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Show Me The Money: Designers Reimagine the Bank Note

Money is getting a makeover. We all use it, but only a select few have ever influenced the look of those valuable scraps of paper we all stuff in our wallets or stack neatly in brushed aluminum briefcases. Though the U.S. one dollar bill hasn’t revisited the drawing board since 1963, that doesn’t mean the rest of the globe’s cash isn’t up on the times. Plenty of designers and sovereignties are stepping away from the dead presidents theme while beginning to ask a fascinating question: what is money, and how can design make it better?

Swedes Turn to Crowdsourced Cash

The paper note is losing general popularity as plastic and online transactions increase, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t serve other purposes, or inspire meaningful innovation. For centuries, the powers that be would decide which iconic images would be displayed on national bills — natural wonders, breakthrough scientists, politicians, writers, and other emblems of national pride. But now the floodgates have really opened up, with national banks, designers, and local business associations around the world taking to crowdsourcing initiatives to generate new currency concepts. Kind of a “by the people, for the people” take on money.

Take a look at some of these exciting new ideas that will have you ditching your debit card.

Swedes Turn to Crowdsourced Cash:

Little-known fact: Sweden was actually the first country in Europe to adopt paper money all the way back in 1661, yet as of 2012, physical currency transactions account for a mere 3% of Sweden’s economy. As MINI Space has documented before, Sweden is well known for its independent spirit. They certainly aren’t new to letting the people speak. Therefore it should come as no surprise that in order to renew interest in the Swedish krona, Sweden’s national bank held a public competition to design the country’s new 2015 banknotes.

Creative Currency Sweden Creative Currency Sweden

The winning design, created by graphic artist Göran Österlund, is titled “Cultural Journey”. A soft blend of artistic security features, bold typography, and warm colors frame a portrait of an influential Swede on the front, with regional icons on the reverse side.

There were plenty of other noteworthy entries though, including this clean and contemporary concept by the Stockholm Design Lab. The use of a beautiful high contrast photo of a natural wonder with simple sans-serif typeface laid on top is a step in an intriguing new direction for what money could look like.

The Dollar ReDe$ign Project:

Bored with that tired George Washington shoved in your pocket? Although there hasn’t been an official competition to redesign the U.S. dollar, New York-based designer Richard Smith hosts the blog The Dollar ReDe$ign Project, an online forum where designers from around the world can discuss and share their ideas for the future of the greenback.

The Dollar ReDe$ign Project

Among the most revolutionary proposals is international design studio Dowling Duncan’s 2010 winning design, that offers a complete re-think of the current print.

The bills are presented vertically and vary in size according to denomination (something a particular demographic would be very pleased about). Instead of statesmen from centuries past and Neoclassical architecture, this design uses bright colors and a smart layout to draw attention to significant symbols of the American identity. The proposed $5 note, for example, is dedicated to the five largest American Indian tribes.

Finding a Local Flavor:

Think you have the skills to draw up the next edition of the dollar, Euro, or yen? Sometimes it’s good to start small. As fortune might have it, there’s a chance a local currency could spring up in a city near you. Especially since the global economic downturn, some municipalities have decided to test the mettle of a neighborhood mint. Dedicated to promoting a strong regional economy, many local currencies have relied on open design competitions to find a unique look for their banknotes.

The Brixton Pound

The London-based firm This Ain’t Rock’n’Roll designed the striking “Brixton Pound”, which is accepted at many local businesses in the city that shares the currency’s name. Situated in the spot usually saved for the Queen, the 10 Brixton Pound note features Brixton-born rocker David Bowie in his emblematic Ziggy Stardust makeup, sure to stir interest at the cash register.

Others celebrate society at large as opposed to an individual hero. One might speculate against local community spirit being fungible with the output of the U.S. Treasury, but the folks of Burlington, Vermont think their neighborly respect is worth more than just a hearty handshake. And they put their money where their mouth is. “Burlington Bread” was local scrip only recently-defunct that encouraged regional confidence with the phrase “In Each Other We Trust” emblazoned across the top. Though this particular incarnation was retired, plans are now on the books for taking this idea statewide in the “Green Mountain State” of Vermont.

Burlington Bread Burlington Bread

Clearly it doesn’t take an alchemist to turn something of no value into gold. It just takes confident design and a good sales pitch. After a worn chunk of change has changed hands one too many times, maybe there’s something to be said in injected some fresh life into what’s being circulated.

What do you think? Is there any value in breaking the monetary mold? We’re off to buy a cup of coffee and have a think about it.

Related Links:

A list of local currencies from around the world
Sweden’s Currency Competition
Stockholm Design Lab
Riksbank: A History of Swedish Money
Money for the blind [VIDEO]
The Dollar ReDe$ign Project
Dowling Duncan
The Brixton Pound
This Ain’t Rock’n’Roll
Vermont Money
For an interesting listen on money, the MINI Space Team recommends: 99 Percent Invisible — The Colour of Money

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