When people think of what a Bitcoin looks like, they often think of a large gold coin, straight out of Super Mario Bros., stamped with a cartoon style B. It’s not a very serious logo for the digital crypto-currency that has set out to change the world of finance. Worse, it’s inaccurate, equating an entirely new paradigm in the way we pay for things with the very medium Bitcoin’s out to replace: physical bills and coinage.
“The Bitcoin is about as much of a coin as an MP3, GIF, or other binary file,” writes J.P. Brenner, a New York designer whose work has been featured in Icon Magazine. A graphic identity for Bitcoin needs to take its inherently digital nature into account. Brenner’s solution? A dynamic Bitcoin logo made up of a single colored polygon that is constantly changing shape. Each time you look at it, it’s different, but always identifiable by its number of sides: Seven.
Why seven? Brenner says he picked the number seven for its numeric significance to most cultures around the world, emphasizing Bitcoin’s international importance. It’s also the number of letters in the word Bitcoin, and the number of continents. Finally, a seven-sided polygon (called a heptagon) is flexible enough that it can turn itself into abstract representations of multiple things, from a physical coin to a planet to a continent.
The most important aspect of Brenner’s design is the dynamic nature of the logo itself. Just like Bitcoin, Brenner’s logo is always in flux. This is meant to symbolize the way Bitcoin actually works, and how it is different from other types of currency: Namely, that Bitcoins are generated by computer algorithms based upon solving increasingly difficult mathematical problems. (For an easy-to-understand explainer, check out our previous article on the design behind Bitcoin’s crazy algorithms.)
Brenner’s idea is an intriguing one, but is it workable? Brenner claims his graphic identity better illuminates the unique qualities of Bitcoin’s dynamic nature, but I worry that it obscures what Bitcoin actually is a lot more than the old Mario-style logo. A gold coin might not be the best visual metaphor for a Bitcoin, but it does, at least, tell people that this is a form of currency. But what is Brenner’s Bitcoin logo meant to represent to people who don’t know what a Bitcoin is?
In Brenner’s scheme, any polygon with seven sides, no matter what shape or color, would be a Bitcoin logo. Not only does that make it likely that a Bitcoin logo will be mistaken for some other product’s logo, but you already need to already understand Bitcoins for this identity to have any meaning at all. We agree that Bitcoin needs a new graphic identity, something that reflects its strange qualities better than a cartoon gold coin, but Bitcoins are an obscure enough concept for many people to understand without constantly having to guess at what its logo is going to transform into next. What should Bitcoin’s logo look like? Let us know in the comments.