Tom Badley is an artist, designer and writer. He has worked on projects for countries in Central America, South America, and Eastern Europe, and upgrades for nations of Central Asia, Europe and Africa. As well as security print design, Tom Badley also lectures and writes articles on topics spanning art, design, critical theory, philosophy and science.
Short Title (approx 3-6 words).
The Visual Communication of Banknotes
Long Title (approx 4-10 words).
A Designers View: Current Trends and Methods in Banknote Artwork
Author(s) name(s) and affiliation(s).
Tom Badley, Banknote Designer
Key words (max 6 words).
Design, Trends, Art, Banknotes, Visual, Communication
Abstract (short, concise summary of paper in 200-300 words).
The banknote designer sits between satisfying strict technical requirements, and offering the world a touchstone onto a countrys distinctive culture. A good designer seamlessly veils anti-counterfeiting properties in design elegance, balancing exceptionally detailed visual communication with bold and distinctive concepts. These unique qualities of security document design prompt banknotes to reference past, present, and possibly future design trends.
Short Introduction of the paper (to main piece below: 50-100 words).
A banknote designers overview of the current design trends, encompassing design methodologies, best practices, new technology, designing with polymer substrates, and the future of banknote design.
Main Body (approx. 1800 words, divided into sections and subsection, starting with a beginning and ending with a summary or conclusion). Corresponding images in the paper should be also submitted separately in at least 300 dpi. IT IS IMPERATIVE TO SEND PHOTOS & IMAGES SEPERATELY ALSO!
An Ornament And A Safeguard
There is an inscription on the side of the UK £1 coin that reads: DECUS ET TUTAMEN An Ornament and a Safeguard. This Latin phrase refers to the tendency for gold and silver coins to be shaved; small portions of the sides of coins would be removed, decreasing their inherent value. To combat this, the mint introduced toothed lines on the sides of coins. This feature allowed people to see whether the sides of coins had been tampered with, while also adding an aesthetic feature to the coins edge.
(image1 pound coin) DECUS ET TUTAMEN: an ornament and a safeguard
DECUS ET TUTAMEN could equally apply to banknotes. The evolution of banknotes visual communication has been propelled by need to safeguard their value, preserving the integrity of money. No aspect of design is arbitrary almost every artistic decision is based on the need to satisfy security criteria, and every aesthetic choice veils an aspect of security.
Moreover, as the need for greater security has increased, the graphics of banknotes have become bolder, more vivid, more experimental, and more complex. This makes the banknote a curious outlier in the field of design; in an age where visual communication has become paired-down in order to boldly stand out in a cluttered and dizzying advertising environment, the banknote has grown ever more ornate and meticulous not out of fashion, but out of necessity.
(image2 old £5 detail / new polymer security feature) Old simplicity versus modern complexity.
It is often said that banknotes are like a countrys business card1. They showcase the quintessential aspects of a culture its landmarks, traditions, and language and present these aspects in such a way as to encapsulate that particular region. Great banknote designs are not merely cut-and-paste presentations of cultural icons; theyre able to become cultural icons themselves touchstones for a countrys specific heritage, mentality and experience. For a banknote designer, this feat requires more than just technical knowledge and an artists eye it necessitates understanding a culture to craft something truly distinctive, irrespective of tight deadlines and fast turnarounds.
A great example of paper money as a powerful cultural icon would be the US Dollar. It earns this distinction not through innovation, but by its unwillingness to change. In spite of its inconsistency with hi-tech banknote production, every living human nevertheless recognizes the US $1 Dollar bill; it is shorthand for capitalism itself.
(image3 USD detail) The US Dollar: banknote as cultural icon
In complete opposition to the Dollar, the Euro notes offer an example of design that consciously evades national identity. Only the lightest reference to European culture is presented in the form of fictional architecture and bridges symbolic of communication between the people of Europe2. The rest of the notes artwork revert to utilitarianism every element, from the size of the numbering to the typeface, have been chosen with fast recognition and cross-border utility in mind.
Colouration is paramount in the visual communication of banknotes. But colours do not simply differentiate notes within a banknote family; colour combinations express the temperament of a culture. For example, Australia has always had bright multi-coloured notes which impart the characteristic climate and biodiversity of the continent, coupled with a liberal, experimental impulse. After all, it was the RBA who presented the world with the first polymer note in 1988.
(image4 old AUD / new AUD) The colourful history of Australias Banknotes
In contrast, the bleached colours of the Faroe Islands notes tell of a windswept, subpolar region. The novel use of watercolour artwork is also well chosen not only do they add to the notes weather-conscious theme, they also convey the provincialism of a small island community.
(image5 Faroe notes) Banknotes of the Faroe Islands
The Role of Bespoke Software
The standard tools of the banknote designer remain Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. These programs are adequate for providing colour, form and layouts. However, the actual securitization of banknotes is done in programs unavailable to the public, such as Jura or Corvina. A designers access and use of banknote securitization software will depend on the companys structure. In most cases, it is sufficient for the designer to provide the basis with Adobe software, with the designs being redrawn and securitised by a separate department.
However, when an inquisitive mind is allowed freedom with securitization programs, the full creative potential of this software shines, allowing for the generation of forms and patterns that would be impossible to create with publicly available software. Instead of the securitization of banknotes being a paint-by-numbers process based on a diagram provided by the designer, both the design and securitization can work as one, seamless artwork.
A great example of this would be the SNBs 50 Franc. It would be impossible to create such artwork without the blending of conceptual design and bespoke securitization software, working as one. RasterRise, developed specifically for the Swiss Franc project, can create a thematic microcosm within the security design.3
Consequently, the concept runs through every detail of the note, and no element has been left unrefined. The visual placement of each element is rather straightforward, but what makes this design extraordinary is that the articulation of these elements are securitized while harmonizing across the design.
(image6 Swiss 50 Note) When design and securitization harmonize.
The new Swiss family highlights the creative promise in bespoke software. While up-to-date software is the essential tool of the designer, exponential advancements in open-source plug-ins have made mimics of securitization software more available, albeit with limited functionality, and without the interface required for high-specification printing. Nevertheless, such programs provoke the development of new security document software.
The banknote landscape is as diverse as the cultures on the planet. The major economies retain fairly conservative designs, so as to uphold the worlds trust. Smaller island nations, away from the worlds financial spotlight, tempt bold, and sometimes whimsical currency design.
(image7 China vs Cook Islands) Chinese conservatism versus Cook Islands kitsch
With that said, a new generation of banknote design is seeing the influence of Postmodernity, resulting in fresh, bold currency. Already mentioned is the new series of Swiss notes, which combine the absence of a portrait, highly-worked details, and a graphical, illustrative style to produce a Postmodern series.
In opposition to the Swiss Franc, the design of the new Isreali Shekel is paired-down and clean. It tests the boundaries of minimalism in note design.
(image8 Isreali shekel) Testing the boundaries of minimalism.
The new Norwegian banknote series are the boldest yet. The inspired use of pixelated imagery forces us to look closer to discern the picture, whilst being an aesthetically pleasing device in its own right. Far from off-putting, the note designs feed into a familiar, everyday digital aesthetic. The artwork lifts the obvious maritime theme into something the Bank rightfully calls completely novel in international banknote design4. Thus, as a business card, Norways identity as a nation intimately connected to the sea is married by bold technological progress.
(image9 Norway series) Postmodern banknote design.
New note designs continue to find subtle, yet no less innovative means of updating straightforward banknote designs. One example would be the latest series of Royal Bank of Scotland notes. The traditional landscape to the left of the portrait morphs into strips that vaguely reference a circuit board. The effect is incredibly subtle, yet this minor design choice helps to lift the otherwise conventional subject matter. The resulting designs retain the grace of tradition, whilst offering a fresh, contemporary upgrade.
(image10 RBS £5 detail) Subtle visual devices make all the difference.
The Challenges and Rewards of Plastic
Polymer substrates have opened up new creative possibilities and challenges for designers. One challenge is the colour unlike paper, where inks are absorbed into the substrate, polymer has a tendency to reduce the tonal impact of designs, as the inks sit on the surface. An experienced polymer note designer will foresee the visual impact of colours and combinations, and adjust accordingly.
Designing polymer features requires rigorous research and development, an artistic mind, and a good dialogue between the two. Feature design is often subtle and complex, yet must be comprehensible for fast user verification. When the designer both understands each technical conundrum and the best forms to demonstrate the unique properties of the feature, the results can be visually stunning.
A pitfall of earlier polymer designs is the tendency for security features to appear stuck in place, without properly interacting with the rest of the design. Although a design team may inherit the polymer security feature specifications from another organization, (which may include strict instructions for the size and location of features) the challenge for the designer is to work these immovable specifications into a seamless artwork.
In banknote design, the totality of the layers of production should blend together into a lucid, flowing image, and visual design is at its worst when individual elements are thrown together in order to satisfy technical requirements. Indeed, the pleasure in solving each security document design puzzle is to find ways of concealing rigid methodologies in elegance.
However, as more plastic notes continue to be issued, we see more confident use of the substrate in the design process. In particular, we see transparent windows that run the height of the note, which unselfconsciously showcase innovative security features. Excellent recent examples of this include the Canadian and Australian series. These elements are not mere substitutes for the watermark area; they make full use of the substrates properties.
(image11 Australia and Canada windows) Bold use of polymers transparent properties.
Summary – The Future of Banknote Design
As a designer, Im interested in pursuing new print and software technologies, and exploiting the potential in these technologies to create novel design solutions. These technologies are sure to continue to develop. Data storage within imagery will imbue any artwork with a readable dimension, and new percussive forms of printing will further exploit the specific properties of the substrate.
My other duty as a designer is to always seek out innovative methods of visual communication. Because of the rarity with which banknotes are upgraded, and the risk in producing bold designs, innovation in banknote artwork lags other fields with higher turnaround times. This means there is plenty of room for a banknote designer to draw from the vast pool of present-day design modalities. These modalities will surely make their way into banknote designs, encouraged by bold Central Banks.
In considering the future of banknote design in general, I return to DECUS ET TUTAMEN an ornament and a safeguard. We are seeing technology evolve at an exponential rate. The natural consequence of technological progression is for form and function to meld into one. In this sense, banknote design already symbolically prefigures the future of technological advancement.
References (in Harvard Style).