I was listening to an episode of 99% Invisible about the design of physical currency, and I couldn’t help but think about what else money could look like. So with that, I present the internet with another completely unsolicited redesign project…
On US Federal Reserve Notes
There is a charm and depth to the design of American paper currency. It looks like it’s been built over a long period of time, it features numerous historical references unique to the country, and it instills a sense of stability. Of course these are all things that one might look for in the design of a bill. But by no means would the design be considered good to a fresh pair of eyes.
Taking another look
My attempt at a redesign involves a functional look at currency, and tries to break from the burden of historical precedent, where useful. After some thought, the most important elements seem to be: amount/ability to differentiate amount and security (beyond the basic requirements of course).
Most people can tell the difference between bills by reading the amount or noticing the illustration of the president/iconic figure associated with that amount. These work fine for the most part, but don’t allow for quick judgments, and also don’t consider the visually impaired.
Color is one very quick way to differentiate two unlike bills. By assigning every amount a color, in a prominent way, a faster judgement can be made. By making each color a custom metallic Pantone color, an extra level of security is added. You can’t match a custom Pantone with 4 color process. You certainly can’t even come close on your inkjet at home.
For the visually impaired, I imagine physical currency must be very difficult. A 1 dollar bill feels the same as a 100 dollar bill. By adding engraved (raised) type for both the numeric and written amount, a quick touch can tell the difference between two bills.
The notch feature is another way to quickly identity a bill. Just find the placement, and you know what you have in your hand. Additionally, this feature can be used for machine reading. While I haven’t added it to the design above, the use of braille was certainly a consideration as well.
Finally, something that a digital image can’t show: paper. My first thought was that cotton paper continues to be the best option, but perhaps the change in paper stock paired with different Aqueous/UV coatings for each amount would allow for one more level of tactile difference. Smooth uncoated, textured uncoated, silk coated, dull coated, semi gloss, or gloss could be assigned arbitrarily.
I’ve kept the width of bills the same width as current bills, so that existing physical infrastructure that reads banknotes could continue to function, but the height has been cut to 3.6 inches, as no more physical space is required. While this is admittedly somewhat arbitrary, cutting the size does saves paper.
Size could be used as one more measure of differentiation, but perhaps unnecessary with other methods previously stated.
Beyond previous methods mentioned, I’ve also added features that are purely for security.
The fine-line printing pattern is currently in use in US bills. The pattern above however, would be randomly computer generated during every print run, using a program like Processing, based on a proprietary formula. The pattern could always be traced back to the print run.
Microprinting is also currently in use, but by printing the entire bill of rights on every banknote in America, every citizen suddenly carries their rights with them almost everywhere they go. More symbolic than practical.
Inscribed security thread would be the final layer of security.
By removing an iconic American from the bill and adding back the motto “E pluribus unum,” the design focuses on the power of all Americans, not just one.
Shouldn’t we be moving away from physical currency?
Actually, yes. This purely hypothetical exercise, and is just that: an exercise. I do believe that the future of currency doesn’t look anything like paper money. It probably looks a lot more like Square.
With all being said, I would be interested to hear about any oversights in the design described above. What contraints on the design of currency may have been glossed over? What lessons can be learned from the currency of other countries? What problems have not been solved?