Ive always loved to make money. I designed banknotes in school and released them, one by one, into the playground. They were still being passed around before I left for secondary school. These first endeavors were crude black and white photocopies. When I discovered real banknotes are produced first in large format, I took my early attempts to a printer to have them scaled down. This was long before I had access to Photoshop!
Over two decades later, Ive initiated the Sustainable Currency Project to work with communities who are implementing their own affirmative solution to the global economic crisis.
Britain already has a rich history of local currencies. While working at Spink, the auctioneers, I helped catalogue part of the David Kirch Collection of English Provincial Banknotes the largest collection of privately issued, locally circulating paper money, with notes from every corner of Britain.
With enthusiasm for alternative currencies exploding, the urgency of the projects can sometimes make the artwork an after-thought. Communities may approach a local designer, who will usually paste together off-the-shelf graphics and re-worked Internet images not consistent with the radical gesture of launching a new currency.
I begin with the same brief: alternative currencies may be local, provisional or temporary, but theres no reason why they should look so; they should communicate the aspirations of the community, and have a design quality that conveys trust and permanence.
The banknote is the ultimate artwork. It epitomes bespoke design, yet its printed in the order of millions; it has to be of the highest quality, yet its a very personal object, being handled, smelt, kept close to the body; it has to be familiar and easily recognizable, even for the visually impaired, yet with an enough detail to discourage forgery; a banknote is ubiquitous, yet sought-after.
Currency design is extremely specialist, so the scope for radical design is wide open. Sometimes groups have very specific ideas; more experimental groups will let the artist roam free. However strong a clients idea might be, the quality is assured by a dedicated artist.
Another overlooked aspect: marketing costs can quickly escalate; a good design sells itself, helping to save time, money and effort on selling the idea to potential angel investors and the public. A banknote could just be a piece of paper that solves a practicality, or it could be the expression of a communitys aspiration to transcend our narrow cultural crisis.
With that said, while I do not consider paper money to be the panacea, one thing is sure: paper is privacy a rare commodity today. As a society, were facing a fork in the road as to what level of privacy were prepared to give away. Many of us will have to decide which side of line we stand on, and central to that discussion is the medium of money.
I like to be surprised. Like returning to school and finding my pieces of paper being passed around, one experiment today could find an unexpected application tomorrow.