Gwen O’Brien: Crypto, NFTs and Design

Thoughts on NFTs, Crypto and The Metaverse

Gwen O’Brien is currently working on her latest project, Design X Collective, a decentralized design studio in the metaverse. The award-winning designer specializes in NFTs, the blockchain, and the future of graphic design. She works for a variety of clients in NFTs, Beauty, Culture, and Tech. From founding her own all-female design studio to serving on the national board of AIGA, she has a track record of raising expectations and inspiring excellence. Originally from Michigan, Gwen studied graphic design at Kendall College of Art & Design. She is the recipient of the school’s prestigious Distinguished Alumni Award in 2011, along with several other awards including American Alliance of Museums Design Winner and is a Sappi Ideas that Matter 2014 grant recipient.

We sat down with Gwen to learn more about her work and thoughts around the future of design.


GDUSA:  Let’s start with you. Tell us about yourself, your career in design, and how you got into the world of crypto and NFTs.

GO:  I’ve been a designer my entire life — working mostly in graphic design. I co-owned an all-female design studio in Michigan for about 15 years. I started getting interested in crypto in 2017 — my dad and I started chatting about Bitcoin and Ethereal mostly. He was so excited about it and the more I started learning about it, I started to get excited too. NFTs came later, when I met Katie Geminder, the co-founder of CENT.  We clicked immediately, and I fell in love with what she was working on in the NFT space. After meeting her, I started back on my crypto journey and jumped right in!

GDUSA: How do you think designers will benefit as we continue to embrace the core tenets of Web3?

GO: Designers will definitely benefit from Web3. Right now one of the key tenets of Web3 is the tokenization principle. In Web3, assets, services, projects, and more are tokenized so they can be broken down into parts and manipulated or automatically paid for as they are used. For designers, tokenization is a benefit because it promotes interoperability, as well as the ability to have multiple designers work on projects in parts rather than one designer owning an entire project. If you are an expert in typography you may choose to work on type only. Or you’re an illustrator that only wants to tackle projects focused on illustration. Tokenization allows me to become one of many stakeholders on a project rather than a designer for hire.

Web3 based projects offer designers the ability to earn tokens from their work with the hopes that these tokens will increase in value over time.

Another benefit is the ability for designers to have a vote on the projects they are working on. Having a vote in any project is a game-changer and gives the designer a seat at the table. 

 GDUSA: How do NFTs play into this space and what is in it for the design world?

GO: The potential for NFTs is unlimited. Designers not only are perfectly poised to design a whole new world of NFTs for their clients, they can also use NFTs to create their own communities. An NFT can represent anything (forever!)—a certificate, a badge of completion, an acknowledgement of your skill level, a token for your community, a font, an asset, an image, a color, a color palette, a movie, an animation… NFTs encapsulate the language of design today.

I’ve been working with a company called CENT, a platform for creators to make a living through the use of NFTs. As part of the team, this experience has allowed me to further explore what NFTs mean for design. I’ve had the chance to work on developing the CENT Doodle program, which is an NFT that is released to the community at and made available for free to all subscribers. Each month CENT invites one creator to riff on the CENT name and mission—and how our community connects to the rapidly evolving worlds of crypto, NFTs, web3, the metaverse, and the very future of digital identity and ownership.

I was proud to be the first designer to create the first collection of Doodles for the program. It gave me additional perspective on how NFTs will benefit the design community. 



GDUSA: Tell us more about the Design X Collective, what does it mean for the future of design?

GO: The idea behind Design X Collective is to take the traditional design studio and bring it into the Web3 space. It is a Web3 network for designers, owned by its users. It removes the necessity for a design agency, bringing peer-to-peer economics into the designer/client relationship. Designers have the ability to have a stake in the project with zero fees from the Collective. 

The future of design — in the future of Web3 — is game-changing. Designers as stake-holders, not as someone to just make something pretty, ultimately elevates the overall quality of any Web3 project—not only by making it function and look good, but designers can bring their entire skillset (for creating things to function more fluidly, easily, effortlessly, while making it look cool) to each and every part of the project. Designers can touch and influence a whole lot more than color and font choice.

GDUSA: Beyond Web3 and NFTs what other trends are seeing in the world of design?

GO: I think there is so much great design happening in the world – and people are better than ever at capturing it all because of technology. Bringing NFTs, cryptocurrencies, the metaverse into the design studio and the life of a designer, is the next step.