Hall (01:06:41):

I’m not super big on social, but you can check out my website at moretaller.com.


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DISCLOSURE: GRTIQ is not affiliated, associated, authorized, endorsed by, or in any other way connected with The Graph, or any of its subsidiaries or affiliates.  This material has been prepared for information purposes only, and it is not intended to provide, and should not be relied upon for, tax, legal, financial, or investment advice. The content for this material is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information. The Graph token holders should do their own research regarding individual Indexers and the risks, including objectives, charges, and expenses, associated with the purchase of GRT or the delegation of GRT.