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New Zealand banknotes (Series 7)

The Kiwis’ catch-all currency illustrates the danger of appeasing too many interests.

Contributed by Florian Hardwig on Sep 1st, 2015. Artwork published in
October 2015
New Zealand banknotes (Series 7) 1
Source: License: All Rights Reserved.

New Zealand’s banknotes are getting a facelift. The $5 and $10 notes will be released from October 2015, with the $20, $50 and $100 notes targeted for April 2016. The basic themes remain the same, depicting the same well-known New Zealanders, the Queen, and flora and fauna as introduced with the fifth series in 1991. According to the Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RB), this seventh series dubbed “‘Brighter Money’ includes improved security features, vibrant imagery, and innovative design”.

From the RB’s Bulletin:

To best achieve the design goals, the Reserve Bank uses an open tender process. […] Seven design proposals were submitted by six overseas companies.

It was […] important to consider whether the designs were aesthetically pleasing and representative of New Zealand’s cultural heritage. To evaluate the public perception of the different designs, the Reserve Bank conducted a number of confidential focus groups with a wide range of participants representing the New Zealand public, as well as tourists and visually impaired people. Further, Te Papa [the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa] assessed all design submissions with a selection of cultural, arts, botanical and ornithological experts.

The Reserve Bank was able to establish a set of requirements specific to the needs of visually impaired people, such as high contrast numerals, large fonts, greater colour variation between denominations, and above all, the continuation of varying sizes.

The designs submitted by the Canadian Banknote Company Ltd. (CBN) were the ones selected.

To many type designers, having one of their own creations used on currency may seem like a dream come through. In this case, not so for Kris Sowersby of Klim. To the designer of Karbon, these “new ‘funky’ banknotes” represent the “worst ‘fonts in use’ for me so far.”

Both the parody posted by Tommy Ill and Sowersby’s own tongue-in-cheek counter-proposal hint at where the rub is with the new series: too many unrelated and uncoordinated elements, in too many flashy colors. Graphic designer Andreas Weiland comments: “I guess if it’s in the specs that you have to use all layer styles in photoshop, it’s a pretty good solution…” While Sowersby’s radically minimalist fun sketch ignores most aspects of security and usability, it actually scores better on strong contrast and large type size, two main requirements for accessibility as defined by the RB. Now for the cultural representation …

Banknotes carry significant weight as representatives of the culture of a country, and are sometimes referred to as ‘a country’s business cards’. Therefore, the New Zealand public should be able to identify with the designs, and value their artistic appearance.

This is where opinions differ, and will always differ. Irrespective of the concrete stylistic and thematic direction, it is vital that responsible parties actually choose one such direction. Let’s hope that they start involving fewer voices in such processes — one discerning design professional is more valuable than a dozen well-meaning tourists — and that they stop aiming for a common denominator that pleases everybody, for it is too often a mingle-mangle that, in sum, hardly pleases anybody.

New Zealand banknotes (Series 7) 2
Source: Reserve Bank of New Zealand. License: All Rights Reserved.
Preliminary designs as published by the Reserve Bank of New Zealand in Bulletin, Vol. 77, No. 7, Dec. 2014.
Source: License: All Rights Reserved.

Preliminary designs as published by the Reserve Bank of New Zealand in Bulletin, Vol. 77, No. 7, Dec. 2014.


  • Karbon
  • OCR-B




Artwork location

5 Comments on “New Zealand banknotes (Series 7)”

  1. I agree, Florian. There are individual elements that are attractive and unique to New Zealand: the patterned strip on the left end, the Maori-inspired animal illustrations, the typeface from a local designer. But they combine with 15 other unrelated elements and colors to make an incoherent mishmash without a distincitive cultural identity.

  2. John Parkinson says:
    Sep 1st, 2015 11:52 pm

    I think the point you’re missing is that these designs precisely indicate NZ’s ambivalent attitude to design, and its inability to articulate much that’s “distinctive” beyond a small number of local brands. The notes capture that ambivalence just in the same way that the new flag design proposals do – they perfectly express a country ill at ease with itself and unable to articulate anything different. PS: Stephen, it’s Maori, not Mauri – “mauri” means something else entirely.

  3. Oops, fixed. Thanks!

  4. Laurel says:
    Sep 4th, 2015 6:40 pm

    Oh my god. New Zealand, come oooon. This actually doesn’t surprise me at all given our current new flag debacle. Almost all of the contenders are ugly as sin and have turned new-flag-supporters into people voting no just so we don’t have a clip-art flag, which is fair enough in this case.

    I would love to see Hone Heke, Hongi Hika or Timi Kara and not a queen with a meaningless title that insists on showing up on everyone’s currency, but it’s cool that we have scientists and mountain climbers and women’s rights activists in lieu of prime ministers and presidents. The day an Aboriginal person is featured on Canadian currency, where I am now, will be a cold day in hell. :/

  5. My God what a mess!
    I hope we arrive at a cashless society before this cash arrives in our pockets.

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