Cryptocurrency aesthetic

Dominik Olech
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There’s one particular aspect of the cryptocurrency industry, which is mostly ignored, despite being literally the first thing to be seen in every coin we encountered. 

We usually think about the blockchain from a technological perspective. And that’s a fair approach since it’s technology after all. However, even the greatest developments need to be presented to a broader audience in some way – and cryptocurrencies are no different. But they are doing so in a twisted way, which is typical of this industry.

For someone who pays attention to concepts like a brand and corporate identity, the cryptocurrency industry is a very odd yet fascinating case. We’re talking about massive open-source solutions designed by the community itself, which is a sensation in the world ruled by centralized projects. And since such an approach works well in the context of developing software (Linux, I’m watching you), then creating a convincing and consistent visual identification is apparently much harder to be achieved this way.

Fine feathers make fine birds

Some of you may say at this moment: “Why should we care about that aspect? We are talking about virtual money, not Coca Cola!” So I believe it’s important to spare a few words on that topic first. Every product needs a specific design to be correctly described in the eyes of potential customers.

There are two approaches to the word “design.” First defines it as a complex process of product development, consisting of (in a nutshell) both the development of its performance and its appearance. The second one focuses mostly on the visual aspect of the final product. No matter which of these two definitions we choose, the designer is always dedicated to one purpose: to make people react to the product.

Take Apple as an example. This company, from the very beginning, offers similar products as its competitors, at least in terms of their functionality. And yet, it is now the leader in the technological industry. Millions of people love or hate Apple products. The point is that it is hard to ignore the existence of this company and their work.

So, how is it possible for Apple to do so well if it basically sells the product that is widely available, only in a slightly different form? The design is the answer. It is the way to make the product stand out from the competition. And in the industry with over 2000 very similar products, standing out is a way to stay alive.

The purpose of the design is universal in our society. But the process itself may differ significantly among various industries. That’s why it is hard to compare Steve Jobs with Satoshi Nakamoto. We don’t even know the identity of the second one! The open-source character of the Bitcoin is also very different from Apple. However, as the popularity of the cryptocurrencies have increased, the process of designing in this industry has also changed. Let’s take a look at three different examples of how cryptocurrency aesthetic is being developed.

Community effort

We should start with the approach, which is the most suitable one for the decentralized character of the cryptocurrency. The person who was initially responsible for the look and style of Bitcoin was, of course, Satoshi Nakamoto. Although we don’t know who exactly he (or she) was, one thing is for sure – he wasn’t a graphic designer. Nakamoto was focused on developing his currency from the technical part, and we couldn’t blame him for ignoring the visual aspect. The only thing provided in that matter by the original author of Bitcoin was the first logo, consisting of simple two letters: BC.

This first visual expression of Bitcoin is now almost forgotten and even hard to be found online. it perfectly matches the sense of the beginning of the years of the first cryptocurrency:: a simple logotype made to serve a simple purpose. However, the growing community of Bitcointalk soon proposed a new solution.

In 2010, the user named “NewLibertyStandard” suggested using ฿, the Thai baht currency symbol, as a representation of Bitcoin, with the addition of three-letter BTC. This proposal soon spread across the community. But there still was a problem with the unification of the Bitcoin logo. People tended to create their own versions, usually loosely based on the reminiscence of the physical coin. 

The situation changed with a Bitcointalk member named “bitboy,” who proposed the simplified version of ฿ symbol, which eventually became the most popular one. Slightly rotated, with more eye-catching orange color, this logo was undoubtedly the best option for the growing currency.

Comparison of different Bitcoin logo visualizations from bitcoin.com

The community-driven process of designing a cryptocurrency wasn’t limited to Bitcoin only. An excellent example of the coin made from scratch by the community is, of course, a DogeCoin. The visual aesthetic of this currency wasn’t created in a planned, organized way. It was rather a spontaneous process, inspired by Reddit culture and a popular meme. Still, it is an example of the visual design.

Worldwide inspirations…

However, the industry has changed, and cryptocurrency-related projects aren’t only a community effort. With the growing popularity of virtual money, it became a domain of fintech companies – both those who managed to achieve success in the first years of the crypto rush and large players who became interested in this subject. They brought not only more significant capital to the industry but also a more structured approach to the designing process.

It made the visual aspects of cryptocurrencies, wallets, and exchanges more reliable on popular trends in the corporate identity of other companies. Although it’s hard to define a “universal” style of crypto, from my subjective perspective, bluish colors and multiplicity of “technological” visual references are the dominant approaches for this topic. It is designed to be dynamic and associated with success.

But this isn’t a constant, and the leading players in the cryptocurrency industry are trying to follow the current trends. Let’s take Kraken, for example. This leading cryptocurrency exchange has recently gone through a complex rebranding process, completely redesigning its aesthetic. The new approach might be described as a vector-based, minimalistic animation style, with a high-saturation color palette. 

This aesthetic is definitely far more human and attractive for people who are not yet necessarily connected with cryptocurrencies . But of course, Kraken isn’t the first one who use that art style. It’s currently trendy among the creative industry, and the first widespread implementation comes from the educative YouTube channel named Kurzgesagt. Still, points for Kraken for adjusting the approach to changing situations.

Sources: Kurzgesagt YouTube channel and Kraken website

On the left: one of the arts from Kurzgesagt videos. On the right: new visual identification of Kraken. Can you see the similarities? But it’s a fantastic style anyway.

… and less elegant approaches

Although corporations’ approach to designing crypto isn’t flawless, it’s usually well prepared. Sadly, some other developers aren’t eager to play fair in that matter. With the growing popularity of Bitcoin, many people decided to take an opportunity and use this trend. Without the necessary resources and experience, they decide to steal ideas from other projects. It applies not only to the technological aspect but also to visual assets. 

And so on, the cryptocurrency industry got crowded with copied logos, names, and visual identifications. Used assets are usually slightly changed to avoid eventual copyright problems. But sometimes, the original content which “inspired” developer doesn’t come from the crypto world. Take a look at that example provided by Reddit member named JuicySpark, who compared Bread wallet logotype with the ’70 rock band under the same name:

Source: Reddit

As you can see, the more visual aspect of the crypto industry is a complicated yet fascinating topic. Although cryptocurrencies are usually perceived from the technological or financial perspective, that other context is also important. After all, the aesthetic style of the coin is the first thing that the trader will notice – even unconsciously.

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