It’s been just over a decade since a mysterious figure named Satoshi Nakamoto published a paper titled Bitcoin: A peer-to-peer Electronic Cash System, marking the birth of the world’s first cryptocurrency. To this day, Nakamoto’s real identity remains unknown, but the concept of cryptocurrencies and blockchain (the underlying technology behind it) have come a long way as the market for them has grown exponentially.
A few years ago, most people’s awareness of cryptocurrencies didn’t stretch further than reading the news reports about dark web sites such as Silk Road being used to buy illegal drugs. Today, a single Bitcoin’s value has already peaked at nearly $20,000 (although this figure tends to fluctuate a lot) and there are more than 1,000 other cryptocurrencies in existence, and growing. Even established businesses have been getting in on the action; last year Santander announced a partnership with a cryptocurrency company called Ripple, and Facebook has just acquired a blockchain start-up called Chainspace.
Pentagram Partner Jon Marshall first became more aware of blockchain a few years ago while at his previous agency MAP. The team was working closely with IBM at the time, who had already started doing research into what wider impact the technology could have on society. “I tried fiddling about and bought some Bitcoin on Coinbase, which is an app that makes it really easy to buy cryptocurrency,” he says. “I suddenly realised that design is – as usual – a good tool to make something which is very complicated easier to understand.”