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Take Five …. Design’s top banknotes


By Natalie Mortimer, N/A

July 17, 2015 | 4 min read

One category. Every two weeks. Five of the world’s most charismatic designs.

Welcome to Take 5 where The Drum, along with jones knowles ritchie (JKR) Singapore strategy director Katie Ewer, take a bi-weekly look at some of the design industry’s best imagined packaging design where you, the reader, are in control.

Every other Friday we’ll pick a theme and ask you to submit the design you feel deserves a top spot. You’ll have one week to get your entries in, the votes will be counted and the best of lot will be published the following Friday. (Make sure you scroll down to find out the next topic winging its way).

But back to today's theme; banknotes. If there’s any category of design that’s strangled by convention, it’s banknotes. And with good reason too. If you’re trying to persuade someone to hand over tangible objects of value (gold and silver, for instance) in return for a piece of paper (as was the case when banknotes were first used), that piece of paper really needs to look the business. Trust, authority and gravitas are all paramount. But now that we’re happy to pay for goods with a few taps on a phone screen, do we really need all the frills and calligraphy and portraits of ponderous old men? Here’s a few examples of currencies that go against the grain.


Aruba’s banknotes all feature island wildlife - including frogs, turtles, snakes and owls and – hurrah! – not a single venerable colonial gent or post-independence despot in sight. There’s a lovely geometric graphic motif with textures and details that hints back to the island’s Carib heritage but of course the overall impression is strikingly modern.


From simplicity to ornate embellishment – Bhutan’s beautiful banknotes might play by the rules of traditional banknote design, but they do so in a language that’s entirely their own. Check out those flying monkeys on the reverse of the 1 ngultrum note (they also win the prize for the best currency name).

Cook Islands

It's uncertain if this banknote is still in circulation, but certainly at some point the Cook Islands’ national currency featured a naked woman seemingly riding a shark, clapping a couple of coconut shells together. You go girl.

Hong Kong Special Administrative Region 10 Dollar note

Hong Kong’s banknotes are issued by three different banks, each with different designs. This clearly makes Hong Kong the most interesting country for a banknote buff. This particular one has a funky geometric feel about it that seems to, if not capture, then at least reflect the spirit of its city: future-facing, vibrant and intense!


No great surprise that Norway’s new currency design takes top spot. The design of the front of these notes is appealing enough – featuring sea-themed stuff like boats, lighthouses and huge stormy waves – but it’s the back of the banknotes that really do something extraordinary. The pixelated, clean and uncompromisingly contemporary design is quite possibly the first and only real counter-conventional design in this category. Let’s hope we see more like this.


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