In 2021, Timothy Luke and I received a grant to build a new brand for the Uniswap Grants Program (UGP). When we looked at UGP, it felt clear that the program’s core was the grant recipients themselves, and the projects they were building. We saw a wide range of work being funded and completed through UGP, with each individual project shaping the program’s overall identity. Inspired by the concept of headless brands, we sought to create a visual identity that felt true to UGP: individually unique grant projects, all built on shared infrastructure..
This initial project, described in this original post, resulted in a new brand for the Uniswap Grants Program based around the image of a heraldic shield. If grant recipients could be imagined as shields, then UGP’s own shield would be the “field of fields,” a culmination of all its own grantees.
The core shape of the UGP logo has since been refactored and used by other projects like Uniswap Letters and more recently extended to the Uniswap Foundation itself, becoming a shared visual motif across the Uniswap ecosystem.
After this project was complete, we continued to explore some of the ideas behind the work. It felt interesting and worthwhile to attempt a visual system that was expressive enough to capture almost any idea while adhering to strict, unifying design guidelines. We began working on a contemporary take on heraldry with the initial goal of giving grant recipients a way to visually represent their own projects in the context of a greater group.
As this work unfolded, it went through many evolutions and eventually expanded beyond its original context. The motivation behind the project felt important to the broader Ethereum ecosystem and beyond, not just UGP. Inspired by open protocols and tooling, we sought to create something like a visual protocol, which could be used by anyone for any purpose, long after the project was completed. Additionally, a mix of elements surrounding on-chain permanence, usable digital objects, and CC0 artwork felt worthy of contribution to the on-chain art experiments that have been evolving over the past couple years.
After almost a year of iteration, the culmination of this work was Shields, an on-chain design system released by Area Technology under an open CC0 license. It consists of two basic parts:
The on-chain design system: Shields is deployed to mainnet as a design system that anyone can use. It consists of hundreds of basic visual elements which can be composed in various ways. Every element is stored as an on-chain SVG string and is available via public smart contract functions that developers can use in their own contracts. The design system is published under CC0 and can be used by anyone for any purpose.
The Shields collection: Shields also exists as an ERC-721 collection consisting of 5000 items. Each item in the collection begins as an unused Shield Badge, which can be used to design and build one Shield, permanently transforming it on-chain. Over time, the Shields that end up in the collection will be decided by the owners of these items.
Part of the motivation to deploy Shields as a collection was to allow the system to go beyond utility and become something finite and special to those interested in it. Building a Shield is a permanent act, and each Shield’s design can be imbued with as much meaning as its builder chooses. In this regard, one consideration in the project’s launch was its original goal of giving grant recipients a visual identity. Of the 5000 Shields in the collection, 400 were set aside and donated to the Uniswap Grants Program, to be given to past and future grantees. The rest of the collection was made publicly available, open to anyone to mint, transfer, sell, or ultimately build. Over time, as each Shield is built, the collection evolves a bit further, with its composition becoming more and more complete.