Banking on Good Design

Welcome to the fifth edition of Theoretical Thursdays this summer. For the previous article click here. This week takes a look at Danish banknotes. 


In 1964 the Dutch Central Bank commissioned two designers and one artist to redesign the 5 bank note. Oxenaar worked through his process with the basic, and best, tools. Working only with pen and paper, then later colored pencils and watercolor, Oxenaar drafted his sketches that he showed the bank executives. Ultimately the bank chose the work of Ootje Oxenaar who worked on the project from 1966 to 1985.

The illustrations on the banknote are highly detailed such as field guide drawings might be done. However, there is a beautiful softness to the work from the use of watercolor. The juxtaposition of classical drawing with the geometric patterning behind creates a unique, even modern, monetary system design. There is type overlayed across the imagery denoting the monetary value, bank or record, and serial number. The sans serif typeface is likely the text weight of Franklin Gothic based on the old-style g and steep, sloping counterforms. However, each of the notes feature a different color and several of them feature a different typeface: the 100 features a different sans serif while the 1000 has a serif typeface. ox1000front-copy2

I applaud Oxenaar’s commitment to personal touches in his work that was going to be so mainstream that is would be used by nearly all of his fellow countrymen. In an interview with the British magazine Creative Review Oxenaar admits that he included his finger print in the hair of the figure on the 1000 note and the names of women in his life on the 250 note. This clever attention to craft is intriguing as it wasn’t until after the designs went into production that anyone noticed these “signatures.”

The production value of these notes are rather remarkable. I admire Oxenaar for learning the lithography trade to etch a couple of the plates himself. I believe these small details in the designs did help with counterfeiting as Oxenaar described in the interview. However, it was disheartening to read that the bank didn’t want to compensate Oxenaar for his efforts. He said they thought that he should be paying them for the honor of doing the work. It is a grim reminder to always agree on payment upfront and use signed contracts to prevent being stiffed.

For more on Ootje Oxenaar click here.



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