The Celo Coin Series
This is the first of three blog posts that unpacks “The Why”, “The How”, and “The What” of the Celo Coin, a brand asset used generously across celo.org. (s/o Simon Sinek, How great leaders inspire action)
“The Why of the Celo Coin (Part 1 of 3)”, delves into why celo.org was redesigned and the philosophical foundation behind how Celo visually communicates today.
Here are definitions that may help you digest this series
Celo — The open platform making financial tools using blockchain technology
C Labs — The founding team building Celo
Thank you for your curiosity in Celo Design and reading along.
You are valued.
Before the Redesign
In 2018, celo.org debuted on the web. The greater crypto and financial tech community framed Celo as a “mission-based”, “user-first”, “humanitarian” project. By design, the site succeeded in telling a high level story of Celo’s vision but did not showcase the project’s technology at its early stages.
Celo has since defined where it’s technically headed and made substantial progress building software.
Early this year, C Labs added a celo.org redesign to the 2019 project roadmap. As a company we felt ready to properly present Celo’s technical work and establish our technical expertise. My team started by collecting internal feedback on content requirements, requests, and strategy.
Most notably, we solicited website critique from C-Labs engineers, who said:
- It didn’t sufficiently communicate C Labs engineering expertise — explanation, approach, and papers
- It was too playful and didn’t feel legitimate
- It didn’t speak to the open protocol, open community of developers we were nurturing
Before making space for new content, I reflected on what Celo’s brand accomplished since its launch. Differentiated as a personable project solving real problems for real people; Celo is undoubtedly a unique persona in the community.
Over the past year, C Labs embodied these qualities by conducting immersive user research, partnering with those focused financial inclusion, and building products for the most marginalized first. I referred back to a list of adjectives from 2018 which we originally wanted Celo’s brand to be described by:
Distilled down to its core, I called this brand personality “The Approachable”. My team wanted to keep The Approachable but it became clear it wouldn’t be the right tone to communicate technically with.
I began by reflecting on how cryptocurrency projects playing out over the next few decades. Like every new industry, there will only be a few big winners.
One day cryptocurrency will be a technology we take for granted like the wheel, electricity, or wifi. The hype and scene around the movement will end and we will be left with “Crypto Normal”. Cryptocurrencies and blockchain will become a permanent fixture in the financial landscape and then society’s landscape. De-sensationalized, institutionalized, and written into history as a timeless technology that the world will use everyday.
In respect to how Celo technology is communicated, I believe Celo visual design should not resemble today’s visual trends but instead respect the inevitable future. This doesn’t mean be “different” because different is better but to be honest with Celo’s aspirations to serve everyone in the world indefinitely.
So what does that look like?
C Labs engineers are opinionated, patient, curious, humble and cooperate by making decisions and executing together. They are enveloped by their deep-work but can teach and communicate their expertise to anyone.
Here’s how I describe Celo Engineering
- Technically Excellent
And here are key descriptors for how crypto will look in the future
Celo’s open source community will gather on and offline around the world. Its contributors will experiment and research concepts, governance, and build technical applications. A lot of this reminded me of academia. Similar to why universities exist, those working on Celo today will carry its torch as far as they can to hand it off to the next generation. I wanted these qualities to visually communicate Celo technology.
My team started calling this personality “The Academic”.
I created two personalities needing to cooperate as one brand philosophy. They were quite different.
I looked to our pair of Celo values, “Unique Purpose” and “Connectedness” and their intrinsic polarity that create a whole.
Celo believes that one must define their unique purpose and feel empowered and enabled to achieve their full potential. That said, humans have difficulty living in isolation and feel more fulfilled when engaging in a community. Connectedness illuminates that people are happier and healthier when they are connected to one another. (s/o Robert Waldinger, What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness)
Not only is each value not enough for Celo to stand on, the contrast between both qualities make them stronger when forced to cooperate.
To support the direction I was headed, I researched Taoist relationship between yin and yang.
I found insightful passages from Alan Watts and the Tao Te Ching:
“They are thus like the different, but inseparable, sides of a coin, the poles of a magnet, or pulse and interval in any vibration. There is never the ultimate possibility that either one will win over the other, for they are more like lovers wrestling than enemies fighting.” — Alan Watts, https://www.wakingtimes.com/2019/04/08/the-taoist-view-of-the-universe-as-explained-by-alan-watts/
“Thirty spokes unite at the wheel’s hub;
It is the center hole that makes it useful.
Shape clay into a vessel;
It is the space within that makes it useful.
Cut out doors and windows for a room;
It is the holes which make it useful.
Therefore profit comes from what is there;
Usefulness from what is not there.”
- Tao Te Ching — Lao Tzu
Similarly to Celo’s values and yin and yang, I have two strong brand personalities with inherent polarity:
The Academic is intellectual and fixated on the depth of work, immaculate execution, and technological potential.
The Approachable is a radically inclusive space where one feels comfortable exploring, being vulnerable, and learning.
We needed to meet our audiences where they are, while keeping in mind the greater Celo audience. This took implementing a communication style where either personality’s energy can appropriately take the lead.
Both personalities became one Celo brand voice; in which Celo can make decisions visually and in written communication.
The next article, “The How of the Celo Coin (Part 2 of 3)”, will explore how The Academic and The Approachable communicate on celo.org.