The theme of the series
The protagonists: time, light, wind, water, matter, language
Stories are all about characters, and the six stories on the new banknotes are no exception. The story told on each of the denominations is inspired by one of six key motifs, or ‘protagonists’. The 10-franc note tells a story about time; the 20-franc note is all about light; the wind dominates the narrative of the 50-franc note; water is the protagonist of the 100-franc note; the 200-franc note focuses on matter; and the story in the 1000-franc note explores human language.
Directly or indirectly, all the design elements on the banknotes – from the most prominent features to the tiniest details – are linked to the relevant protagonist in some way. Even the finest line structures are designed to articulate an aspect of the protagonist and to tie in with the respective story. Time, light, wind, water, matter and language – at first, these may appear passive and insignificant, but on closer inspection, we see they are linked to broader realities that are critical to the world we inhabit: organisation, creativity, experience, humanity, science and communication.
The protagonist on a banknote thus becomes an all-pervasive force that not only leaves mere traces in the background, but is also the driving impetus behind the main action. In the background and foreground, in the individual grid patterns, and in its principal motifs – the protagonist’s story is enacted in all the dimensions of the design.
Time and organisation, light and creativity, wind and experiences, water and humanity, matter and science, language and communication – each of these pairings represents an aspect of Switzerland. They are at the heart of the Swiss National Bank’s overarching banknote theme: ‘The many facets of Switzerland’.
Away from personalities – towards the many facets of Switzerland
From the very beginning, it was decided that the new series of banknotes would no longer portray important personalities. But what does that mean? What does such a decision imply?
A famous person becomes famous due to commendable deeds committed in the past. An important person is thus always directly associated with the past.
Hence, by forgoing the portrayal of famous personalities, this direct association with the past ceased to apply.
It thus became clear that the creative identity of a single banknote should no longer be sought in Switzerland’s past, but in its present, i.e. in the current environment and sphere of activity of its inhabitants.
This resulted in a partial portrayal of Switzerland, which the National Bank termed as “the many facets of Switzerland.”
The hand, the largest and most prominent design feature, is present on all the new banknotes. Accordingly, it is entrusted with important tasks:
Functional significance of the hand
(a) It must lend the recto of the note the necessary creative weight against the verso.
(b) It must make clear that all individual notes are part of a series.
(c) And not least, it should also offset the now lost, eye-catching power of the portrait.
This is the functional significance of the hand. However, besides this, the hand is also invested with central, symbolic significance.
Symbolic significance of the hand
(1) The hand is invested with symbolic significance by fulfilling the following function: although the conception and design of the new banknotes were not supposed to involve the portrayal of significant personalities, they do not exclude the human being per se.
The hand now attempts to perform this role. It expresses the presence of the human being without committing itself to revealing that human being’s identity. With the portrait, it was a different matter: every portrait always belonged to a specific individual. And thus it can be said: while we were unable to avoid focusing on a given individual in a portrait, the hand, by contrast, is less individual. This is occasionally revealed by the fact that we can identify more easily with an unknown hand than with an unknown face.
In other words, the hand does not restrict the presence of a human being to a specific individual, but extends it to as many people as possible. As many human beings as possible should be present. As many human beings as possible should feel that they are being addressed.
(2) The second symbolic significance of the hand to which we would like to draw your attention is manifested by the hand itself.
The hand is very probably the most original and immediate tool that evolution has given the human being, and which has directly given the human being the ability to act.
In this sense, the hand is also the expression of human action – or in the case of a specific deed, an act. In view of this, the hands portrayed on the recto of the banknote should always also be interpreted as actions.
Examples for the hand as an expression of human action
(a) The hand on the 10-franc note delineates an expressive gesture of organisation,
(b) the hand on the 100-franc note denotes a caring, protective gesture, and
(c) the hand on the 1,000-franc note represents a gesture of communication and exchange.
These acts are not to be understood as self-contained occurrences in the past, but as immediate events in the as yet nameless present, which, for example, could also be brought about by the observer.
Time, light, wind, water, matter and language – these protagonists represent universal themes that are not restricted to Switzerland, but span the globe. Universal themes demand a universal symbol. We have embodied this dimension in a shimmering globe that features on the front of all the notes. With each denomination, the globe rotates 60 degrees. Superimposed on the globe is a thematic map displaying the global significance of each protagonist.
On the 10-franc note, for example, it is a time zone chart that places time in a global context. On the 50-franc note, the universality of the wind is illustrated by a map showing wind conditions worldwide.
On the back of each note is a depiction of a real location in Switzerland. This location, along with an illustration, is intended to show how and where in Switzerland the theme of a given denomination can be experienced.