- LISTEN TO THIS EPISODE:
- Apple Podcasts
- Tom Badley’s website, buy the Art & Money book
- Blockchain wikipedia article, OECD Blockchain Primer (PDF)
- Offline Cash
Tom Badley: [00:00:00] My name is Tom. I’m a artist and graphic designer, and now published author, and, I’m talking from Central Europe.
The journey to, actually designing bank notes, was not straight. Bank notes is always something , that has interested me, when I was a kid and I already forgot about ’em when I was in, in art college. but I remember immediately graduating in 2008,
um, when the markets were crashing. My interest really peaked on, what is money? And I started asking those questions for the first time and went down a rabbit hole. It was just this natural thing. I started making banknote designs, on an amateur basis really. And they got more and more sophisticated and more and more evolved. Eventually I had a portfolio of this design that looked something like banknote Design, but wasn’t really. Sort of based on anything, technically correct, but was my amateur attempts at it. [00:01:00] And that went on for a number of years whilst I was doing also all sorts of other things. Eventually I had this portfolio that, that led me to being hired by the banknote industry.
When I came out of the industry to be an artist, I started using those techniques that I’d learned in, my work as an artist. That has turned into art on the one hand. And, design projects on the other.
The notes that you hold, I designed those as a design project. They’re artistic, but they can’t really be called art. They are a tool. They’re a product. So there’s really two aspects to, I do two hats that I wear. There’s the art side and then there’s the design side. And I’m still engaged in both.
Before you do a degree in art, this is in England anyway, before you go to art school, you usually do one year of prep, it’s called Foundation course. It’s usually one year course. And that’s just so you have this portfolio that you then take to the universities
to, to show around, and get, whatever interviews you can. And I remember there was a moment [00:02:00]where you had to specialize in either the design side or the art side.
And, all my friends were in the design side, so I was split from my, all my friends and I was stuck with the artists. I chose art because that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to go to art school. That was the direction I just assumed was
the, the way to go.
But the people in design have a kind of practical flavor to them. The artists generally don’t, that appeals to me because, all the philosophizing and stuff. But art, it never really, never really sat well with me. I always thought there was a sort of inherent fraud to it , I’m not the first to say that. Know, it’s not a very controversial thing to say. Many even artists say, that the , art , is a trick. , it’s a confidence trick. At the end of the day. Whilst design, you’re actually meant to be held to account because you are, you’re designing something that must work in the real world.
And so I admire the freedom of art. I admire the [00:03:00] untetheredness of art. But at the same time, I have expectations of myself that what I do should be able to perform in the real world. And I have that expectations of artists as well, which is why I don’t, really like much art.
The contemporary art is a minefield , of stuff which is left, , unaccountable, and so design has this great accountability to it because it must perform in the real world. And I like both of those, those worlds. I can’t resolve those two worlds. I’ve tried,
you know, tried to be an artist or a designer, but I can never really fit into either, as they have their own politics, their own ideologies. And I just, I take what I want from both and that’s how I’m, living my life, running my business.
Do I feel like an outsider? Yeah. Yeah. The world of digital art that, has taken off in, in recent years that really, didn’t make me feel like an outsider. That made me feel like I’m in the center of something [00:04:00] because I was quite early, I was 2019, I was tokenizing stuff on the blockchain. No matter what happens, , if it’s on the blockchain, it’s immutable. You know, I was there, , almost the ground floor. And that felt really special. But in terms of the grand scheme of things, , I’m not really anything to do with the art world at all.
In the world of design, I’m specialist in one specific type of design, and that is the design of money. And I never applied to do a generic design jobs that
I, I’m not taking that away from anyone who’s in graphic design, but I can’t really do any other type of designs. It just doesn’t interest me..
Tom Badley: Banknotes are, so complicated and, involving that, it just, it pulls me in and, and I I haven’t left. All other types of design to me are quite bare, quite flat. Out of the world of design, I occupy this , very small niche. it’s a, in a really important niche and it’s an amazing [00:05:00] niche, but it’s nonetheless, it’s a very small niche that not many people know about.
Banknotes they involve everything. They involve typography, linear design, pattern creation, very, quite exotic means of pattern creation that don’t exist in the commercial design space. If I ask the average designer to make me a pattern on, in Vector, in, in Illustrator, then the idea is that with Bang Notes, they’re not, they’re not meant to be copied, right?
So you need to have bespoke software that can create patterns that you couldn’t be able to create in Illustrator involving all sorts of exotic, algebra and, functions. That’s a big part of it, having, creating a design that if you photocopy it, deforms for instance. There’s all the techniques, of printing are committed to this one product. Creation of holograms, foils, hot stamping. It’s all with one purpose, and that’s so that it [00:06:00] cannot be copied. Or it dissuades anyone from attempting to copers. Obviously, where there’s a will, there’s a way, and counterfeiters will, I suppose make a best attempt that will fool people who aren’t looking very closely. So you’ve so not only does it have to be very difficult and costly to copy, but it just has to dissuade anyone from attempting to do so. There’s a level of rigor to design and, , an artistry that can’t really find anywhere else. It’s a very special, it’s a very special industry.
The offline cash notes that you held up before? I was approached to do all the artwork and really, coordinate the design of the project. I was liaising with the printer in the US that eventually, took on the printing of the bills. My role was all design. It wasn’t just to come up with something to look good. I consulted with the team. How we got to those designs was actually quite a few iterations. At the time the banknote industry was [00:07:00] making their own equivalent of that. So it, it felt like, we were competing a little bit. So they had to be very distinctive and also engaging because Bitcoin people tend not to like bank notes because bank notes are the old world and Bitcoin is the new world.
You mentioned the difference between trust and trustless. The technology of Bitcoin is trustless. It’s called trustless because it’s based on encryption, which means that you don’t have to trust an intermediary like you do with the Legacy financial system.
Bank notes are a trusted product and we trust the central bank and we trust the governments to enforce, fiat or decree that makes sure this money is worth something, right? So everything on every level of our financial system is based on trust. The idea of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency is that it’s trustless.
It’s based on encryption. There’s no intermediary, there’s no one that you have to trust. But that is the case with the [00:08:00] technology. That is not the case with humans. Human beings work on trust. A human needs 17 touchpoints of anything, to gain all the information that they need to arrive at a decision, whether or not to trust them.
We’re doing this constantly in our environment. Whether it’s other people, brands, products, everything. And we are constantly pinging our environment to see what we can trust and what we can’t. Bitcoin, another cryptocurrency. They have this stumbling block where they are trustless. It’s an amazing technology, but we need to be able to trust something. That’s how we humans work. And the thing about the banknote is that it takes the visual science, the visual design, which is a science in a way, of trust. And it perfects it because the bank note is the one thing in our world that we absolutely need to trust. If we can’t do that, then we haven’t got a financial [00:09:00] system and everything falls apart in that sense. The Banknote is really this place where this need to trust has been visually perfected. And this science that has been developed with banknote design is something that I offer to crypto because it’s the thing that crypto most needs to be trusted because we work on trust.
Tom Badley: The blockchain is, a brilliant answer to a mathematical and societal problem. But it absolutely, it can be used for bad. Absolutely. It can be used as a, the perfect surveillance tool. And it will be. You may be prevented from entering into public buildings because you don’t have certain, Social credit or whatever, you may rent a bike and the bike will just, stop working because your account balance falls below a certain level.
All this is coming for sure. And it will be on the blockchain, which means it’s, , it will be impossible to get away from. What private cryptocurrency [00:10:00] has done, regardless of the criticisms of it, is that it’s unleashed this idea that people can be their own bank and that idea wouldn’t have gained popularity were it not for the feeling that people felt, that they need to become more self-sufficient financially.
And where that self-sufficiency leads to, if you extrapolate it out a hundred years, is that there are no states, there are no, central banks. There is no central issuing authority for money as such, and that you will be taking your assets with you where you go. The idea of Bitcoin has given birth this idea that you can be mobile with your money and , you can have a very small footprint.
Things evolve into different forms. Will Bitcoin be around in a hundred years? Probably not. But it would’ve given birth to this idea of being your own [00:11:00] bank, , of being able to, , earn your money, keep your money, and take your money wherever it goes, regardless of any, external authority, none of us know what that feels like today, but we will have to know what it feels like in a hundred years, I’m sure I’m certain of it.
Tom Badley: Whenever someone makes a prediction about the world, there is an assumption that they’re talking about all people in the world. If I was a time traveler, let’s say I went to, 1950. people had an idea of what people would be doing in 2001, or, , 2023 for that matter in 1950. Everybody’s gonna be eating space food and everyone’s gonna be living in like these space houses. Everyone’s gonna be driving like hover cars. Well, in reality, some people don’t have mobile phones. In reality, some people don’t even want bank accounts in reality some [00:12:00] people are farmers and some people are, professionals and the world is a diverse place. We all choose how we want to interact with the world. So When I make prediction about, or a prophecy about, a hundred years time. I’m not talking about all the world.
In my world, Art and Money go hand in hand. , they interlink Bitcoin , and banknote design. That’s what I’ve been engaged in, in the last few years, and, offline cash is just one product that is, that has come out of that. And it’s probably one of the most successful products because I’m really proud of the design. It’s been really well received. It’s been really well received from people who wouldn’t otherwise have liked them. the young generation who don’t really, they’re not great cash users, young people. Bitcoin people in the crypto space who don’t generally like the idea of a bank note, but the fact that you’ve got a bank note that has this design and to be really specific about it. These aren’t bank notes in the typical sense. They have a chip on the back that can be [00:13:00] loaded with cryptocurrency. So each one is like a paper wallet. Each one is cold storage, that doesn’t require an intermediary. So they’re really new type of bank note. They’re more like, , gold, they’re more like a precious metal because, , it’s a bearer instrument. A bank note, traditionally it represents nothing but debt. But if you’ve got a Bitcoin banknote with a chip that has, cryptocurrency on it that you can verify, then it has a intrinsic value. It has more in, in common with commodity money really.
Tom Badley: The, offline cash notes are, meant to be colorful, engaging, fun, but also have the gravitas of something that, that represents money in Bitcoin and something that’s worth something. They’re meant to portray. , the kind of early, mystique of Bitcoin and when [00:14:00] Bitcoin first arrived, the first physical manifestations of it were in the form of coins. Anyone who’s anyone in Bitcoin will know, , the Cassius coins, which are these little gold goldish coins that, that, , had, a private key on them that you can, , you can, reveal and, hold cryptocurrency in. So these coins are iconic moments in Bitcoin design in a way.
So they’re meant to be an accompaniment to that, , but also in a way that’s engaging and not, not too challenging , and off-putting. So obviously the symbolism of everything that’s on there is , really well considered. Whenever you are presenting something on a banknote, it has to be sincere. It has to be direct, it has to be, , the friendly face of whatever , you are portraying of the currency. And, , these notes do that. They have all the touch points that you would expect. They are, Bitcoin. They have, , a friendly face that communicates gravitas, that communicates something, of [00:15:00] value. And they make references to things that, that Bitcoiners would also understand. So , there’s a lot of things going on in them, but they’re essentially, they’re meant to be a bank note avatar of Bitcoin.
The gods and goddesses on the front. They relate to the back because, , the back portrays different, means of energy production. The theme for the notes was also, alternative energy sources that could power, Bitcoin mining. So there’s hydroelectric, there’s wind, there’s solar, there’s geothermal, and they relate to the role of , the gods and goddesses on the front. So there’s a little bit of a story there. Banknotes is, all about storytelling, just like any graphic design. So there’s always a story being told, on a banknote. It’s a great example of design that is self-reflexive. You don’t really typically see it in, in graphic design, this self reflexivity in design. It tends to be something you see in nature. Nature is very fractal[00:16:00] in its composition. Banknotes have this fractal quality to them where the same motif is repeated on multiple scales. So they have this layered, fractal, essence to them, and it all is meant to affirm and underline the story.
Well, cash is meant to be used, but these aren’t, typical bankers. They are things that are meant to have an intrinsic value . At what point do bank note become art? When you deactivate a piece of design or a tool, it becomes art, right? When you take a tool out of its context and put it on a pedestal and frame it, then it becomes art. It’s something I’ve had an opportunity to think about a lot because I straddle , this line between design and art. And there is a gray area. There is definitely a gray area, but one can say for sure that when a product is deactivated, it becomes art. It has the opportunity to become art.
Art & Money
Tom Badley: And I write extensively about that in my book. And I actually go through the whole gamut of products and how we apply different hierarchy to things.
Art and Money is, it’s a weird book because so many books now are written with a specific audience in mind. A this specific person and all the content in the book is Niche Down. I haven’t done that. I’ve written something that I’ve intended to be this timeless classic, this really unique, outlier of a book that talks about art and money from the perspective of banknote design, which is a perspective that few people have from the perspective of, someone who is an artist in the cryptocurrency space, which is even more niched. And someone who has practical experience in cryptocurrency and collectibles and bank notes, and on all those things. It’s an amalgam of basically all my knowledge in one book. And that [00:18:00] makes it really peculiar and really, interesting for a few people because it’s just not a book that you would be able to find very easily.
It’s just there’s knowledge in there that comes from a place that not many people have been to, which is, , designing money for central banks and other documents. And it’s banknote design, which is allowed me to reflect on the worlds of product design, cryptocurrency, art, and the banknote is really the lens that I look
at at all these different things. It’s given me insights into what these things are, and more importantly, the future of them. And where we’re going with our product design. And these are big questions because the world is in flux right now, like never before. The world is absolutely in chaos, and I acknowledge that in many places my book. The underlying theme of this book is, uh, the theme [00:19:00] of human evolution because the conclusion that I come to, in everything that I do is that art bank notes everything. Technology reflects evolution, which is taking place in ourselves. And if the world is in chaos, then it points to, an accelerated evolution that is taking place in humanity.
And this is the historical context of the book. And this is what I write about, what I’m fascinated by in the book. This is what motivates me to ask, questions of art and money.
So it’s not a simple one, it’s not a simple read.
I think anyone who has an interest in current events and where we’re going in the world, which is, I know that’s a wide net to cast. There are a lot of people worrying about, where we’re going as a species. I see my role as someone who offers reassurance. [00:20:00] Reassurance comes in, in the form, of noting where we are and being very pragmatic about where we are in terms of our money, society, cryptocurrency, and not shying away from anything, just being very honest with ourselves, about what we want.
A lot of people are grasping for, something that is stable right now. And instinctively we are looking to our past to grab something of value. And the real takeaway from today from this age is that the old world is, And it won’t come back and we have to rebuild from scratch. The sooner we face that task, then we’re going to minimize the level of personal chaos we’ll experience. That sounds really far . But in a small way, I hope this book offers some reassurance in the form of being very pragmatic about art and [00:21:00] money and design and the world that we live.
the banknote is something that is very rigorous, that is very technical, that is brilliantly artistic and at the same time, completely contemporary. We are using cash now, , the bank note is there as a symbol of what we desire in something that we want to be trusted. The reason why a bank note doesn’t look like a building that has a stupid shape or a lazy piece of conceptual art or a bad, , commercial or billboard design. The reason why it doesn’t resemble these things is because the bank note is a mirror of the brilliance we aspire to in something that we need to be trusted.
So it’s something that I’m hanging on as evidence that we have this brilliance to us, us we have this expectation to exceptionalism [00:22:00] that hasn’t gone away and we are a brilliant species. But the problem is , in modern times, there has been an agenda that has nixed out exceptionalism and replaced it with mediocrity. And that is, for one reason or another, driving our cultures, in the ground. The point , is that we are not in a new age yet. We are aware that something new could be, but we’re not in the new age yet. It is coming. But the point is that when you have a culture which is dedicated to mediocrity, there’s nowhere it can go but down.
Everything must be destroyed before we start over. Now that’s, I know what I’ve just said, and I know how crazy it sounds. But, , I really caution people or ask them or challenge them to say, look [00:23:00] around and ask me, what is actually sustainable?
Looking around saying, look, all we’ve got is like ugliness and mediocrity and things that aren’t sustainable. But there, there isn’t yet the will to rebuild. There isn’t yet the will to te to tear everything down and rebuild. So nature will help us. Dinosaurs knew all about that.
Nature will give us a helping hand in this. Necessity is the mother of invention. When there is the necessity, we will begin to take pride in our work again. We will begin to care again. A lot of western societies at least are built on this, just this absence of caring, this total wastage, this sort of, I dunno what to call it. This sort of infantile lack of caring, in the food industry, there’s so much waste. In the healthcare system, there’s so much unnecessary surgery, in the education system, there are, tired teachers and students that just don’t wanna be there. You know, it’s all this waste and waste of potential.
there isn’t yet the [00:24:00] necessity to change. So it all must be destroyed before we can actually begin to take care in our work. It’s just a different world that will exist in say, a hundred years time, but it cannot come without little bit of, chaos
My name is Tom. I’m an artist and designer. , I’m on Twitter as currency design, and you can find my work at tombadley.net. I recently wrote a book called Art Money which compiles my knowledge from the worlds of art, cryptocurrency, design, and banknote design, , in one book. And that will be released very shortly.