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the Royal Mint Product Design. Feature

A 'circle gone wrong' or a modern British icon? Leading designers give their verdict on the new £1 coin

By Cameron Clarke | Editor



the royal mint article

March 19, 2014 | 8 min read

The Royal Mint has unveiled a new £1 coin which it is billing as the "most secure coin in the world". But is the new design, which evokes the look of the old threepenny piece (younger readers ask your parents), befitting of a modern British icon?

We asked a selection of Britain's designers and design bosses for their first impressions of the new-look pound, which is due to be introduced in 2017. This is what they told us...

David Godber, group chief executive officer, Elmwood

My first reaction is it’s simply a necessity. Coin fraud has escalated and change (excuse the pun) is overdue. I welcome the new technologies incorporated into the design, and the fact it has a strong design story harking back to the threepenny bit is a nice touch. But is it suitably British? For me Britain is an ‘innovation nation’ so I’d actually like to see a number of further changes. Firstly, the Automatic Vending Association (which welcomes the change) could go much further and, where possible, use the necessity for costly system changes to shift away from cash altogether. The impact on crime and maintenance costs for a range of products and services would be material. And for me it’s not just about a coin, it’s about a monetary system. I would, perhaps controversially, also like to see the Royal Mint remove the 1p and 2p coins from circulation and shift to the “Swedish rounding” system – where 1 and 2 öre coins were removed from circulation in Sweden in 1972. Since then the Reserve Bank of New Zealand (1990) and the Reserve Bank of Australia (1993) have followed suit. If ever there was an opportunity to streamline a business system, (given Sweden and other countries have effectively prototyped it for over 30 years), then surely this is one opportunity that we’ve missed.

Valeria Murabito, senior designer, Coley Porter Bell

Having seen the new £1 coin, I instantly felt it wasn't different enough from that of the £2 coin – and as a result the new coin is less rich and precious. I did find the design link to the threepenny element quite interesting as it champions British heritage, however, for a celebratory coin that is billed as “being a giant leap into the future”, I feel that the new design it is more suited to a £5 coin rather than £1. Despite the fact the technological advances make the new coin difficult to forge and therefore world-leading in anti-counterfeiting, it's a pity the design doesn't really deliver.

Sarah Johnson, design researcher, Seymourpowell

The new 12-sided £1 coin for 2017 has had mixed opinions in the media and in the Seymourpowell office. The Royal Mint set itself a very difficult design challenge; replacing an icon as well as designing against crime. In theory the design is successful – it combines British heritage and modernity. Through reflecting the threepenny shape, the 12 sides add a sense of nostalgia as well as creating a more secure coin, which statistics show is a necessity. Although for me, it is not an improvement on the current £1 coin. Having many well-travelled people around our office, there is a consensus: there is no coin in the world that has the satisfying solid weight, size, shape and simple detailing that the British pound currently has. This coin feels over designed: the portrait of HR too hyper-real, the fonts not quite right, the surfacing too complicated. The 2008 ‘jigsaw’ design was more forward thinking, creating a cohesive collection of currency. It will be interested to see how other coins in this new range will sit together.We are adaptable creatures and I am sure we will take to it eventually.

Marcus McCabe, senior creative, Uniform

The fact that one in 30 pound coins is fake is astounding and the redesign is completely justified and long overdue. The 12-sided shield is an interesting development aesthetically and adds a much needed layer of security. The elements which adorn the ‘heads’ side of the coin aren’t going to excite anyone from a design perspective as they are the typical composition of the Queens head surrounded by type. The exciting opportunity is the ’tails’ side which is going to be designed via a competition. This is where the opportunity exists to celebrate the rich history of Great Britain and also the chance to make an everyday necessity a focal point which the British public can embrace. When developing the reverse of the coin I hope we can retain some of the design thinking introduced in 2008 by Matt Dent. His beautifully crafted suite of coins which assemble to form a large crest are a triumph and widely revered for their playful nature and visual message of unification. The clever thinking of the designer led to a solution which goes far beyond the brief and creates an engaging solution which makes it far more interesting than it’s predecessor. I also hope it’s not as flimsy as it looks on first glance. As an Irishman living in England I often have two sets of currency in my pocket: the flimsy euro has nothing on the weight of the mighty pound. The pound feels reassuringly solid, whereas the euro coin wouldn’t be out of place in a child’s bank set.

Ash Spurr, designer, Thompson Brand Partners

When I heard the news of a new pound coin design my first reaction was, ‘what is wrong with the current one?’ The recent pound coin designed by Matt Dent in 2008 is a great example of pure design in unifying the different coin values all under one roof by cropping parts of the iconic Royal Arms shield. So it seems the need for added security means a redesign too. It’s a shame they didn’t design with the added security back in 2008.When I saw the new design I thought the shape was a little novelty, and almost looks like a circle gone wrong. This lack of affection for the shape probably equates to the fact I wasn’t even born when the threepenny bit was in circulation. I can understand the reasons given that it is harder to copy, plays on a heritage history and is different to the Euro so maybe it will grow on me…The competition for what goes on the other side is interesting. For me it doesn’t seem relevant to look too far back to the past when designing for a world dominated by online payments and bank cards.

Uri Baruchin, strategy director, The Partners

It’s good to know that the Royal Mint is keeping ahead of counterfeiters and that the new pound coin is going to be the world’s most secure currency. The technological progress was a functional requirement, but with that came a design opportunity. The combination of technological innovation with a throwback shape is a pleasing blend of old and new which is quite appealing. But, has the Royal Mint made the most of the design? We will only know once the design of the ‘tails' side is revealed. There's a lot you could do with a 12-sided two-coloured canvas. However, one can’t help but wonder whether the disproportionate amount of attention the new coin is getting, relative to the rest of the budget, points to where the real branding took place. Britain probably does need a more secure pound coin, but with all the fanfare around it, is there another reason for the chancellor to 'toss the public a shiny new coin’?

Nicolas Roope, founder, Poke, Hulger and Plumen

I can see the logic. Stem the three per cent counterfeiting, build on some heritage in multiple sidedness like the 50p and the 20p. Could we have had a hole like the Danes or is that a bit too continental? I mean the fiscal elephant in the room here is that this thing is it going to feel a lot like a 20p as your fingers rake through the jangling soup of shrapnel in your pocket. Are you going to be ordering a packet of salt & vinegar only to discover you're only good for a couple of packets of 10p Space Raiders? Doesn't even bear thinking about. I hope they have the weight and solid reassurance of today's "nugget." I might just squirrel some away and feel them when I'm having a bad day and need a confidence boost.
the Royal Mint Product Design. Feature

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Seymourpowell is a world leading Design & Innovation agency. Our track record of imagining and then creating world-first innovation solutions stretches over 30 years, from the first cordless kettle and pocket mobile phone, to 21st Century solutions in sustainable transportation, e-payment and water filtration. 

We don’t stop at just finding solutions to problems, we aim to create delight and emotional engagement in the user, so your brand’s ethos builds every time your product or service is used. We fundamentally believe that design and innovation is about making life better for people, whilst making it better for business and the environment in which we live.

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Elmwood is the world’s most effective brand design consultancy. A bold statement, but true. We’ve won more Design Effectiveness Awards than anyone else in the history of the scheme, recognition of our work’s commercial success.Elmwood began as a small, local agency in 1977, and whilst we now have studios in Leeds, London, New York, Singapore, Hong Kong and Melbourne, we’re still very much independent.

We work right across the board from insight and strategy, to creative and design, and can tick off a long list of sectors including retail, government, sport, media, FMCG, B2B and more. Our joint ventures also mean we can offer specialist services in sustainability consulting, industrial design and environmental design.

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Coley Porter Bell is a global full-service branding agency. Part of the Ogilvy & Mather group, we have 36 years experience of bringing fresh thinking to brands based on a deep understanding of consumers and markets. 

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