“There are three responses to a piece of design – yes, no, and WOW!” – Milton Glaser
Every so often, our team notices a unique design element or quality in the blockchain world that goes seemingly uncelebrated in the tech and finance-dominated conversation of crypto. But when it’s evident that serious creative energy went into a particular product, we notice and we make an effort to hunt down the unsung heroes that helped craft a particular decentralized message.
That’s how we found Griflan, the creative firm behind impressive crypto websites including distric0x and Narrative. Both sites had a visual quality so different than the hundreds of ICO and crypto-related sites we had seen thus far, and our suspicions that there was a design team culprit led us to the co-founders, Ron Griffel and Ari Kaplan. It turned out that their company had already produced over a dozen unique blockchain-centric websites and videos and were quickly growing into the premiere agents for stellar UI in the cryptocurrency space. We had a chance to interview the duo and get real deep into their creative history and experiences.
Ari then Ron on the left with Kristin Byers and Justin Lerner of the Griflan Team
The Creative Crypto (CC): Welcome Griflan team! Tell us a bit about the office, how you got started, and how you eventually entered the realm of blockchain.
We both come from a media and print background. We both started working together at an advertising agency outside of Philadelphia. After working there for about 5 years, we started to establish our own work after hours, working until 3am each day for about 2 years. We actually found most of our clients early on through Craigslist and pretty much took anything we could get.
Arie came up with the name ‘Griflan’ which combined both of our surnames Griffel and Kaplan when we officially started in 2013. We started to establish our own style, which gravitated towards illustration with the emerging trends at that time. Our team is fully virtual, located around the US. We already work in a decentralized way and communicate primarily through online calls.
CC: What was your entry into the blockchain space? Was it more serendipitous or was it a purposeful move?
It was actually fate. Our team was contacted by the owner of the company now called Imbrex. They found us through another completely non-crypto website we had done. At the time, we knew what Bitcoin and Litecoin were, but we had no idea how blockchain and crypto actually worked and how it was being developed.
So we met with Stephen King of Imbrex and he was looking for both a website landing design as well as a dashboard design for their application. We had absolutely no idea what we were getting into and we probably underquoted it, but we were hungry. What really got us interested was that they wanted them to be heavily illustrated. That stood out since we’re very against using stock photography. In the crypto space, you don’t really have to worry about photos so the sky is the limit. When we started, Stephen let us have full creative control, obviously the golden ticket for any designer.
This project (which you can find here) is where it all started and where we started to focus on illustration and animation together. Luckily enough, Imbrex allowed us to put our names as a small tag at the bottom of the site and that’s how we got a foothold into the blockchain industry. This was all about 3 years ago. Stephen then connected us with Joe Urgo of district0x and they approached us for their online presence as well.
CC: I’d imagine it took a while to become well versed in all the technicalities and lingo of the blockchain sector, especially for a company like yours which is tasked with communicating these brand new concepts. Tell us about the process of learning on the space and figuring out the visual language.
You’re right, when we first started, it took us quite a while to understand what we were representing. I’ll even admit that we still don’t always fully understand all the inner workings of some of the companies we work with. Our approach has not been to look at any task from the eyes of the company, because obviously they know their product. Instead, we look at these products as people coming from the outside, knowing nothing about blockchain but at least initially interested by this cool looking site. Our strategy has been to figure out “how do we tell a story?”
This started to differentiate us from the other ICO sites that were so thick with non-friendly words and confusing images, and were only trying to get you to invest. We started to distill down the messages and figure how to create something almost like a storybook. By adding a well-structured flow of images, we’re able to break down the copy into understandable pieces. Our goal is to have any visitor think “wow, this is easy, I get it!” In the world of websites, how long do you have? Maybe 30, 20 seconds before you lose interest.
Our approach has not been to look at any task from the eyes of the company, because obviously they know their product. Instead, we look at these products as people coming from the outside, knowing nothing about blockchain but at least initially interested by this cool looking site. Our strategy has been to figure out “how do we tell a story?”
CC: Your team is starting to work on projects like Narrative and Portion, so you’re beginning to understand the transition from Proof-of-Work currency blockchains to utility-centric ones. Have these new value propositions – the monetization of content, the protection of creative work, etc. – begun to affect your own work?
It’s on our radar, though it hasn’t affected us directly yet. We’re watching the landscape change rapidly and with each new exciting product, we approach the work the same way – proof-of-product first, good storytelling, friendly.
CC: What do you think is going to start happening in terms of the creative industry’s impact on the blockchain space? We previously interviewed Humdinger & Sons and you are making splash with UI and UX. What do you think is needed as more creative players come into the space?
We’re always striving to do something different. Maybe we’ll move away from long-scroll websites and focus more on video. We’re always trying to mix it up. Explainer videos are becoming huge so we work closely with an animation team. There are still so many gaps in terms of design in the industry, for example videos that are designed one way and the interface another, which kills us every time.
Regarding technology and pushing it, who knows what’s next and there is always something new to explore. Another possibility is moving away from animation and more into interactivity with scrolling and clicking. User reaction is another domain to create a different experience.
CC: That’s very smart, creating a diversity in visual language for companies at different stages in their development.
Exactly. Many start off needing a condensed single-page site, but quickly scale to incorporating more resources and pages to show off their products.
CC: As the influence of blockchain grows, more people from the art and design worlds are getting involved. For young creatives hopping into the space for the first time, what’s your big piece of advice after being in this for the last few years?
If you’re really interested, just get into it. Just be different. Since the industry is still young, you see a lot of the same thing thread through different companies and products. I can’t tell how many times I search for new crypto sites and all I see are cities. How do you stand out? How do you come up with a unique style around the tech? The thing with crypto is, there are no rules. You make up the worlds and storybooks. In all honesty, this is the best space to be in if you want to be a truly creative person. For the most part, these crypto guys aren’t creative and need artistic people to lead them. The thing that district0x did was immediately say “we trust you” and give us full creative authority, letting us be creative.
CC: This really rings true when I look at your work with Bounty0x. You really ran with the Wild Wild West analogies, a kind of freedom we don’t see much of in traditional media and advertising.
Who would have thought a crypto company would have let us go with a crazy “western” theme? But with these kinds of sites, you’ll remember it, at that is key. Our advice is simply this – be creative, don’t give up, there are no boundaries.
Thank you Ron and Arie for joining us on this interview! We’ll be presenting more Griflan’s ongoing work through The Creative Crypto’s Billboard.