Norway's Banknotes Get a Stunning Makeover

It’s no secret that the US has some of the ugliest paper money around. After seeing Norway’s stunning new banknotes, I feel like we just took several steps backwards in that department. Norway’s central bank, Norges Bank, held a contest to re-design the country’s paper currency and ended up crowning two winners whose designs seem contrasting at first, yet complement each other nicely.

Tasked with the direction to build on a theme of “The Sea,” graphic design firm The Metric System provided elegant depictions of typically Norwegian objects: a Viking ship, a lighthouse, a fish. Their designs—though not finalized—will grace the front of the notes, which come in 50, 100, 200, 500, and 1000 kroner (NOK). The samples provided were rendered in beautiful tones of gold, green, purple, red, and blue in keeping with the current color scheme so as not to add confusion when the new notes are released in 2017. Their proposal for the reverse of the notes included further representations of Norwegian life, revolving around the central theme of the sea. In the end, Norges Bank opted for a combined approach, melding a traditional feel with a modern outlook.

The backs of the notes take a bold stance, as visualized by architectural firm Snøhetta. It’s not surprising that they took a non-traditional approach, given that the firm is responsible for the modern Oslo Opera House that rises out of the Oslofjord, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art expansion, and even the new Library at Alexandria. At first glance, the banknote designs seem to be merely pixelated blocks of color, but upon further inspection it becomes clear they represent symbols of Norway, including industrial elements such as an oil rig and the iconic opera house. Even the pixelization pattern isn’t random. The dimensions of the pixel blocks become longer and more drawn out, the larger the denomination. Snøhetta explains that the blocks represent wind force as it affects the sea, and even calculated the length of each block based on the Beaufort wind scale.

Like the country itself, Norway’s new paper currency wears it heritage proudly but with an enthusiastic eye gazing toward the future. And, like Norway, I find the banknotes a curious blend of old and new, and I can’t help but love Norway just a little bit more.

Posted on: October 24, 2014

Erica Gamet

Erica Gamet has been involved in the graphics industry for an unbelievable 30 years! She is a speaker, writer, and trainer, focusing on Adobe InDesign and Illustrator, Apple Keynote and iBooks Author, and other print- and production-related topics. She is a regular presence at CreativePro Week’s PePcon and InDesign Conferences, and has spoken at ebookcraft in Canada and Making Design in Norway. You can find Erica’s online tutorials at CreativeLive and through her YouTube channel. When she isn’t at her computer, she can be found exploring her new homebase of Seattle and the greater Pacific Northwest.

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