Designing products and branding for blockchain technology.

Blockchain Technology

Recently, we conducted an interview with Dennis Roelofsen, the Founder & Strategy Director of Yura Agency. During the interview, we delved into the existing design challenges of blockchain that are hindering its mass adoption and explored potential solutions to overcome them. Our conversation covered various topics, including creating a brand with innovative features, integrating human-centric design principles, discussing Dennis' approach to design thinking methodologies, and exploring strategies to enhance a brand's market position.

What brought you to product design and branding for the blockchain companies?

I think I was introduced to Bitcoin, blockchain, and cryptocurrency rather late. Some time in 2016. Upon diving deeper, I immediately felt that it had a similar vibe and hype that I felt back in 2001, when I started my first agency during the rise of the Internet. The way people spoke about it, the way people were excited about it was so similar that I needed to know more. The more I learned, the more I wanted to learn. Obviously, I also saw the market opportunity because the blockchain space is not very mature on a design and branding level. So I saw them going really well together and that’s why we started Yura.

What does it mean for you to build an innovative brand?

I think innovation, some people call it design thinking, is all about searching for the unfamiliar. So it’s not like finding something you have lost. You need to have a different framework, a different point of departure to find a solution. To build an innovative brand, I think you need just to break down those frameworks. Start with a clean slate. By approaching challenges with an open-minded, the DNA of the brand is innovation.

What questions should blockchain companies ask themselves to extract the essence of their brand?

We use a branding model, it’s called the Six Brand Questions by Michael Johnson, and it starts with ‘why.’ The question is - why are we here? So on all these questions, we want to have a clear answer that is commonly shared.

The first question – why are we here? It’s a great question, an important question. The second one is – what do we do and how do we do it? The third one is – who are we here for? Sometimes we change that question a little bit in to – what do we optimize our product for? So you need to have optimization. Otherwise, you’ll just be losing, throwing money in thin air. The fourth question is – what do we value the most? The fifth question is – what is our brand personality? The sixth one is – what makes us different? So the answer to the questions should include how you would differentiate yourself from the competition. So if we answer those six questions very clearly, everybody’s happy. That’s a great start for our brand.

How do blockchain companies usually approach product design?

Unfortunately, a lot of companies in the blockchain space approach product design as something that comes last. We feel that good design, whether it’s product design or any kind of design, is not only about aesthetics. It’s not some secret sauce you put on top. Instead, it’s a combination of aesthetics, human centricity, and functionality. We think design should be viewed in a more holistic way, and brands should incorporate design thinking earlier in the process.

What are the top 5 mistakes that the blockchain companies usually make?

Number one mistake blockchain brands make is focusing on the technology and only about the technology rather than focusing on people and values. In the end, people don’t care as much about technology as we think they will.

Number two is expressing the brand in vague and oftentimes too clever terms. So making ourselves look very clever to our detriment. From a human-centric point of view, that pushes a lot of people away that don’t yet understand the terminology.

Number three is also about the users. It’s about that human-centric approach and not showing people. I’ve seen a lot of branding projects that focused on a galaxy, and they showed nodes. So if you do that, then you at least need to include people in the forefront or have pictures of a team, interviews, or videos with people.

Number four is not having great alignment with storytelling and UX. It’s like telling the whole story in just one sentence. That feels like reading a phonebook, it’s not interesting, and there’s no hierarchy. I don’t know what’s important and everything is just thrown at me.

Number five is making it all about the features. I always say there’s a hierarchy between value, advantages, and features. So if you would have the feature that’s the lowest in rank, an advantage is already more tangible and more important to the user. But if you can talk to me about what it does for me, my life, how you will solve my problems, how you will make my life better - that’s a huge step up.

I know you asked for five, but I want to give you a sixth one. I’ve seen a lot of cases where people say we are the first blah, blah, blah, and sometimes they are the fourth or the sixth or one of many. Sometimes they overstate how new or unique they are, and that kind of storytelling doesn’t do well with me as a user.

What design components should blockchain companies focus on? Logo, website, UI?

The examples you mentioned are merely visual brand expressions, and as I said before, we feel that good design is not only the aesthetics. It’s also a human-centric approach, human centricity, and functionality. If you put them together, then design becomes a problem solver. So it could be anything. It could be your workflow. It could be the screens from your blockchain app or your wallet or whatever.

Do the companies consider design and branding as luxury services?

Maybe that’s how they feel. But it shouldn’t be. I don’t think that good design is a luxury or an indulgence, as you mentioned. I think people buy what they understand, on the user side as well as on the decision-makers side. I think good design can help you to make users understand what it is that you sell or promote or any other type of transaction.

However, the same goes for decision-makers. If the decision-makers don’t understand the discipline of design and branding very well, they won’t buy into it until they have a bigger user base, a bigger team, or a more professional development ecosystem. A lot of blockchain brands come from a technology-focused point of view, which is rather obvious. Sometimes they come from a financial point of view. However, blockchain brands rares every approach problems from a branding and design point of view. This is why most companies don’t invest enough in design and branding, not because it’s a luxury.

How different is it to provide branding to clients from tech industry compared to non-tech?

I don’t think it’s really that different. However, I do feel that tech-savvy people in the blockchain space tend to focus on advantages and technology features more because they’re so excited about it themselves. Instead of focusing on a user-centric point of view, which we believe is more important.

Let’s say my mother goes to the ATM. She doesn’t know anything about technology. She just wants to take what she feels is her money. If the technology changes, she still wants her money. So that’s more of the value, and if you bring an innovation to the market and the users, that’s where you should focus, not the technology itself.

How can the companies calculate the ROI from product design and branding?

In my view, good design is the successful integration of different disciplines, with a focus on embedding design principles throughout the process. Take the example of the iPhone - it's not just about the design, but rather a combination of solutions that work together seamlessly. To determine the return on investment (ROI) of design, one needs to isolate the impact of design from other factors, and this is where innovation becomes an integral part of a company's DNA.

Conversely, poor design can be addressed by identifying the issues through quantitative or qualitative analysis, and addressing them one by one through the application of design principles. This approach can lead to positive outcomes and results.

I think the question should be, can we afford to have a bad design? Yes or no? What would you recommend as the minimal viable branding to startups with limited resources?

I would say go Dropbox. You know, Dropbox started with, you can google it, I think it was five or six thousand dollars. They just had a one-page landing page, just a couple of forms to fill in and that was their whole design. So in the end, it’s simplify, simplify, simplify, and don’t focus on everything that’s nonessential.

How does your CRADAC-method for brand creation work?

It’s a very simple method. It’s just a filter that we use to check if we feel our brand expression is on point, and if it has the six building blocks that we feel should be represented in every strong brand expression. So the acronym stands for Clarity, Relevance, Attention, Distinction, Appeal, and Consistency.

Consistency is important because that’s the thing that keeps the brand together. The appeal is the thing that has an element of surprise to make it interesting.

Who is your branding role model in the blockchain and crypto world?

We have a couple, but the one that really stands out for me is LISK. One of the companies that seems to have done that six brand questions very well. So their why is very strong, they focus on education and to grow the community of developers, and they give away their knowledge, they give away workshops, they give away office space, and they seem just to be focused on that, and therefore they grow. From a design perspective, I think that’s a clever strategy.

What strategies help to change the public perception of the brand?

Let me first try to explain how I define the brand. Many people think it’s your logo and you stick it on a coffee mug, and you have a brand. Well, technically, that’s true, but I feel that your brand is more of a gut feeling. It’s something more intangible. So it’s not what you say it is. It’s what other people say it is. So it’s a little harder to have successful branding, because how can you have an influence on other people’s gut feeling? This forces us to be very intentional about those actions, and this is what branding and design do.

I think if I had to bring everything down to one answer – let’s be human. Coming from a source of common sense and humanity would be super helpful for the blockchain space. A human-centric approach is easily overlooked, but it’s not hard to do!

How do you envision blockchain changing the world?

I am a firm believer in tokenization and the concept of token economies. I envision a future where individuals, families, and even companies will have their own tokens, which will enable them to interact and trade with each other directly, bypassing the need for traditional institutions and banks. This would create an open and inclusive system, allowing everyone to participate in the economy on an equal footing.

How do you think the market for the blockchain-based solutions will evolve?

In my opinion, we have been overly fixated on treating blockchain as a buzzword. I believe that blockchain will become a more integral part of our daily lives as it becomes increasingly intertwined with other technologies. Instead of being viewed as a holy grail, it will be seamlessly integrated into our everyday routines. For instance, in the future, my mother could be utilizing blockchain technology at an ATM without even realizing it. While its use may go unnoticed by most, the benefits it provides will improve our lives significantly.

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