July 2022

Coinbase and Freetrade's smart design patterns

Want to build a product that introduces millions of new customers to crypto and investing? These smart design moves from Coinbase and Freetrade show how it’s done

The history of investing is littered with horror stories of huge crashes, fortunes lost and outright scams. Whether it’s the tulip mania of the 1600’s, the wall street crashes of 1929 or 2008, or the true life events that inspired the wolf of wall street, it’s clear that investing can be a risky business even for those who supposedly know what they’re doing.  And that’s before we’ve even considered the wild west that is the speculative world of crypto investing.  

Even if you can stomach that horror, the world of investing and crypto rarely helps itself with a truck load of jargon, numbers and confusing barriers. ETFs? WAGMI? More like WTF?

However, whilst retail investing does come with inherent risks attached to it, the benefits could be huge if it’s approached with caution. That’s especially true for groups that have traditionally had less access to investing or been outright excluded. Women are still often under-invested, and the value of billions in British savings is being eroded by being held in cash.

Here at Loomery, we think good design can help users invest in traditional - and less traditional - ways. So we decided to take a look at what we could learn from industry leaders Coinbase and Freetrade. How have they used smart product design to create something trustworthy, easy to learn and intuitive to use, and acquire millions of new customers in the process?

Coinbase

The challenge many cryptocurrency exchanges face is to build trust whilst also explaining how the new technology works in order to make crypto accessible for new users. Unfortunately, many products in the crypto-world are badly designed and full of incomprehensible jargon, confusing data visualisations and jarring design.

Enter Coinbase. Founded in 2012, Coinbase has become the market leader in cryptocurrency exchanges with over 73 million users. Through simple yet great design they’ve managed to make the mysterious world of cryptocurrencies more accessible to the wider public. But how have they done this?

Connie Yang was Head of Design at Coinbase for two years, before leaving the company in 2019 to join Stripe. In her time at Coinbase she was instrumental in helping to define their design culture, some of the key questions they considered whilst working on the product include:

  • How do we design intangible money?
  • How do we build trust in a concept, instead of a company?
  • How do we make it all simple enough so a child can understand?’

In response to these questions, Coinbase developed a clean and minimal design system that is user friendly and easy to navigate. The colour scheme breaks from the visual styles of traditional trading or investment platforms of dark backgrounds with red or green text. In Coinbase, having a mainly white background adds to the simplicity of the design. By using blue as one of their primary colours, they immediately start building trust as this is usually associated with safety, trust and security.


Another key challenge faced by Coinbase was how to educate new users about the novel technology that underpins cryptocurrency.  To get people to start investing do they need an in-depth and academic knowledge of cryptocurrencies or would a more general overview suffice?


Coinbase have approached this challenge by simplifying their educational content into short instagram style stories that are easily consumed, highlight the most vital information to get users started with investing and have the added incentive of the chance to earn rewards for completing lessons. In the same vein, they’ve also simplified the data visualisation linked to each cryptocurrency to a point that they are both easy to comprehend and won’t overwhelm users with complex graphs and data. 

The screens below shows how they have integrated the Instagram-style educational content into the app, making it simple to understand and interesting to use.  The graphs next to each currency are detailed enough to give a good indication of how it’s performing but simplistic enough to not make the overall design of the screen chaotic or overwhelming.       


Finally, Coinbase has helped users understand the concept of intangible money by creating meaning out of very long numbers, such as in the screen below. By emphasising the value of the assets in the user’s local currency rather than focusing on how many whole or fractional coins the user might own, it’s much easier to understand the true value of the portfolio - especially when just quickly glancing at it.

Freetrade

Freetrade doesn’t offer crypto assets (yet), instead focusing on buying and selling stocks and ETFs (exchange traded funds). Their challenge is therefore slightly different to Coinbase, as users tend to be at least vaguely familiar with the concept of how the stock market works. 
The focus here is less on trust and education and more on having straightforward user journeys and an inviting visual style that is welcoming to a wider range of users. This has helped to differentiate Freetrade visually in an established market.  

Welcoming Design System and Content Design

The Freetrade app feels more similar to apps like Instagram than a more traditional investment app.  They have a bright and welcoming colour palette and design system that they’ve used across the whole product.
Even down to the language and content, Freedtrade makes investing more accessible - inviting users to ‘discover’ new investments. 

Contrasting this with other mainstream fintech propositions like Hargraves Lansdown who use stock ticker codes - e.g. ‘AAPL’ rather than ‘Apple’ - makes it clear the design effort that’s gone into welcoming those unfamiliar with investing.

Straightforward Core Journeys

Freetrade has also made the following core functions of trading as easy as possible: topping up funds and buying shares. The screenshots below illustrate the user journey for these two functions in the app and how by including some small design details they’ve managed to create a product that stands out from the crowd.


Topping up funds on Freetrade is a breeze. Each step uses colour (bright purple CTA’s, green success icon), copy (explains every step of the journey) and iconography to guides the user towards successfully adding funds to their account whilst also offering easy routes out of the journey (tapping off the overlay, pressing cancel) at each step as well if a user decides not to add funds.


The journey for buying shares is similarly easy to navigate, with clear calls to action and an obvious success message once the user has completed their purchase.
Through well considered UI choices and easy to understand jargon free messaging, the design team at Freetrade has managed to make each step of the process - from adding funds, searching for shares or buying shares - feel easy and safe for those just getting started with investing in stocks and shares by effectively guiding them through the process.

Takeaways

It’s clear that both Coinbase and Freetrade have prioritised great design to become market leaders. Here’s a few takeaways of how they’re both doing it:

  • Nail the core user journeys to make it easy for users to invest and top up funds.
  • Less is more when it comes to graphs, charts and diagrams.
  • Use colour and iconography to appeal to new audiences and build trust.
  • For complex products, offer educational content in a mobile native format, and add an incentive on-top to encourage users to engage 

Their approach is clearly paying off, as Coinbase is the largest cryptocurrency exchange in the United States by trading volume while Freetrade currently boasts over 1 million users in eight countries. We are sure they’ll be making investing in cryptocurrency, stocks and shares easy and accessible to new investors for years to come, reaping the benefits along the way. We look forward to seeing how design at both companies continues to evolve.

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