The oblong country
    Giving tradition a run for its money


    There are around 340 million banknotes in circulation in Sweden. The series of 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1000-krona notes was designed at the end of the 1980s, before current banknote security features were what they are today. So, in October 2015, the Sveriges Riksbank (Swedish State Bank, the world’s oldest central bank) will introduce a new set of Swedish banknotes to equip its currency with state-of-the-art protection against banknote forgery. At the same time, the Riksbank will introduce a new denomination: a 200-krona banknote.


    A national design competition was held, with the brief, detailed design criteria and judging overseen by the General Council of the Riksbank. The six new notes would each have their own size and colour, and incorporate two themes: major Swedish cultural figures (including Greta Garbo, Ingmar Bergman and Dag Hammarskjöld) and natural scenes linked to the six personalities. The security features would include a holographic-style image and a window that gave an impression of movement when tilted.


    For SDL, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to design something that would tell a story for millions of tourists and that every adult Swede would have in their hand every day. With this in mind we entered the competition along with 48 other studios, artists and illustrators. We tried many variants on the traditional banknote, including a vertical format, printing techniques, collage techniques, alternative placements of the security features, and different styles of portraiture. The set of designs we submitted struck a balance between tradition and modernity, with engravings by Martin Mörck and modern, sans serif typography and a series of landscapes that, when the notes were placed end-to-end, formed a journey through Sweden’s countryside with a single, unbroken horizon.


    Our entry, titled The oblong country, represented the kind of step towards modernity that could serve as a symbol of Sweden’s innovative, forward-looking spirit. Unfortunately, the Riksbank wasn’t as convinced as us that such a step was necessary. Having reached the final eight – quite an achievement in itself – our proposal failed to make it to the Riksbank’s printing presses. It failed to win over the General Council, but it did win the hearts of many Swedes and potential vistiors in the press and blog coverage that followed the announcement of the result.