It’s been emblazoned on buses, engraved on physical coins, and plastered across shop windows the world over. The Bitcoin logo, a slanted B in a jolly orange circle (hex code #F6911D, Pantone 1495 C, if you’re interested) has become a marketing phenomenon—and a vital tool in promoting the world’s biggest cryptocurrency.
Creating a globally-recognized logo that can be picked out at a glance is no mean feat; the likes of Starbucks and Apple spend millions on teams of dedicated graphic designers, brainstorming and workshopping even the slightest tweaks to their logos.
Bitcoin’s logo has achieved that level of recognition with no one team overseeing the design process—let alone a corporate behemoth’s marketing budget.
But who actually created Bitcoin’s famous logo? And can it endure when so much has changed since it was created?
Early 2009: Introducing Bitcoin—a new form of payment
The first Bitcoin logo was designed by none other than the cryptocurrency’s creator, Satoshi Nakamoto.
Nakamoto’s first iteration of the logo appeared soon after Bitcoin’s launch in early 2009. It depicts a gold coin, embossed with the letters “BC.”
It’s an example of the design philosophy of skeuomorphism, in which digital objects are designed to resemble their real-world counterparts. At the time, the style was very much in vogue; Satoshi’s Bitcoin logo came just two years after the launch of Apple’s iPhone, whose original operating system UI leaned heavily on skeuomorphic design (it, like the Bitcoin logo, has since been revised in a more minimalist style).
Adopting that design philosophy had knock-on effects, too; some have argued that Satoshi’s original depiction of Bitcoin as a gold coin indicates that he’d conceived of the cryptocurrency as “digital gold” from the outset. Whether the icon really is referencing the monetary system of “metallism,” in which value derives from the exchange value of a commodity—or whether Satoshi was just following then-current design trends—is open to question.
Of course, Bitcoin’s ethos is all about decentralization, and with the advent of the Bitcoin Talk Forum in 2010, other users soon added their voices to the conversation around the Bitcoin logo.
Some advocated for adopting the currency symbol of the Thai baht, ฿; others argued for a symbol that wasn’t duplicating another currency. Even the ampersand (&) was suggested at one point. One idea that did gain traction was to add a “T” to the “BC”; to this day, Bitcoin’s three-letter currency code is “BTC”.
February 2010: Big B makes its debut
Eager to please, Satoshi updated his logo design in February 2010. Riffing on the Thai baht concept, the revised logo depicts the now-famous “B” with two vertical strokes.
Satoshi’s revised logo is interesting in light of comments by early Bitcoin pioneer and possible Satoshi candidate Hal Finney, who noted that “Interestingly, the dollar sign originated with two vertical bars rather than one, according to several theories.”
Some of the Forum’s users continued to criticize Satoshi’s efforts, however, claiming that the design lacked professional polish.
November 2010: Adding some symbolism
Retaining Nakamoto’s “B”, Bitboy rendered it in white and put it on a flat, bright orange circle, tilting it so that it leaned right. The double strokes were tweaked, too; instead of cutting through the middle of the “B,” they poke out from the top and bottom.
This was to become Bitcoin’s logo over the next decade.
Notably, Bitcoin’s logo now resembled that of other payment methods—leaving no doubt about its intended use.
One forum user compared the new design to the Mastercard logo, and Bitboy answered that this had, in fact, been his inspiration.
He said he was no fan of credit cards, but that it was “all about perception when it comes to consumer confidence and behavior.”
Who designed the Bitcoin logo?
As with Nakamoto, the identity of Bitboy remains unknown, but others have claimed a part in the process. In 2017, a Medium post author, Phil Wilson, claimed that he was involved in both the Bitboy design and Nakamoto’s 2010 version.
— DappDojo (@DappDojo) September 12, 2020
He also claimed that the design was imbued with symbolism. For instance, the number eight crops up multiple times within the logo. Not only does it resemble a B, but the letter rotated clockwise is at 13.88 degrees, and the dimensions of the rectangles in the design had a length of 12.5 (one-eighth of 100).
However, Wilson has not produced proof to back up his claims, so there’s some doubt over the extent of his involvement.
Bitcoin logo: time for a change?
While Bitboy’s design for the Bitcoin logo has endured, not everyone is happy to leave it at that.
One group, in particular, has lobbied to change the logo for the past six years. The “Bitcoin Symbol” movement has argued that, rather than a logo, what Bitcoin needs was a symbol—like the dollar, the euro, or the yen.
Their suggestion, first put forward in April 2014, was the letter Ƀ, which appears in several alphabets. Several Bitcoin startups adopted the new symbol, but it failed to take off.
Their objections to the existing Bitcoin logo are twofold. On the one hand, they oppose the use of a logo on philosophical grounds, noting that, “Bitcoin […] is a decentralized currency – it’s neither a brand nor a product or company, and what we need for representing Bitcoin is a symbol rather than a logo.”
On the other, they have practical concerns with using a logo instead of a symbol; they point out that currencies use symbols “like $, € or ¥, aiming to be used everywhere by everybody.” A symbol, they argue, is a Unicode character that can be easily rendered by many fonts on a variety of devices; a graphic logo, on the other hand, can’t.
The Bitcoin Symbol movement’s arguments have lost some of their potency in recent years, as the Bitcoin logo has become ever more widely known and associated with the cryptocurrency.
In February 2019, Google added a variant of Bitboy’s Bitcoin symbol to its mobile keyboards, while a year later Twitter followed suit, adding a Bitcoin emoji to the #bitcoin hashtag. The Bitcoin logo, it seems, has itself become a symbol.
— jack (@jack) February 2, 2020
The Bitcoin logo’s stripped-back design is partially responsible, Bo Beaumont, Director of Original Nutter Design, a UK design agency specializing in logo and identity, told Decrypt. “Its simplicity and likeness to fiat-based currency icons such as $, £, and € cemented the design as a new digital currency in the general public’s mind,” he said, adding that it doesn’t make sense to revise it. “Maybe that doesn’t matter now Bitcoin is a household name?”
Not everyone’s a fan, though. Andrew Marriott, owner of design and branding studio The Logo Creative, didn’t have one good thing to say about Bitcoin’s logo. “To me, it’s bland, generic and unbalanced, and nowhere near the level of Nike or Fedex,” he told Decrypt. “A “B” made to represent a “$” sign is very uninspiring and generic. I’m not even sure why the icon is on a slant or why the type is displayed in italic form—it’s just not nice to look at!” he said, adding that it looks like “something you would find on fiverr.com.”
Despite the critics, Bitboy’s riff on Nakamoto’s 2010 vision endures. But for how much longer?
“The Bitcoin symbol (the stylized B) works because of its simplicity, and because of the monetary association of the double vertical lines, similar to currency signs such as the dollar, yen, euro, lira, etc. But there are aspects of the logo that could be improved,” David Airey, a logo designer, and the author of several books on logo design, told Decrypt.
“The slight clockwise tilt on the B creates a visual imbalance. While this fits with the unpredictability of the Bitcoin value, it’s not a look that inspires confidence,” he said.
“If there’s one thing I’d change above anything else it would be to straighten the B in the symbol.”
In future, then, will Bitcoin straighten itself out? If only tempering volatility was that simple.