How to design a banknote

De La Rue has designed banknotes for 140 countries, from South Africa to Mauritius and the Seychelles. We spoke to its Creative Director Julian Payne to find out more about the process

Julian Payne is Creative Director at De La Rue, the world’s largest commercial banknote printer. The Basingstoke business has been printing banknotes for over 200 years (it currently prints around 7 billion notes per year), and has designed cash for 140 countries. Its team of designers are responsible for creating products that will potentially pass through millions of hands – products that have to endure grubby fingers and grime, being scrunched up in pockets and wallets and taking the occasional spin in the washing machine. As Payne points out, their designs are based on much more than aesthetics – the ideal note should be robust, distinctive, immediately legible and impossible (or at least, near impossible) to counterfeit.

De La Rue’s creative team is made up of 22 designers (some from fine art backgrounds, others from graphics and product design), who create design concepts in response to client briefs. With each new project, Payne says the process starts with breaking down the brief, as it would in any commercial studio. “You have to think, ‘who are the users? And what are the use cases?’” he says.

This might seem obvious when talking about money but as Payne points out, the way banknotes are stored, processed and distributed can vary massively from one country to the next. A note in South Africa might be exposed to radically different conditions to one in Scotland or the Seychelles, and designers need to understand the life of a banknote before they can create a suitable design.