Euro banknotes prompt a chorus of disapproval

The new euro notes have been received by the European design community with a predicted scepticism and are criticised of using banal, simplistic imagery, discovers Clare Dowdy

The winning euro notes, unveiled last week, have met with a muted response from designers across Europe, where many industry commentators describe the design competition’s outcome as predictably disappointing.

The illustrations by Robert Kalina, head of graphic design at the Austrian National Bank, do not even seem to have fulfilled the European Monetary Institute’s brief.

The national bank of each member state nominated up to three designers to create something functional, aesthetically pleasing and acceptable to the public – who so far seem as unimpressed as the professionals, and the compliment “aesthetically pleasing” has barely been uttered.

Of the 44 designs anonymously submitted, ten were shortlisted by the EMI’s judging panel – five along cultural heritage lines, and five with a modern abstract bent. No prizes for guessing which category Kalina’s work came under. Names and design work of the other nine on the shortlist are still under wraps.

Kalina will now work up design details with a five-strong team at the Austrian bank to include numerous security features.

A pilot banknote should be ready in a year’s time, and printing will not start until 1998 when the president of the European Central Bank, whose signature will be carried on the notes, is to be nominated.

However, no one (other than the Austrians, perhaps) is much excited about the note’s eventual circulation, most blaming the decision-by-committee approach rather than the designer himself.

“The philosophy [of the fictional bridges and gateways] is rather weak,” says Joost Smiers, director of the Centre for Research at Utrecht School of the Arts in The Netherlands, who has followed the contest closely. “This is the most superficial way to make metaphors,” he adds.

Outside the European Union, Swiss note designer Interbrand Zintzmeyer & Lux sees the designs as a missed opportunity. The blandness of the design is symbolic of a brief drawn up by “Eurocrats”, says a spokesman for the group: “There has been too much compromise. It reflects the mood of the EU.”

President of the Chartered Society of Designers Nick Jenkins agrees: “I don’t think the notes don’t have the panache necessary to lift the idea of European currency idea above the banal.”

However, a spokeswoman at the Austrian National Bank describes the bridges as “symbolising co-operation and openness. Kalina, who has designed all

Austria’s banknotes, was unavailable for comment.

Butler Cornfield Dedman director Brian Dedman suggests each country should have been allowed to design its own currency within a framework.

Even better, says Dedman, would have been to use the euro as a vehicle for electronic cash. BCD designed the Mondex card, currently on trial in Swindon.

Although people claim to be left cold by the EMI’s choice, Smiers is more generous in his criticism: “It could have been worse.” And Erik Spiekermann, director of MetaDesign in Germany goes one better, claiming to be “pleasantly surprised. It’s a nice compromise.” But then he was expecting it to be “crap”.

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