Scotland’s new £20 note shows a “playful” side of the country’s heritage

The third in the Royal Bank of Scotland’s The People’s Money series has been revealed, featuring “surprising” nods to Scottish culture.

A new £20 note for Scotland has been revealed, a collaboration between design studio O Street, service design consultancy Nile HQ and illustrators Stuco.

It is the latest in Scotland’s The People’s Money bank note series — there is one note remaining, the £50. The notes have been designed to “celebrate the people, achievements and nature of Scotland”.

© De La Rue and O Street 2020

The first two in the series featured Scottish otters (on the £10) and mackerel (on the £5). Some of the figures that have been depicted include author Nan Shepherd and astronomer Mary Somerville.

Neil Wallace, director of O Street, tells Design Week that the new note, like the previous editions in the series, tells a different side of Scotland’s history.


A “surprising” design process

© De La Rue and O Street 2020

The design process involved a months-long research stage with the public about what they would like on the notes. The workshops were organised by Nile, who brought experts and members of the public together throughout Scotland.

From them, trends emerged, which were sometimes “surprising” Wallace says. “If you got two designers to do this by themselves, you would have ended up with something quite different. That’s what’s cool about this project.”

All these interests had to be married into a “consensus” he says, and a theme emerged that people were keen to have women on the notes.

Another question was put to workshops: what would you not want featured on the note? Feedback showed that familiar figures like Robert Burns or products like shortbread were “overrepresented”.


Finding a “narrative” for the notes

© De La Rue and O Street 2020

The series of notes have a narrative; travelling from the sea, to the lowlands, up to the river land, and finally to the mountains. The flora and fauna of these areas was then researched.
A pair of red squirrels are featured on the £20. The species is native to Scotland, but they are under threat from the spread of grey squirrels. This year 1,060 red squirrels sightings have been reported.

There is also some local pride for the Glasgow-based design studio, as the note features illustrations of the Willow Team Rooms, which have recently been renovated. Originally designed by Scottish architect Rennie Mackintosh, the rooms were a popular destination in the city. Between 2014 and 2018, they were restored and re-opened as a commercial site. “It was nice to give a nod to our cultural heritage and the city,” Wallace says.

Fittingly, the woman featured on the £20 note is Mackintosh’s patron, Kate Cranston. Cranston helped to develop Glasgow’s tea rooms, which were an alternative to pubs, which were geared towards men’s drinking.

Featured on the back of this note is a blueberry (also known as a bilberry) whose inks are used for colour pigments and in tweed patterns.

“We tried to make everything as concrete as possible – so that it has real significance for the story,” Wallace says.


Design challenges

© De La Rue and O Street 2020

Some of the constraints of designing for currency — like the size of notes or the available colours — are part of the “fun” of the challenge, according to Wallace. Wallace says that it’s reinforced in the design system — even if you can’t see it. Some of the micro detail of the note is pattern-based or based on plant structure.

Currency design can be complicated, working between getting the bank to sign off and the currency printers, De la Rue. “The combination with this note worked well, though,” he says.
The purple colour palette is prescribed by the bank, and the shades are determined by De La Rue’s own colour processes (which are based on identification). Within that palette there is scope for complimentary colour and changing the weighting can alter the shade of colours.


Secrets of the design

© De La Rue and O Street 2020

With the polymer notes, there are more “technical possibilities” according to Wallace. The UV can be “playful” and doesn’t need to be “stuffy”, he adds. “There is a sense of fun” in the design, he adds.

Under a UV light, “hidden design” details are revealed. Illustrations of original cutlery from the tea rooms, for example, are revealed. The squirrel illustrations are also illuminated under a UV light, with patches of their fur being highlighted.

© De La Rue and O Street 2020

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