Blockchain is currently being applied to any imaginable product or industry, from banking, to sovereign states or the weight loss industry. Considering the diversity of visual languages in the precedent traditional industries, why do many blockchain projects look so similar? Ubiquitous color palettes, visual signifiers, geometric shapes and jargon. Complicated tech terminology aimed at undefined audiences, visualisations of chains or cosmos, bits and bytes, blue hues and onepager templates. This homogeneity made the team of OODesign suspicious of the intentions behind projects, and unveiled a credibility problem towards our audience. Is this extensive application of a technology and of a shared visual identity a disguise for short-term financial speculation?
The blockchain start-up ecosystem grows exponentially. Every day more and more quickly-done websites with mostly interchangeable visual signifiers come to light. Many of these websites feature similar language, similar content structure and narrative, filling the gaps of generic templates, with very slight variations. These websites consider blockchain as the product, while the application industry is just treated as an excuse — the target audience is almost always the same: speculators, awaiting the next cryptocurrency, with the aim of becoming the next crypto-billionaires. However, this situation throws a shade of disbelief over other projects that want to implement the technology to disrupt existing industries. The first element to consider is the use of templates over all the elements that make these start-ups’ visual identities. Dmitri Siegel, in ‘Designing Our Own Graves’, defined a consumer behaviour called the ‘templated mind’, where consumers look for the customisation of very standardized systems, leaving the role of designers out of the equation:
Taking Siegel’s points further, the template mentality in this context not only emphasizes work over style, it also enforces quantity and homogeneity over specialisation. With this argument, concepts such as originality or authenticity are not in question, but the lack of inquiry on the visual communication of pertinent markets and audiences. It is not about trying to achieve total singularity — something that could be circumscribed to a very particular audience. Furthermore, familiarity and relatability, major components of semantics, also play an important role in the user’s emotional response and engagement to a particular design. They provide keys for integration and create a sense of belonging to a specific time and context.
Assessing the originality of a visual identity can be deemed unnecessary if the reutilisation of ideas is correctly put in place. On the same direction, Templates, where correctly used, save time and effort to the client, and maximize profits to their original author on a single work piece. If templates are not fully into question, then, what are the similar elements between blockchain startups design? When starting to develop the visual identity for OODesign we researched the market to find elements of common use. What we found, regardless of the final industry where the technology would be applied, is a consistent use of a limited catalogue of elements.
The sameness of the blockchain design industry, to our eyes, wasn’t only about the level of pleasurability, but mostly about its impact on public’s trust. Two guiding lines, multi layered narrative and curatorial visuality, were defined withdrawn from the final aesthetics, but influencing how the visuals and information architecture come to exist. They are the result of the research of expected audiences and working context.
One aspect that striked me when I started getting familiarised with blockchain projects was the (superfluous) use of monolithic tech language. It is a difficulty which limits access, or which infuses the brand with certain mysticism to attract cryptorush fools. For us, it was essential to communicate at all relevant levels. Our audience, as we envision it, will be made of individuals from different working fields, working structures and social groups, which will be concatenated over time, throughout the different development stages of the project. These stages won’t have sharp endings, and will have to coexist at the same time. For this reason, we decided to take on a multilayered narrative which communicates in the appropriate language through all the relevant channels: accessible language to show advantages and risks of our venture — addressing potential users — , specialised language to explain the functioning — addressing developers and blockchain insiders — and an ease of navigation through language (in all our communications) — establishing a high level of transparency in our communication with investors.
On the other hand, OODesign is situated at the core of the creative industry, and oriented towards the creative industry. Our approach to this involved avoiding an overly loud identity on visual elements, so they wouldn’t take over the diversity of works from our community of users. This principle, that we called ‘curatorial’, aims to foreground and reward (through our crypto economy) high quality work, in an attempt to make a difference from other design-service platforms. These, capitalize in fast transactions and cost-reduction, rather than understanding the needs of the professional community, falling at times in abusive working conditions with poor quality results. OODesign doesn’t function as an intermediary between producers and consumers, but it’s made up of them, so it aims to participate and originate opportunities to push forward the design ecosystem.
In conclusion, studying our audience and understanding our context have helped us to develop a confident identity that makes a difference from many other projects of the blockchain ecosystem. Even at this very early stage, we aim to provide a product-oriented and audience-based visual vocabulary, ready to interact with different collaborators and to address different publics. In coming articles we will explore the design behind OODesign’s logomark, our collaboration with the illustrator Gabriel Ebensperger, among other topics that are yet to be defined.