Be Bold. Buy the Best.

If you are responsible for the design and issue of a new banknote, you face a daunting task. As this edition of Currency News™ suggests, it can be a complex and unenviable undertaking. Frankly, good luck!

Some of the decisions required

The task has become more complex now that the substrate choices are so broad – paper, coated paper, composite paper, polymer, varnished notes.

The number of print processes that your feature selection requires means that to the traditional litho, intaglio (one side or two?) and letterpress print processes, do you want an applied feature such as a hologram, a colour shifting feature needing screen printing, iridescence needing flexography or a varnish needing gravure? Do you want perforations or embossing?

How will the blind recognise the note? What colour, size and tactility do you want and how will this vary by denomination?

Do you want a window? How wide a thread? A foil stripe or patch? If so, how large or wide? If a thread or applied foil, do you want colour, movement, depth, reflection, see-through or a combination of these? How will you explain all these features on one or two sentences to the public?

The European Central Bank’s simplistic terminology of level 1, 2 and 3 features has entered common parlance. You’ll need to decide the number, type and mix of these and what to put on each side of the note. Of course, machine handling and machine readability open a whole new world of complexity as you start to consider users across the whole cash cycle.

Somewhere in all this you have to remember that a banknote is a legal document, it needs serial numbers, and it is, of course, the calling card of the nation. Aesthetics and pride are subjective, but critically important.

Who designs it?

Integrating all the substrate and print options is a well-trodden path of course but, again, choices are needed. Whether you have an in-house state printing works or use a commercial company to print your notes, you have options.

One can think of it like building a house. Do you work with an architect and ask them to follow your brief, including project management? Do you hire an architect to design and hire a quantity surveyor to manage the delivery? Do you go for ‘self-build’? Perhaps you hire an expert project manager to co-ordinate each stage of the process? Last month’s Currency News™ reported on Kyrgyzstan’s recent banknote project where they did just this.

As with the Jazz note, do you want to seek out non-banknote creative talent? Perhaps invite the public or professional designers to submit designs as Norges Bank did for its last series. How bold do you want to be? Bundesdruckerei’s Dark Banknote Series is bold. Too bold? Where’s your limit?

If you mix substrate, print and security feature suppliers, if you have multiple printers whether for different denominations or even the same denomination, if you take a ‘pick and mix’ approach to features from different suppliers on the note, as the Bahamas did, how do you make sure the resulting banknotes meet the brief?

Solutions on hand

As with any procurement, preparation is everything. Given that your last banknote re-design is probably many years ago and few remember it, you may want expert advice writing the key document, the design and project brief.

Writing it will give you clarity about the whole process, from deciding your goals to deciding themes, to selecting security features to managing procurement to get lifetime value.

One of the benefits of the modern world is digitisation. While banknotes are not printed digitally, many of the elements of design are now digital. Digital mock ups give confidence that the multiple layers will fit together in register and that it will be printable. They give a good indication of the look of a note. With that comes the opportunity to experiment and test designs without the lead times, complexity and cost of yesteryear.

Final word

The days of buying a design and the security features from just one supplier, while removing many of the risks, is much less common than it used to be. Suppliers are much more familiar today with partnership, both in design and production.

Go to any industry conference and the range of features, the creative design approaches and the preparedness of suppliers to co-operate will be evident. Given the changing payment landscape, you may want to spend time thinking about how the demands on banknotes, whether for payments, settling bills or storing value, will change. Perhaps there is the opportunity to think differently.

Don’t be daunted, decide on your approach – architect, quantity surveyor or project manager – and write that brief. Be bold, buy the best.