The proposed design for the new Norwegian banknotes is enjoying quite a buzz in the design community. Indeed they are beautifully designed, and seem to set a new paradigm of sorts. A paradigm of what, exactly? And why are people saying the design is “contemporary”?
Attempting an intuitive semiotic deconstruction of the adopted visual lexicon, we recognise the Sea, epic and dramatic, scenario of authenticity, as the recurring theme on the highly touched-up and contrasted photographs. Indeed appropriate to be regarded as the essence of the country in case; but the Sea may also be regarded as the last possible icon standing, in a World that, after ridding itself of Gods and Benevolent Leaders (and therefore their monuments – i.e., the space for their inscription), is no longer able to congregate itself neither around the iconography of mythology, nor human edification. Thus has the World replaced these with the language of advertising, not much differentiating these images from the ones we can find in on-board flight mags or the latest issue of Travel Magazine. Come to Norway, land of cinematic seashores, exotic vacations and designy currency. Every banknote a flyer. Sweet semiotic spiral.
According to the other team of designers, the Sea has also been the inspiration behind the pixelised abstract patterns that will grace the other side of the bills. If ever we needed a perfect allegory for the times we live in, I believe we have just found it. Wealth dissolving into an obscure ocean of impermanence, the ocean itself a sheer void of colorful dataflow charts. They say it represents the wind, I see metrics. Money devoid of tangible relation to value, rendered pure speculation, algorithmic efficiency. Banknotes becoming Pixels.
Advertising and abstraction. Truly an amazing set of contemporary design.