The new frontier of cryptocurrency design


Yeah, I’ll admit it. I laughed when I first heard about Bitcoin. Almost ten years ago, it just seemed like a hoax, like a pyramid scheme for nerds. Well, it turns out those early investors made fools of us all.

Bitcoin has legitimized cryptocurrency as a viable alternative currency. While claims that it’s the future of money are not yet proven, hundreds of new cryptocurrencies are on the rise, promising to revolutionize anything from banking to logistics. Here at 99designs we’re seeing a rising demand for cryptocurrency design, whether it’s for currencies, trading platforms or wallets, so naturally we were curious: What does cryptocurrency design look like? And what are the design trends of the industry?

Web design for an ICO rating platform
This platform helps people invest in new cryptocurrencies by checking out community based feedback and ratings for ICOs, Initial Coin Offerings. Web design by Maxim Andreev.

Whether you’re an entrepreneur in the cryptocurrency world or a designer working for cryptocurrency startups, this guide will show you what cryptocurrency design is like and how to do it right. We’ll cover design trends and analyze examples, but first let’s answer some basic questions—starting with what is cryptocurrency?!

What is cryptocurrency? And what is Bitcoin?

Cryptocurrency

Cryptocurrency is a digital currency, as opposed to paper bills and coins. It gets its name from cryptography—the art of writing and solving codes—which the currency relies on to remain secure in its digital landscape.

Security is everything for a currency, especially a digital one that’s even harder to regulate. A cryptocurrency can only survive if it safeguards against fraud. Cryptography ensures online currency workers (called “miners”) cannot corrupt the database for their own gain.

Cryptocurrency infographic
Thanks to Blockgeeks for this helpful infographic explaining cryptocurrency.

I know. It’s already starting to get confusing. Blockgeeks explains it in a way that’s easiest to understand.

Bitcoin

Bitcoin is the one cryptocurrency that everyone knows, and there’s a good reason it’s famous. Bitcoin is the first decentralized currency in history. They stumbled upon a solution to verify transactions correctly so individuals couldn’t spend their Bitcoin twice. To do this, Bitcoin uses a peer-to-peer network, the same system used by file sharing software.

What is a single Bitcoin?

No, that shiny, gold coin with a “B” on it isn’t real.

Logo for a cryptocurrency community
Future Money is a social community that educates the average person about bitcoin and blockchain technology. Logo design by mr.giraffe.design.

While it lacks a physical form, a Bitcoin is still a unit of currency. Its value is determined by how much people are willing to trade for it, backed by a secure log of all transactions to date (the blockchain, if you want to learn the technical terms). It’s no different than the digitized money in your online bank statements, except that you can’t withdraw a Bitcoin unless you sell it for another currency. You can, however, spend it online if stores accept it.

Because of their immense value, people often trade in fractions of a single Bitcoin.

Why is Bitcoin so popular right now?

On August 1, 2017, Bitcoin created Bitcoin Cash and made their code (BIP 148) more stable. These strategic moves to increase security created an upswing in its value, granting it international attention and legitimizing Bitcoin investors. This precedent has opened the door to other startups hoping to score big on the coattails of Bitcoin.

How the cryptocurrency industry uses design

Smartwallet is a cryptocurrency wallet app to hold coins. App design entry by PICH.
BTC-Echo is a platform for digital currencies and Blockchain. Logo design by kosta-xd.
Kryptonight is a cryptocurrency exchange platform. Logo design by giyan.

At 99designs, we have seen a 450% increase in cryptocurrency design projects in just the last few years. As cryptocurrencies only exist in a virtual space, it’s clear that entrepreneurs in the cryptocurrency world need to focus on design to represent what they do. For designers on the other hand, the big question is how to design for cryptocurrency businesses. What are these brands and their clients expecting?

Cryptocurrency is a new industry, but it still has enough history to go on so we don’t have to move forward blindly. Here are a few of the most successful cryptocurrencies and services so you can see what colors, styles and patterns have already proven effective.

Bitcoin & Bitcoin Cash

Bitcoin logo variations
A page of logos from Bitcoin’s Brand Guidelines.

Bitcoin would never have gotten this far without solid branding and design choices. Their style has changed since they first started in 2009, but we’re going to focus on their current look.

The two most consistent elements of Bitcoin’s design are the gold color and two vertical strokes through the B that mimic the U.S. dollar sign. In fact, the “striped B” is easily recognizable as Bitcoin, even without the color or the circle around it that represents a coin. With this representation they manage to visualize the idea of Bitcoin really effectively and make it feel more tangible—like a regular currency.

Bitcoin’s brand colors are gold and a silvery blue, which they use extensively on their website. In addition to the gold highlights in the header menu (accented by the black background), their blog feature images follow the brand color guidelines.

screenshot from Bitcoin website
A screenshot of Bitcoin’s website.

Ethereum

Ethereum is an open-source platform that hosts the cryptocurrency Ether. Its name often comes up after Bitcoin in discussion of cryptocurrencies.

Screenshot from Ethereum website
The landing screen of the Ethereum website.

Based on its logo and website, Ethereum is a modern, futuristic brand with a minimalist touch, as seen in their typography and the use of negative space.

Take note of a few specific details. First, Ethereum also uses a silvery blue as one of their leading colors, just like Bitcoin. Their logo itself employs several different shades.

Second, Ethereum introduces us to the angular and grid-like styles that are coming to dominate cryptocurrency design. Their logo is a geometrist’s dream of triangles, and their header image also creates a triangle with a grid of repeating lines.

Screenshot from Ethereum website
Another screen of the Ethereum website.

The rest of Ethereum’s site seems pretty standard for any industry. They follow the basic, contemporary design principles, including flat illustrations and easy-on-the-eyes typography, although the color scheme favors formality and professionalism more than other industries.

Ripple

Screenshot from Ripple website
The landing screen of the Ripple website.

Ripple’s logo may be a cryptocurrency wildcard, but a close look at their website looks all too familiar. For starters, we see a prominent blue scheme (similar to Bitcoin and Ethereum) that leans towards minimalism with simple fonts and flat illustrations.

Image from Ripple website
An animated gif from the Ripple website.

Ripple also uses circuit imagery for a futuristic feel. But they take it to another level by incorporating it into many of the images on its site and using it to explain functionality. They combine the circuitry with hexagons, an angular shape that goes perfectly with the grid trend of cryptocurrency design.

Screenshot from Ripple style guide
A page on logo treatment from the Ripple style guide.

With its circular shapes, the Ripple logo is a bit more independent, deviating from the norms seen in other cryptocurrency logos, except for its use of blue.

Litecoin logo
Litecoin logo from their website.

Litecoin

Litecoin’s functionality is similar to Bitcoin, but its design strays into new territory. The logo—the first letter of their name intersected with a line—is clearly inspired by Bitcoin, but they opted for a slanted horizontal line (perhaps inspired by the pound sterling symbol £ or the Mongolian Tugrik ₮). Litecoin also uses silver rather than gold, which still parallels traditional currency.

Screenshot from the Litecoin website.
Screenshot of the Litecoin website.

Their website follows suit with more of the same trends: futuristic themes and the color blue. One thing worth pointing out is the globe header image, a theme we see again in other cryptocurrencies.

IOTA

Compared to other cryptocurrencies, IOTA does things a little differently. They rely on communication between machines on the “Internet of Things” to verify transactions (that’s where the name comes from). They’re one of the new favorites to be the next big cryptocurrency.

Screenshot from the IOTA website.
Screenshot of the IOTA website.

Their branding follows many of the same trends we’ve seen before. They focus on the futuristic and technological aspects of cryptocurrency, taking it to new heights with advanced site features like interactive illustrations.

IOTA logo
IOTA logo, via Brands of the World.

It might seem obvious that a cryptocurrency site would use advanced design techniques to further its futuristic style, and yet IOTA’s site puts others to shame. Their homepage features interactive scrolling with impressive animations in every section.

IOTA’s logo uses a minimalist typeface to evoke its futuristic brand, but also uses circular shapes to keep in line with industry trends.

Cryptocurrency design trends

Notice some brand similarities between the five industry leaders above? Based on what we’re seeing in cryptocurrency design right now, here are some more design trends to build on.

Futurism

Web design for a cryptocurrency ridesharing app
Arcade City is a ridesharing app that uses cryptocurrency technology. Web design by ~Anton~.
Decentralbox is a website that writes about cryptocurrencies, the blockchain and tutorials for joining this decentral system. Logo design by VectoruX.
Mantis is a software for a cryptocurrency and blockchain project. Logo design entry by artomatic.

Enthusiasts will tell you how cryptocurrency is the future, but one thing we know for sure is that it is extensively futuristic. Moving into digital process in almost all areas of life is a progressive concept and makes us all consider the future. As such, futuristic themes (like sci-fi) seem to suit it well: space travel, machinery and especially circuitry, which highlights cryptocurrency digital nature. No wonder we’re seeing lots of edgy shapes with sharp lines and neon designs that look like they are glowing in the dark.

Metal

Gold logo design for cryptocurrency TriForce Tokens
TriForce Tokens is a crypto-currency aimed at mobile game developers and gamers. Logo design by The Gunner.

Not only do shiny, metallic textures hint at that futurism theme, they also conjure up associations with coins or precious metals like gold and silver. There’s something inherently financial in shiny metal, making it a great overlay for logos and other branding imagery.

Lines and grids

Web design for cryptocurrency Heat Ledger
Web design for cryptocurrency Heat Ledger by TheConcept.
Inizio Block is a blockchain company with the goal to track things from their origin. Logo design entry by fonhea.
NepFin is a cryptocurrency company focussed on financial services. Logo design by KisaDesign.
DigiCap is a hedge fund that invests primarily in digital currencies. Logo design by Rapalo.

Cryptocurrency brands often utilize grids, lines and angular shapes to represent networks, connections or circuits—perfect for an industry that is very hard to visualize. Grids also help make a brand seem more stable and dependable, a big plus for experimental currencies.

Circles and coins

CoinBit by S.SUKALPO™.
Logo design entry for CoinBit by S.SUKALPO™

A bit contradictory to the trend of lines and grids, several cryptocurrency logos use circles to suggest coins. These can be subtle (like traditional circular logos) or more on-the-nose (an actual coin logo). This trend also pairs well with shiny, metallic textures.

Globes

Company that provides innovative cryptocurrencies trading platforms (B2B) by Arthean.
Marketing materials design entry by Arthean for B2B cryptocurrencies trading platform.

One of the groundbreaking aspects of cryptocurrency is its potential for decentralized currency, or a currency that can be used anywhere. It’s a concept linked heavily to globalization, so depicting the world—especially an interconnected world—is a no-brainer. Globe imagery can also be combined with lines and grids, as in the CryptoPlatforms example.

Blue and neon

Web App for a Cryptocurrency exchange platform by RomaTesla.
Design entry by RomaTesla for a cryptocurrency exchange platform web app.
Logo design entry for cryptocurrency wallet Agama by Ananda.
Logo design for Coinweb, a website about cryptocurrency and blockchain, by vuveeh™.

A blue color palette is less of a cryptocurrency trend and more of a finance trend. Each color has its own emotional connotation, making them a powerful branding tool. Blue denotes trust and professionalism, which has made the color a staple for financial institutions. Cryptocurrencies are jumping on board for the same reason.

In direct opposition to the blue trend, we’re seeing splashes of bold colors and bright neons. With these unorthodox color choices crypto businesses are showing us that they are not your run-of-the-mill finance companies. And nothing makes a cryptocurrency business stand out like vibrant purple, orange or green in front of a deep black background.

Minimalism

App design for trading portal LiteBit
App design for trading portal LiteBit by galinka.
Unbank logo design for CoinBTM, a company operating Bitcoin ATMs, by gaga vastard.

Clean, sharp lines and simple designs with very few bold elements are not only modern but stand for clarity in a complex industry. The simplicity of these designs helps cryptocurrency businesses draw attention to the core of what they do—and look cool and up-to-date at the same time.

Traditional currency

Cryptocurrency logo
BMV cryptocurrency coin logo by Gideon.

There are no guidelines for how to make a currency symbol. But somehow, currency symbols just look like currency symbols. Cryptocurrencies need symbols, too, and many companies have found it best to draw on existing currencies for inspiration. Think Bitcoin’s double strokes or Litecoin’s slanted stroke.

Ready to ride that cryptocurrency boom?

The cryptocurrency industry is just starting to take off. If you’re brave enough to hop into this volatile world, start mastering these trends and you’ll hit the jackpot.

What are your thoughts on cryptocurrency design? Tell us what you think in the comment section below.

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