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  • Writer's pictureKenny Sam Thomas

An underappreciated part of our design thinking: The Banknote

Last week I came across an article on new banknotes being designed for the EU to be released in 2024. Reading this out loud sparked a discussion in the studio about banknote design. At this point I was intrigued by the process and design of banknotes and set off to study more about it. My thoughts after a bunch of reading…

The banknote currently seems to be moving into obscurity as new methods of payment are gaining currency worldwide. Especially in India, with many people preferring digital payments rather than looking through their change boxes. This has led to many of us, me included, to not carry cash except in times of extreme need.

What we don’t understand?

The banknote is a visual identifier for the citizens of a nation. It’s design is important because it is something that people involved in the economy (read everyone) use to exchange for goods and services and is a good indicator of the culture of the country.

The main factor behind banknote design is that it should relate with the homo ludens or the playful human within all of us.

The design of the banknote has several considerations

  • The value of the note should be similar to the previous note or not exceed the earlier value of the note by 5%. This is to address the problem of inflation.

  • The identity of the country/area that the note is being designed for, i.e., national symbol, coat of arms, map of the country/area, etc.

  • The main images on the front and reverse side of the note. Some notes have elements of national pride and identity like historical figures, national monuments or landmark events inscribed on them.

  • The color of the note has to be its standout feature making it recognizable even from a distance.

  • There are also some security features that on the note which serve a dual purpose of protecting against counterfeiting as well as enhancing the look and feel of the note. One such example of this is the Guilloche pattern used in note design.

  • The printing process for banknotes itself is unique, intaglio printing which uses a metal plate to transfer the ink onto the paper to print the note. The design of the note is either etched or engraved onto the plates and these plates are used to print on a paper that is specifically designed for longevity.

  • The bank note design has many tactile features to enable blind people to also recognize the note.

The craftsmanship and the design process that goes into making banknotes sometimes goes underappreciated. I hope I have given all the readers some insight into what goes on in the process of banknote design and printing. And I also hope that you hold a much deeper appreciation of banknotes after this.


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