Beautiful Money

Inspired by the late Ootje Oxenaar.

Written by Craig Berry
Designer & Writer

Ootje Oxenaar – Dutch Gulden Designs

No, because to me banknotes can be seen as the identity for a country or even a continent (unfortunately), it’s one of the first things you experience about a country, before you’ve even landed there (if you get your exchanged money in advance).

Seeing this foreign money and looking at how fancy, modern, loud, expressive, detailed or boring it is.

For example this series of the 5, 10 and 25 Guilder notes where the front features historical Dutch figures, the back is full of wonderful geometric and abstract pattern, tied in with a classically modern sans-serif font.

Of course these patterns not only look great but they add an inherently important security feature to prevent counterfeiting.

The eight (current) series’ vertically designed notes feature the traditional idea of portraits of historical figures but instead of figures from hundreds of years ago, they are more relevant and relatable 20th century people — architects, artists, composers and writers.

Instead of a detailed illustration or crude drawing they look like detailed half-tone pattern photographs, the back design seemingly referencing the career and principles of the figure.

Swiss Vertical Bank Notes
Swiss 10 Note

The concept by Norwegian studios Snøhetta and The Metric Systems is very beautiful, contemporary and modern, using imagery of the Norwegian coast but reducing and simplifying them down into pixelated strips of colour creating blocks of different shades. The minimal approach works really well and it’s something very different.

Although their proposal of using photographs of the coast and coastal life on the other side of the notes has been scrapped in favour of illustrations of traditional sailing boats and coastal/marine life, along with various typographic changes from the original Snøhetta proposals — I imagine this is to be able to improve the security of the notes.

It also received a huge backlash from vegans as the polymer note was found to contain small amounts of “tallow: rendered beef and mutton fat” which is still an ongoing battle and something the Bank of England is trying to address for the future notes.

Old £5 note VS New £5 note

Both the first and second series are as bad as each other, designed by Austrian Robert Kalina, with the notes showing the vast range of styles of bridges, arches and gateways throughout the continent, the denominations representing different European ages; this is a good concept but just executed poorly design-wise and for one of the most important currencies globally they have no personality at all.

Although to end on a more positive note, a project I found recently which is quite humorous is that by Dutch designer, Robin Stam. Here he took the images of the European bridges from the Euro banknotes and made them a reality. Constructing them as real foot-bridges for a housing project in South Holland. ‘The Bridges of Europe/De Bruggen van Europa’ have been constructed exactly like the paper money sketches using the appropriate colours and scale. Genius.

Don’t call it a comeback, I’ve been here for years.