Just who was Daedalus? It was the first of many questions the design team had to answer when we started work to find a logo for the digital wallet that will store the Ada cryptocurrency. Daedalus is an unusual name. We were in Riga, on an IOHK working sprint last autumn, when we got the brief to develop the visual identity and brand for the wallet, so the first thing we did was some research online.
It turns out that the name was chosen with good reason for a cryptocurrency wallet. An important figure in Greek mythology, Daedalus was the father of Icarus, a great artist, an innovator… as well as the creator of the labyrinth that kept the minotaur forever captive._
IOHK wants the wallet it is creating to be the best cryptocurrency wallet out there. Not just a place to store, send and receive cryptocurrency (the first of which it will hold is Ada) but a place where you can later access plug-ins and other developer tools/SDKs, anything from managing your mortgage to splitting a bill between people. The vision is that it will become a platform full of applications, and be as important a product as Internet Explorer was for Microsoft._
The creative team needed to find an identity that would connect to that vision, to the meaning behind the name Daedalus and his story, and to what IOHK is as a company and the technology it builds._
We got together to discuss it and an idea came out._
According to the myth, the minotaur never escapes the maze – that’s how good a craftsman Daedalus was._
We argue creatively that the minotaur is your money, or your digital identity. The minotaur is forever held in an infinite prison where only you control your keys. We have a lot of clever cryptography powering the security of the wallet, and like the minotaur in his maze, your money will never be able to escape our wallet, so Daedalus represents our expertise in security, and in building methodically and securely._
Tomas Vrana and Alexander Rukin, both part of the design team, came up with some early concepts. Among many different designs, Tom produced a minotaur; Alexander came up with a contemporary “D” design. They came up with creative sketches and drawings, trying to gauge how best to approach the form and the function of the logo. Some of their early designs are below.
Then we threw open the design challenge to a competition, connecting to a community of designers to offer their solutions. This would provide us with a wealth of ideas and give us interesting feedback. We had about 100 entries from graphic designers, ranging from the bad, to the good, to the funny. There were solid corporate identities, also very creative executions. There were lots of designs based on the letter “D”. And lots based on keys (with a nod to public key cryptography). However, that was too obvious. We are a crypto wallet, yes we have keys. A simple key in a logo didn’t covey a strong brand message, it didn’t set us apart. None was quite right._
We were looking for something that would connect to the Daedalus story and have a huge potential for creative story telling in being a brand we could develop._
So we updated the brief and asked the designers to focus on the story of Daedalus. There were about 30 entries this time. A maze in the shape of a key was good, but not excellent. And there were lots of minotaurs. On some, the execution was not great. There was one that looked like a pixelated deer._
The one we finally chose, with the help of IOHK’s two founders, was by a designer called Zahidul Islam. It’s contemporary, it feels modern and fresh yet connects to a very old story. It has the minotaur. It’s a well crafted form, it’s balanced, and yet still has the maze motif in it – it reflects the identity of our brand._
There was one issue, it was quite complex, which meant it didn’t work at smaller sizes. So we worked with the designer to develop a brand hierarchy – which comprises a primary, secondary and tertiary form for the identity to be used in various situations as the rules dictate._Below are the primary, secondary and tertiary images, each with successively less complexity.
The primary logo will be the larger formats, for example to be used on T-shirts, or on main focal areas such as loading screens. (We have a plan to develop the identity, to make it a “living” brand that is dynamic, so you see it moving if you have to wait for the screen to load for instance.)
The secondary logo will be more of a symbol and used at smaller sizes. Some of the complexity has been removed, and it will be used if the requirements are for 64 pixels or smaller. And then we produced a tiny icon, to be used for example as a security feature on paper wallets.
The colours you see might change. The colour palette of the brand has only black and green in it now.
So why did we go to all this effort over five months?
Behind the Daedalus wallet is so much time, money, skill and effort. You wouldn’t want to represent all that hard work with a mark that is unconsidered, or one that lacks capacity to carry the story of Daedalus. You want to bring enigma, some creation to the symbol that represents your quest. This is about more than a platform, it is a brand and about building brand allegiance. It has to stand out, be different and make people think of you. This brand has a lot of runway, a lot of potential for development creatively. The design may change as the brand evolves, but the current identity will scale and develop into something wonderful from this point on._
Last Monday should have been particularly jarring given the recent excitement. However, it was anything but. Sunlight was flooding the back garden and all the small birds of the neighborhood came together to perform an impromptu concert at maximum volume. I could hear them clearly through the double glazing. Spring had sprung in Dublin. And I’d just come back from Malta talking Ethereum, Cardano, blockchain, crypto, functional languages, goal management and a ton of other cool stuff. Life is good.
It was my first time attending the Financial Cryptography and Data Security conference. The conference is a week-long annual event for cryptography as applied to finance. This year, IOHK's chief scientist Aggelos Kiayias put a great programme of speakers together. Instantly recognizable figures from the crypto community attended – Adam Back, Emin Gün Sirer, Vitalik Buterin and many more. IOHK researchers attended and it was great to see people who may only know each other through twitter feeds and published papers get to speak to each other.
I hope and presume this conference has generated many fine and detailed articles on Coindesk and beyond. This won't be one of them. Particular highlights for me were listening to MIT professor and cryptography pioneer Silvio Micali speak about the Algorand protocol and the conscious decision to keep incentives out of the equation. That instantly generated a little controversy and is going to need a long second look.
Dmitry Meshkov, IOHK researcher, presented Improving Authenticated Dynamic Dictionaries, with Applications to Cryptocurrencies which is of particular interest to Team Grothendieck as we have wrestled with our implementation of the "Modified Merkle Patricia Trie" as specified in the original yellow paper. In all its forms it’s a clever idea – being able to move forward and back through the state by memorizing a root hash and being able to show tries are equivalent based on the equivalence of their root hashes. Dmitry et al have a scala implementation, and if I heard Vitalik Buterin correctly (he commented after the presentation) he suggested there might be room for improvement on the original implementation, so there are possibilities for enhancements there.
The conference was good, but it had some stiff competition from all the fun I had and everything I learned from mixing with other IOHK employees. IOHK employees usually work remotely but for more than a week almost 40 people gathered in Malta, who had traveled from far flung places like Osaka, St. Petersburg and California, including IOHK founders Jeremy Wood and Charles Hoskinson. While that week was mostly about the conference it was also an opportunity to get some work done. On the top floor of some very nice rented office space, the Serokell and Daedalus teams along with other key personnel on the Cardano project hammered out plans and approaches to give said project a major push forward. There was time for some introspection too and a lot of productive meetings around development methodology.
A real highlight of working for this company is tripping across experts in many technical fields – functional languages, formal verification, full-time life time cryptographers, language designers and creators, high energy physicists... High energy physicists. Who tell jokes.
And it gets better. The previous week, the week of the 27th of March, Team Grothendieck arrived in Athens to work on our next and arguably most important milestone – "Transaction Execution" or "tx execution" for short. This was the first time the whole team came together to work, physically together and in same time zone.
The team reached its first milestone on Friday 24th March. That milestone involved downloading all blocks to the local machine and providing those blocks to other clients, further dispersing the transactions across the peer-to-peer network. The client also supports "fast download", which is the process of downloading the state trie from a point in recent history in order to shorten the time required for a client to get fully up to date with the blockchain. The premise being that downloading the state trie is faster than executing every transaction since block 0. As our first milestone it was very exciting to reach, but also to see the blocks and transactions flying around the network and know that we can successfully synchronize our local database with the rest of the Ethereum Classic network.
We had a productive few days at the university of Athens, the area is quiet, cool in the shade and conducive to working. The sun shone, the wind blew and the coffee was good. Our hotel was close to the university so we got to walk the streets of Athens in the mornings and see a little of daily life in the city. The subject of our days in Athens (transaction execution) is the process of updating the ledger by applying valid transactions to it block by block. After each block of transactions has been applied to the ledger the ledger exhibits a new state. This state is stored in the form of a state trie and the root of this trie is a hash reflecting precisely the contents of the state trie. The questions we had to answer were – did we understand the goal; did we understand how we measure success; did we have the functionality covered by existing tasks; how long would it take and finally some knowledge swapping as working apart inevitably means small knowledge silos had begun to develop despite our efforts. By Thursday evening we had satisfactorily answered all these questions and we expect to reach the tx execution milestone by the end of April.
On the Friday the team attended the Smart Contracts conference and spoke with Charles Hoskinson, Prof Aggelos Kiayias, Darryl McAdams and others about the future of smart contracts and the law.
There was tentative agreement on the eventuality of smart contract template libraries, so if for example the author wanted to provide an upgrade path for the contract in the event of some issue being found (ahem!) or have some means of dissolving/locking the contract if the participants lose faith, a tried and trusted set of templates would exist for the contract author to mix and match. Templates of this type could claim regulatory compliance out of the box, which is a great (if not new) way to leverage the usefulness of software in the world of contract law – solve a problem once and reuse the solution ad nauseam. I suspect this is an area most smart contract developers currently enjoy ignoring!
A final word on Athens, the Acropolis museum is a wonderful building and worth a visit even if they housed nothing there, but coupled with the treasures of the ancient world and a good restaurant it's a must-see if you find yourself in the area.
Here's hoping the end of April sees us reach another exciting milestone, an even bigger one this time, and we are able to execute every transaction in the blockchain using the Grothendieck client. That would really give the birds something to sing about...