I always thought of Norway as the Ron Weasley of Scandinavia.
Denmark would be Harry, all spectacles, angst and raging inner-turmoil, appropriate for the birthplace of Søren Kierkegaard and Lars Von Trier. Sweden would be Hermione and her subdued, self-confident, contained-cool, befitting the home of Saab, Bjorn Borg and Absolut.
But Ron, like Norway, felt like a bit of a hanger-on, a bit dispensable. Ron was probably very pleasant company and doubtless a reliable friend, but he just seemed to be trying hard and not quite succeeding, rather like Norway, who gave us Morten Harket and Johan Vaaler (the inventor of the significantly less-effective paper clip).
But then I saw these two design projects, not just out of Norway but for Norway, that featured in almost Best of Graphic Design list from last year.
The first is the new Norwegian Passport, developed by Neue. Being released in 2016, it’s proof that ‘official document’ need not mean ‘uglier than Wayne Rooney driving a PT Cruiser’.
The covers have that inexplicable beauty that comes from the simplicity of three perfectly chosen elements. The spreads feature a stylised image of the fjords, and, in a lovely touch, transform when viewed under blacklight.
Then there’s the new Norwegian currency. It looks like no other country’s. It deftly dodges the political challenges of whose face to feature or which landmarks to showcase, instead choosing on one side a pixellated image inspired by ocean winds (developed by Snohetta) and on the other more traditional seafaring images (developed by Metric).
From what I’ve read there are two particularly interesting elements of the project – the very specific nature of the brief, and the depth this informed in the final response.
The brief specified that ‘the sea’ would be the key theme and the each denomination would highlight a specific part of Norway’s relationship with the sea (a source of food, for example). This sounds prescriptive, but in this case was clearly no bad thing.
The depth of the response perhaps reflects that. There are a couple of lovely decisions (though admittedly slightly geeky) that inform the final designs. The rising scale of the note denominations has been aligned to the Beaufort Wind Scale, so the higher the value of the note the greater the level of wind depicted in the image. And the pixellated images each connect, bleeding into each other to create one long image, reflective of Norway’s coastline (one of the longest in the world).
It’s this depth that’s so satisfying. The reasons behind the key elements take it from being just something that looks nice, to something that’s relevant. Sure the work is beautiful. But it’s beautiful for a reason and there’s a reason behind its beauty.