Satire or sarcasm as design is gigabrain signaling. In crypto, it’s how designers pay ironic tribute to the original web. Crypto dApps offering this design alongside traditional finance-related services such as lending and borrowing provide a comforting, nostalgic user experience, conveying a sense of familiarity that users can easily digest. 👾
The design industry’s latest trend is mixing retro 70s design textures and typography with 90s design layouts. This 70s design trend has been happening for several years alongside the brutalism design trend, says Shadowy Super Coder. NNG describes brutalism as “a style that intentionally attempts to look raw, haphazard, or unadorned, echoing early 1990s-style websites.” Crypto saw a combination of these two design trends in 2021, especially among younger designers building fun and exciting new Web3 projects. The crypto industry is young and ambitious, and degens go hard on this design vibe for inspiration. They feel their childhood wonder in the DeFi playground. 👶🏽
“Pascal Deville characterizes the style revival as a youthful rebellion against soft, corporate, crowd-pleasing styles such as flat or material design.” It’s now become ubiquitous in Web3. In contrast to traditional brutalism, the appeal is “its ruggedness and lack of concern to look comfortable or easy” (Levanier, 2021). Degens are unforgiving as they play against the house, aka the traditional financial system. “These web-design trends are reactions against the perceived uniformity of web design. Brutalism can be used effectively in visual design, but antidesign should be avoided for most products” (Moran, 2017). There’s a fine line between what works and what doesn’t—first-mover advantage played an important role for a couple of projects.
Larva Labs’ CryptoPunks launched June 23, 2017, originally free for those with an Ethereum wallet. They are NFTs with a pixelated, nostalgic feel of a young gamer who’s now grown up. People eagerly jumped in to play and hodl one. CryptoPunks created a standard and precedence for the meaning and ideology around NFTs—the sarcastic, retro originality, the art collecting, and the scarcity essence of the unique blockchain timestamp identifier. Degens didn’t care how the punks looked, but they provided good childhood feels and had a loyal community. The collection of 10,000 characters is simple and unintimidating, with enough unique traits to make them personal to the owner.
CyptoPunks are currently trading for ~60-80 ETH but have reached upwards of 150+ ETH. Their current floor cap is near 700k ETH, having hit a $5B market cap in November 2021. Their pixelated innocence and retro originality have made them a top-two blue-chip NFT collection potentially for the long term. They battle it out with BoredApeYachtClub (BAYC), who have their own fun, colorful, and humorist undertone.
“The growth of this ‘digital retro’ movement isn’t just reserved for individual web designers or development shops; in fact, this new approach to web design has been embraced by numerous brands, from Silicon Valley startups to the Fortune 500.” However, crypto has taken it to the next level of satire. Curve.fi is the pinnacle shining example of this accomplishment. This team nailed it. Launched August 13, 2020, Curve is a decentralized exchange liquidity pool on Ethereum designed for efficient stablecoin trading, lending, and borrowing. It has elegant minimalism and highly accessible text and buttons, which is why degens are willing to play with 100s of millions of dollars on it. “Notably, if you’re considering a vintage web design, it’s critical to choose the right tools to build, manage, and host your website” (Garrepy, 2017). The entire team, with the support of its incredible software engineers (smart contracts), understood this. Curve fuses elements of the past with the promising future of cryptocurrency. While some have tried with moderate success, for most other protocols, Curve’s design quality has been nearly impossible to replicate. Protocols must be super unique going forward, with a similarly flawless, seamless UI/UX experience to complement the throwback awkwardness of the design. Nobody can do exactly what Curve did. That retro nail has been hammered into the Web3 hall of fame archives. Retro throwback is still very cool, but cloning a Windows ‘95 UI is played out, says moondog. Unless a project pulls off another Curve-esque performance, though delightful as all get out, it may not bode well for user acquisition.
Money talks and big funds clearly use platforms like Curve for its sophisticated engineering and flawless user journey. Curve’s UI/UX is seamless enough to give investors confidence because it feels like they are interacting with harmless 90s finance software. Curve’s current TVL is $17.77B. The design certainly played a role in conquering a chunk of DeFi usage.
It’s good to contextualize what’s going on in crypto within the larger design trend, but in crypto, we feel the message conveyed is “Ok, we’re not only going to rebuild the financial system; we’re going to pretend to be complete morons while we’re at it.” Obviously, Web3 builders are not complete morons, right? There are tens of billions of dollars locked up with complete smart contract trust among degen users. Web3 design is really dope right now. Its designs are insanely creative, rebellious, nostalgic, and playful in the broader crypto mission to overthrow the traditional finance system. Moondog believes crypto design was underdone, while Web3 is crazy interactive and maybe overdone. Curve is rad—but if we bifurcate Web3 into the categories of DeFi and NFT/Metaverse, the former leans toward 90s throwback retro brutalism and the latter leans toward immersive 3D futuristic brutalism. Here are two great examples of recent protocols that have caught our attention and captured this sentiment: Neworder.network and Poolsuite.net. Poolsuite is chef-level execution of throwback windows. Seriously, click on them and see how they make you feel.
Now, something that’s too trendy? Maybe Hypersphere.ventures.
Last note (and likely the most important): Shadowy says it’s a trend and, like all trends, it will give way to the next trend. What is that next trend, though? Or, says moondog, is it an evolution, where protocols still feel value infusing a tasteful blend of what is current? What remains constant is the fact that users want to feel reconnected with what brought them to crypto in the first place: squeezing the juice out of all the big financial players with power and watering the degens’ newly decentralized finance flowers. Crypto users are of the generation introduced to the internet at a young age. For them, this current trend is immensely nostalgic of a digitally creative, technological Cambrian explosion they experienced when they first grabbed a mouse. We’re positive that crypto creatives will continue to update their formulas for future users and generations. These designs are empowered by WAGMI energy. Just look at the ‘d’. 🚀
P.S. - Here’s a collection of crypto and DeFi design trends quintessential to the industry, whether new or timeless: https://www.fyresite.com/the-latest-crypto-and-defi-website-design-trends/