Designing Canada's commemorative $10 bank note

The Bank of Canada has unveiled a commemorative $10 bank note to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Confederation with a design showcasing the country's history, land and culture. Bank of Canada Bank Note Design Specialist Martine Warren and Canadian Bank Note Company Lead Designer, Art Director and Engraver Jorge Peral share the process and considerations that went into the unique and intricately designed note, which will be available as of June 1, 2017. 



What were the steps involved in the design process?

Jorge Peral: Step one is to receive and review the design brief, which is submitted by the Bank. This document describes the specifications, functionality and themes that are to appear in the bank note. Step two is create the concept design, which involves placing elements into the functional layout and creating a balanced and harmonious design. Step three, once the concept has been approved by the Bank, is to create the linework (origination) and produce a finished design which is plate ready. There is really no difference between designing a commemorative bank note and new series of bank notes, the process and steps are the same.

Martine Warren: Developing and issuing a new bank note series takes several years. The Bank has an ongoing R&D program where we start by understanding counterfeiting threats and evolving user needs, as well as evaluating advances in the bank note industry. We then match our requirements to the right combination of security features, materials and design elements to ensure that Canadian bank notes remain among the most secure in the world, while meeting user needs. The commemorative $10 bank note will circulate alongside the Frontiers polymer bank notes. As such, many of the technical objectives are very similar. The bank note must be secure against counterfeiting; it must contain the accessibility suite of features that allows the blind and partially-sighted to denominate our currency, and it must satisfy the requirements for reliable processing by machines. However, the exercise to develop the thematic content for this commemorative bank note has been special. The Bank of Canada consulted with over 5000 Canadians during the development of this bank note. The Bank wants Canadians to connect with this bank note, to be proud of its design and to see themselves well represented. It was a challenge to develop a single bank note that would engage all Canadians, rather than be able to reach Canadians with the design of five denominations.

What goals / objectives were outlined at the beginning of the project and what steps were taken to ensure these goals were met?


Jorge Peral: Our objective with this commemorative bank note was to meet the expectations set by the Bank, to create a fresh new and modern design to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary of our Confederation. This objective was indicated clearly at the beginning of the project. To meet this goal, several concept designs were presented and the Bank was given the opportunity to select the design direction for this special commemorative issue. To ensure this goal was met, we collaborated closely with the Bank throughout the design process to ensure they were satisfied with every aspect of the final bank note.

Martine Warren: A vision statement guided the development of this commemorative note: 'A distinctive Canadian bank note that celebrates the 150th anniversary of Canada. Conveying beauty and meaning, it will inspire pride among Canadians.' When presented with concepts delivered by the design team at Canadian Bank Note Company (CBN), the Bank of Canada in turn engaged with members of the general public through focus groups. We presented them with bank note concept designs under a non-disclosure agreement to gauge their reaction to the thematic content and see if the goals set out in our vision statement were met.

The Bank also works with the guidance of bank note design principles which state that the notes must be secure and accessible. Notably, we also work with the partially-sighted community to select the most accessible designs, allowing this segment of the population to reliably denominate their notes. We also engage with the stakeholder groups represented by the images on our notes to ensure that the linework on the finished notes conveys the right messages.

What were the design requirements for the commemorative $10 bill?

Jorge Peral: This commemorative bank note required the same functional layout as the current series but had to look radically different. It required intaglio printing on the back (unlike the current series) with additional printed security features and a new holographic foil stripe and Optically Variable Ink. There were a great many images and graphics that needed to be included, because the bank note portrays Canada coast to coast and representing them all in an appropriate size was a challenge. This resulted in small portraits and vignettes compared to the current issue of bank notes.

Martine Warren: Canadian bank notes are used by a variety of stakeholders including cash handlers, law enforcement and processing equipment. The needs of these stakeholders are extensive and have significant implications on the design freedom afforded to the design team at CBN. The Bank clearly defines all of its technical and visual requirements in a thorough Design Brief. Before the design process begins, the Bank and CBN collaborate very closely so that the design brief is clear and designers understand the needs of users that are represented in the Brief. Understanding user requirements at the very beginning of the process allows the design team to develop a highly functional product that is also cohesive and visually stunning.

What was the biggest design challenge you encountered when working on the commemorative $10 bill and how was it addressed?


Jorge Peral: The commemorative bank note required four portraits on the face and five vignettes on the back. This posed considerable challenges for us to fit all these images into a relatively small space, with respect to the functional layout and associated constraints. We sized the portraits and vignettes appropriately to fit the available space, while maintaining a unique, pleasing and balanced design.

Martine Warren: The Bank wanted to make sure that the needs of all its stakeholders were met while also incorporating more rich content and individual elements than ever considered for a single Canadian bank note design. Despite extensive requirements, the Bank also set a target to have a bold, uncluttered design. The team at CBN far surpassed our expectations with their innovative approach to this bank note design. The design team have certainly set the bar high for the next series, having shown they have the ability to take what others might consider a constraint and find creative ways to exploit all available opportunities. Bank notes are very small canvasses and CBN have found a way to make them functional, inspiring and powerful. 


Who were the key players involved in the design of the bank note, and what were their roles? 

Martine Warren: This commemorative bank note is the product of an extensive, multidisciplinary team. Historians and academics have helped verify that the visual content is presented accurately. Physicists and chemists have ensured that the security features on the note are secure and durable. The team at CBN have translated the Bank’s design brief into an inspiring bank note that conveys beauty and meaning. But the most critical player on our team were the thousands of Canadians that contributed to the selection of the images for this note. The Bank undertook extensive public opinion research and consultation on images and gave Canadians the possibility to provide direct comments through its website. The ideas and suggestions that the Bank received through these processes influenced the note's content and have been carefully incorporated into the design.


Jorge Peral, Lead Designer, Art Director and Engraver; 

Jorge Rodrigo Peral, Engraver; 

Gulherme Tardin, Engraver; 

Yvonne Lie, Senior Designer; 

Tim Warren, Holographic Foil Designer; 

Keith Gow, Security Embedding Specialist


Visual Content Research

Vanessa Eckstein RGD and the team at Blok Design were engaged to participate in a portion of preliminary visual content research to explore images related to the themes selected by the Bank of Canada. This research led to a one-day charrette with the Canada 150 team to discuss how proposed images and approaches might translate onto the design.  


Given the significance of the 150th anniversary of Confederation, the Bank's team wanted to achieve something significant in the bank note, and to represent the essence of Canada in all of its dimensionality: culturally, geographically, historically, and governmentally. Themes had emerged from the research conducted across the country asking Canadians to define the key characteristics that distinguish the country: unity, diversity, aboriginal traditions and culture and Canada's enduring value of democracy. 


"In our own work, research is a critical part of each project. In order to truly push the parameters of the job, we go very deep and wide in our exploration," explains Marta Cutler, Partner at Blok. "For us, the thought is as pleasurable as the design itself, as it's this that leads to shifts in perception and therefore change. This project was probably one of the most expansive in terms of its breadth. The final design was not created by us - bank note design is a true art form - but our involvement in the research phase was a joyous journey into uncovering the essence of our own country."


For more information:

Read the press release

Find out more about the history, land and culture featured in the design from the Bank of Canada