As I begin to write this article, I am reminded of the countless instances of people moaning about the aesthetics of the new Rs2,000 note. I have a friend sitting across me complaining about the same but I will have to ask him to leave me alone for I have read and heard so much that I no longer wish to engage on this subject.
I feel assured that the problem is that the common man is not feeling empowered on holding the new notes. Our currency note should make us feel empowered, - a perceived value of strength and confidence that comes with having physical money. Currency notes are nothing but money held and felt by the hand and fingers. And money is as money does.
Since the launch of the new Rs2,000 currency note, I have asked this question to dozens of people and everybody agrees that empowerment is a significant psychological feeling, which is experienced when a person holds a currency. Hence, I feel that the time has come to relook at all our currency notes and see if they can be redesigned in a manner in which they empower our citizens.
In the digital world, when we decide to redesign a website, a mobile app or an IT platform, we ask two fundamental questions. The first - is the redesign going to be just limited to aesthetic changes or will it be transformational, which is a significant jump to reflect needs of the changing times. If the need is transformational, then anything and everything should be open to change. We need to ask similar questions in the redesign of our currency notes.
In my opinion, a good currency design must satisfy three fundamental principles:
a) Currency design should be aesthetically appealing
b) Notes should incorporate all available modern print-based security features to prevent counterfeits
c) Physical design should make it easy to use by all sections of society.
Just focusing on any one of the aforementioned aspects dilutes the empowerment that people are looking from their currency notes. In fact, missing on any of the aspects will leave the note incomplete and reduce the confidence that every citizen has in these notes. The real balance lies in the synthesis of aesthetics, security and physical design. It is a crucial balance, which is difficult to achieve but not impossible.
So where do we begin? There is a quantum leap, an advancement that has been made in the area of digital design in the past few decades that can be harnessed to make our currency design an award winning spectacle. Its appeal can and should rouse a feeling of belonging in our pockets. Our currency note can also act as the de-facto business card of our nation. The design should reflect the country’s collective ethos and connect the rich legacy embodied in our culture with the aspirations of our citizens.
The need for a secure currency note cannot be overemphasized. We must look beyond the features of ultra-violet (UV) thread, watermark and intaglio.
Counterfeit notes have been in existence since the time the first currency note was introduced in the world. As long as there are gangs or rogue groups wanting to counterfeit fake notes, all currency notes are vulnerable to having counterfeits. Central banks worldwide are working assiduously every day to make their notes difficult to counterfeit.
Economic considerations teach us that the more secure we make our note, the higher the cost of production. Nonetheless, in the past few years, more than 13 high-tech features have been invented in the domain of currency security and employing all or most of them will help us make our notes secure and very difficult to counterfeit.
While security features - both the visual and apparent and hidden - are necessary, it is imperative that our new notes are also well suited to our physical environment. Dimensions are the most crucial aspect in making us feel empowered with our currency notes. An ideal size is one, which the nation’s billion people are comfortable with. Size consideration must involve factors like ATM and vending machine flexibility, ease of transportation, storage and wallet and pocket size. Although the global trend is towards smaller dimensions, our benchmark here should be our own nation and not an emulation of the size of currency notes in other countries.
A well thought-out, modern redesign to reinvent the Indian currency notes, which can serve us over the next 50-80 years is the need of the hour.
(Faisal Farooqui is the CEO of MouthShut.com. He has a passion for public policy, technology and design.)