Flow State, the blog of Z1

Dispelling the clouds of crypto investing through Makara’s design

Neil Graham
0 min read
Dispelling the clouds of crypto investing through Makara’s design

The world of cryptocurrencies is complex and constantly evolving. We helped Makara’s founders overcome the challenge of making decentralized finance accessible to investors.

Whether you have already invested in cryptocurrency or are still struggling to grasp the concept of Web 3.0, it's highly likely that you are aware of crypto's ever-increasing presence. In fact, a July 2021 survey of roughly 1,700 American adults showed that 89% had heard of Bitcoin.

Not only that, this year's Superbowl has been the most-watched television broadcast in the United States of 2022, and was dominated by crypto-related advertising with several companies spending up to $7 million for a 30-second slot.

A blooming yet intimidating sector

The growth of crypto and the pressure to invest in it may seem intimidating. An estimated 295 million people worldwide now use cryptocurrency exchanges, including Bitcoin and Ethereum, according to 2021 data from Crypto.com. Despite the potential to enjoy high returns, there is also the danger of falling victim to cryptocurrency crime, with scammers stealing $14 billion worth last year. So, where should you start if you want to jump on board with crypto investing?

"The crypto world is complicated. It can be weird, scary, and most of all, unknown. Many people recognize the opportunity and want to be a part of it, but are fearful because they don't fully understand it," explains Jesse Proudman, CEO, and co-Founder of Makara, now VP of Crypto Investing at digital investment advisor Betterment, which acquired the platform in early 2022. 

"Currently, 'investing' in cryptocurrency means going to an exchange and purchasing one or two coin offerings, based on the information you obtained from a friend or through self-directed online research. Alternatively, investors are purchasing shares of trusts and ETFs, which can be incredibly expensive, and wrap an asset class that trades 24/7 with high volatility into a wrapper that trades 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. banker hours."

The road to Makara

Due to the lack of reasonable guidance and accurate data, including purpose-built investment management tools, Jesse, along with Sadie Raney and Nico Cordeiro, founded Strix Leviathan, an algorithmic trading platform designed for cryptocurrency markets. For the next three years, they endeavored to release Octopus, which became one of the most comprehensive software suites designed to exclusively trade these dynamic crypto markets.

Makara's illustration drafts by Z1
Makara's onboarding illustrations drafts.

Jesse says, "Using Octopus, our team operated a quantitative hedge fund trading exclusively in crypto. We were proud of what we built, and we came to recognize it solved a huge problem with this asset class: For most investors, it's rather intimidating. But organized as a private investment fund, Strix could only accept high net worth investors, leaving out the broader investing public. That didn't sit right with us."

In November 2020, the Strix team saw an opportunity to build a better investment vehicle for retail investors. They envisioned something similar to a crypto mutual fund but digitally native. "We believed in diversification, thematic exposure, and choice," reveals Jesse. 

Over the next seven months, using their own software, his team began developing an investment platform and one of the first SEC-registered investment advisors focused on crypto - Makara.

Crypto investing in a user-friendly way

Although they had a clear vision of the product and a well-developed brand, Jesse required the expertise of an experienced digital product studio to take the concept to the next level.  A difficult interface would promote the feelings of fear they were trying to quell.

"An easy-to-navigate app gives users a feeling of legitimacy and comfort to interact", Jesse Proudman, CEO, and co-Founder of Makara, now VP of Crypto Investing at digital investment advisor Betterment.

Jesse was keen to team up with Z1 to collaborate on his mission to give confidence to investors who are entering unfamiliar territory. "We wanted Z1 to assist Makara in designing a user-friendly, simple, and intuitive experience across our mobile app and website. If clients have a hard time navigating the platform, they could feel fearful they are 'not doing it right’ and may make a mistake and lose money. An easy-to-navigate app can give users a feeling of legitimacy and comfort to interact."

Two views of the Makara app mobile interface designed by Z1

Z1’s Product Manager José Alberto Martínez describes Makara as “an easy way to invest in themed crypto asset portfolios. A robo-advisor-style service that uses advanced algorithms to build, manage and keep up to date crypto ‘baskets’ aligned with the latest market trends.”

The design team at Z1 was thrilled to partner with Makara and relished the challenges to overcome. The main one was to translate complex, difficult-to-understand flows, such as investment and the crypto world, to users with no experience. 

Targeting working professionals, it was essential to design an app that gives them the confidence to invest their money in a new asset class like cryptocurrency. José explains, "We wanted to convey the role Makara plays in the clearest and simplest way, how the service worked, and what the user should expect. Cryptocurrencies are not straightforward, nor are the markets, so putting those two things together for potential novice investors is complicated."

Jesse and his team were delighted with the progress made, and from the first interface proposal, they fell in love with the look and the subsequent contributions from Z1.

An educational, intuitive, and trustworthy UI

Investors will find that the app offers thematic baskets, low and transparent fees, and a guided experience. The platform strategy is educational in an intuitive way where users are advised throughout their crypto journey, no matter what part of their journey they are on.

Z1's objective was to design an experience with a natural flow that is engaging and encourages continued interaction, such as investing, reading the news feed, and navigating through the different features, all the while promoting trust and security.

To do this, the Z1 design team had to showcase their ability to adapt as a variety of different technologies were used, which involved hours of research and training. Initially, our designers began using Whimsical for diagramming and information architecture but soon switched to Figma for wireframes, mood boards, and the final UI. 

 "We made a bridge between the technological brain that manages Makara and the human part of the product”, José Alberto, Z1’s Product Manager.

The app was created in React Native to facilitate its availability on iOS and Android. José adds, "We made a bridge between the technological brain that manages Makara and the human part of the product. We understood the constraints of the technological part, and we looked for the optimal mechanism to create a user experience with the least possible friction. We designed and adapted classic flows of a robo-advisor, producing the layout, information architecture, wireframes, and the UI."

To guide the user through the app, we put together an animated onboarding process with figures and minimalist aesthetics: “We developed visual metaphors to represent the concepts and to convey how easy it is to use the product, as well as the transparency of the service,” explains Fran Pulido, Z1's illustrator.

A connecting object was used to transition between the different screens in the onboarding process—a handy narrative resource for the user to stay in the flow until the end. Thus, we designed the elements to smoothly change between screens, providing fluidity and harmony. The connecting object, in this case, was a yellow dot that symbolizes currency, which we can see in the animations, including the boat trip, the scales, and the balloon.

“We designed all these pieces in Illustrator since having the vector files makes the animator's job easier. Then, Luisa Jara, our Motion Designer, created the animations in After Effects and used Lottie to convert them into JSON and be able to include them in the app,” clarifies Fran.

Acquisition by Betterment

Due to the significance and potential scale of the partnership, José admits, "this is the most intense project I have ever faced. The one with which I have felt the most pressure by far, but also the one that I have enjoyed the most since the world of cryptocurrency and blockchain technology fascinates me.” Jesse echoed José's thoughts, "I do believe this was the hardest year spent in my 25-year entrepreneurial career." 

Makara obtained its regulatory licensing in March 2021 before officially launching in May of the same year. Z1’s successful collaboration with Makara ended in September 2021. Betterment, long a leader in digital investing in traditional portfolios, announced its acquisition of Makara to enter the crypto space in February 2022 stating, “with this acquisition, Betterment will soon offer the option of crypto portfolios built and managed by experts for long-term investing.”

Argonaut Asset Management Inc. (d/b/a “Makara”) is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Betterment Holdings, Inc., and an affiliate of Betterment LLC. The above material and content should not be considered to be a recommendation. Investing in digital assets is highly speculative and volatile, and cryptocurrency is only suitable for investors who are willing to bear the risk of loss and experience sharp drawdowns. Purchases or holdings of cryptocurrency are not FDIC or SIPC insured.

Any links provided to other websites are offered as a matter of convenience and are not intended to imply that Betterment or its authors endorse, sponsor, promote, and/or are affiliated with the owners of or participants in those sites, unless stated otherwise.

All product images shown in this article are for illustrative purposes.

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