IDEO CoLab Fellowship

As a fellow at the IDEO CoLab, I was able to work on multi-disciplinary teams alongside engineers, business designers, and the CoLab core team to think about the technology behind crypto collectibles and the future of digital ownership.

Our work was focused on research and ideation, but I took the project further after the fellowship ended, refining the UI to visualize the design principles and fictions we discovered. You can read about our team’s findings in a post I wrote for the IDEO CoLab blog.

This project was featured as part of the CoLab’s annual member Event, Blueprint.

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How might we help the owners of crypto collectibles to better display and communicate the meaning of their collections?


The Problem
Crypto collectibles have quietly, and playfully created a new era in ownership, but the ways to understand their value and build more broad engagement, beyond the financial, hasn’t been developed.

Target Audience
Crypto collectible owners and non-owners with interest in learning about them.

Six Weeks + Ongoing

Research, Ideation, Prototyping, Visual Design

Trip Vest, Indigo Hansen

IDEO CoLab Core Team
Crypto Industry Member Company

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Portal is a speculative mobile application that allows owners to arrange their crypto collections, add stories to those items via the blockchain, and share them within the community.

Project Goals
1. Give crypto collectibles context through storytelling

2. Find new ways to build understanding and engagement with the non-crypto-educated

3. Give owners of crypto collectibles unique ways to experience and share their items.


A short video talking about one of the iterations of Portal, and its implications for digital ownership, at Blueprint 2018.


“It’s a little wild how much my perception of this thing [CryptoKitty] changed after I saw a story attached to it. It went from a picture of a cat, to something unique that I associated with an experience.”

— User Feedback



Under the hood

The hard-working process under the solution

This is a quick read of our process. Want to dive deeper? You can read out blog post or check out my process deck.


You’ve never really owned anything on the internet.

The Problem Up Close
The way we think of ownership is broken, especially when it comes to digital assets.

You may have bought a facebook gift with real money years ago, but they only existed within facebook and with its underlying architecture.

Crypto collectibles are also often represented by a visual image, but their underlying blockchain structure means these items are yours regardless of setting. However we have no existing reference to easily understand this.


Ownership is a fundamentally human thing, but digital items can feel inaccessible.

Key Insights
When we see collections of physical items, we assume there are stories and histories behind them. Digital items can feel disposable and flat.

What we choose to own says something about us and there were beautiful stories behind these digital items.

We wanted to give crypto collectibles the same context and familiarity that physical collectibles enjoy naturally.


We dove into research with collectors of physical items and digital items, and saw what they might learn from one another.

Research & Synthesis
We engaged in deep field research and user interviews with collectors of physical, digital, and crypto items to begin to understand how these cases of ownership were related.

Ideation & Prototyping
After we distilled our learnings into design principles and goals, we went about building and testing prototypes around each with laymen and collectors alike. We used everything from paper to AR to learn by building.

Iteration & User Testing
During and after the fellowship, user testing involved everything from card-sorting to discern the correct information architecture for our app, to AB testing different content structures to see the best way to build engagement with crypto collectibles.

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Playful and familiar, with a nod to the future.

Visual Mood
The crypto collectible space is playful, colorful, and reflective of its tech-pioneer inhabitants. We wanted to keep the fun, explorer’s spirit, but also give collectibles a respectful and elegant home that felt accessible to outsiders.

In the end, the bulk of the color in Portal is defined by the display of the users, a reflection of the community.


For many, Portal is an introduction to an unfamiliar space, so we wanted to balance the recognizable and the new.

Final Visuals
Some aspects of Portal are first-of-their-kind, so we wanted to use familiar metaphors and patterns to balance a new media (crypto-collectibles) with familiar, human traits (storytelling and a link to time).



What lies ahead

Looking back to move forward

Portal is an exploration into connecting the physical with the digital, and what makes objects, wherever they might exist, feel human.


Hurdles & Learnings
Our biggest hurdle here was that this space is largely unexplored, in terms of UI and understanding. We had few to no patterns to follow, we had to find new metaphors to build understanding with research participants. That also ended up being our greatest strength, however, and we were able to deliver design principles that the community can use in the future as it grows.

Next Steps
The bulk of the work done at the IDEO CoLab was based on research, ideation, and lower-fidelity prototyping. While I’ve expanded on that, there’s still more to do, some of which is currently in process. I’ll keep updating here as I move along.



Want to learn more about Portal? Dive deeper into our process.