Local Currency


The technological environment in which we reside suggests that printed materials like paper money, bound books, and hand-written letters may soon fall completely by the wayside, to be replaced by online banking, tablet reading, and text-messaging. A more optimistic view may be that formerly practical printed material can now be reserved for specialized uses, motivating specific actions which may benefit our culture and society to counteract some of the drawbacks of digitization. Can the advent of digital culture enable us to reinvent a new roles for print culture? As graphic designers and students of digital culture and media, we will ask this question in the context of printed money, beginning by considering this reading: Do You Have Change for a Bowie? The Advent of Artisanal Cash and watching What’s Minted in Berkshire County Stays There: Finding Reward in Local Currency.

You are challenged to consider a new design for a local currency unique to Pullman, WA that will motivate local spending. You will conduct original field work to identify local businesses, products, and services, drawing on your visual notes to develop appropriate iconography for different values of local currency. Over the course of this multi-step project you will design a double-sided bill for print that features one local business, and you will digitally document your design process for presentation purposes. We will walk through this process together as a class, breaking down each step in the process week by week. You will be expected to collect materials, generate designs, do readings, and follow tutorials according to the steps listed below. Check back each week for the latest steps to complete.

This is a major project that will carry us halfway through the month of October. Part of the process will be collected and evaluated before October 13th for midterm grading. Please keep up with weekly deadlines! I reserve the right to check your work unannounced at any point during this project.

Learning Objectives

  • Intermediate to Advanced Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, and Bridge skills: Image resolution, Photo editing, Linked versus embedded images, Pen tool, Shape Builder, Pathfinder, Blob Brush, Clipping masks, Compound paths, Pattern Maker, Image Trace, Creating a digital project campaign, File organization
  • Visual analysis of and creative skills for design of paper currency, including Icon and Pattern development, Illustration development, Typography, Color theory, and paper and ink choices.
  • Large format printing and craft strategies for print production
  • Engage in and document an advanced creative workflow
  • Conduct original field work and/or research for visual design purposes
  • Professional presentation skills
  • Ability to work respectfully and advantageously with a partner

Step 1. Field Work: Identify & Document Local Business. Due Thursday, 9/24

READ: Do You Have Change for a Bowie? The Advent of Artisanal Cash

WATCH: What’s Minted in Berkshire County Stays There: Finding Reward in Local Currency

Working with a partner, identify a small business in Pullman, WA that provides locally-produced goods or services. Make an initial visit to the business to introduce yourselves and explain the project. Ask permission to return to the business to observe what goes on there and to take photos and notes. If permission is granted, return for one or more extended observation sessions. Ask questions of the people who work there so you gain a better understanding of the business. Based on the iconography and illustrations you have seen on the currencies shared in class and on the blog, collect visual information in the form of photos, sketches, and written notes. Ask yourself: What aspects of this business have strong visual potential and may be developed as icons, patterns, or illustrations on your printed currency?

You will edit and organize your documentation to hand in to your instructor. Save jpegs in a folder named “yourlastname-yourpartnerslastname” and copy to the class dropbox folder. Also hand in the printed response sheet. (If hand-drawn sketches are also part of your process, you may hand them in on paper or digitally.)

Suggestions for Finding Businesses

  • Vendors at the Pullman Farmer’s Market might be open to letting you visit their farm or place of production (Market is Wednesday from 3:30-6:00pm in the parking lot by the Spot Shop downtown, 240 NE Kamiaken St.)
  • Businesses that provide services, such as a hair salon or car repair shop, are by nature appropriate for this project, as long as they are locally-owned. Or what about someone like a seamstress or a carpenter who might have a home business or do house calls?
  • Restaurants that use local products, breweries that make their own beer, bakeries, etc. These places may be able to turn you on to other local vendors that do not have obvious storefronts.
  • Local banks or credit unions may also have suggestions for other important local businesses that do not have an obvious presence on a place like Main Street
  • Ask around! Do you know someone who has lived here a long time? Ask for their suggestions!

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Step 2. Iconography, Illustration & Pattern Development. Due 10/8


  1. Shape Builder
  2. Pathfinder (also: Shape Builder and Pathfinder)
  3. Compound Paths and Clipping Masks
  4. Blob Brush
  5. Pattern Maker (good instructions, not-so-lovely pattern…)
  6. Image Trace for photos (all four pages), or Image Trace for artwork.

OPTIONAL TUTORIALS: (Pen tool tutorial is highly recommended if you are not yet comfortable drawing with and editing anchor points and paths in Illustrator)

  1. Pen Tool Tutorial – Part 1
  2. Pen Tool Tutorial – Part 2
  3. Photoshop Filters for Illustration

In this phase of the project you will use images, sketches, and notes from your field work to develop iconography, patterns, illustrations, and color schemes you may wish to use on your currency design. You will also document your process by building an Illustrator campaign to showcase important steps in your work. This phase of the project will be graded in time for midterms.

Complete the Illustrator tutorials above and use them to develop:

  1. Icons: An icon is a visual sign that shares a structural similarity with the object it signifies (see Deconstructing Logo Design and Design Elements: A Graphic Style Manual)
  2. Patterns (see Chapter on Pattern from Graphic Design: The New Basics, available as ebook from WSU Library)
  3. Illustrations: Image mode is just as important as what the image depicts (see more from Design Elements)
  4. Color Schemes (see Chapter on Color from Graphic Design: The New Basics available as ebook from WSU Library)

that have meaningful references to your small business and that can be used in flexible ways on your final bill design. For example, perhaps you will develop several icons as vector graphics using the Pen tool, the Shape Builder, the Pathfinder, and the Blob Brush —based on objects you photographed in your field work. Then you might use these to create a pattern using the Pattern Maker which can be used in different ways on either side of your bill to suggest continuity. Perhaps the pattern speaks to the regularity or irregularity of an action or concept you observe in your field work.

You don’t need to know exactly how you will use the imagery you develop yet: You want to explore several possibilities for icons, patterns, illustrations, and color schemes to give yourself a variety of options to work with. This is an opportunity to learn Illustrator tools as well, so allow yourself to experiment.

Come to class Tuesday, 9/29 prepared to show the class how you used what you learned from some of the tutorials to develop your own icon, a pattern, or an illustration. We will also discuss how to present your designs as a campaign in Illustrator on Thursday, 10/1.


You will turn your work for Step 2 into the class Dropbox folder on Thursday, 10/8. To do this, organize and curate your designs in a campaign in a new Illustrator file: On a series of artboards, showcase and describe each icon, pattern, illustration, and color scheme you have developed. Include some descriptive text as well as examples from your field work to show where you started from and what Illustrator tools you used. Think of this document as something you might show a client or another designer to convince them to use the imagery you have developed (a campaign for your design work!). You don’t want to show everything (the potential messiness of your individual files), but you do want to show another designer that your files are well-made and well-organized (easy to adapt and edit). Save your campaign file as BOTH “yourlastname-currency.ai” AND as “yourlastname-currency.pdf”. For the PDF, make sure the “preserve editing capabilities” option is unchecked when you save so the PDF is a manageable size.


I will open the PDF to grade the aesthetic aspects of the campaign:

  • Ambition level, creativity, thoughtfulness and quality of icons, patterns, illustrations, and color schemes, as well as continuity among your designs
  • Clear organization and documentation of your field work sources and the Illustrator tools you used
  • Brief background information about your local business

I will open the Illustrator file to grade the technical aspects of your work:

  • Objects are well-organized on layers and artboards so file can be navigated by another designer
  • Design demonstrates coherent use of assigned Illustrator tools, as well as independent learning initiative
  • Linked images are included (or images are embedded if this does not make the file too large)
  • Traced images are expanded for this file so they aren’t giant/clunky to work with
  • Files are named according to requested conventions

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Step 3. Layout Design and Custom Printing and Cutting. Final portfolio due Tuesday, October 27th (note: Final file for printing due Thursday, October 22nd)

VISIT: WSU Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections

For the final phase of the project you will be assigned a bill denomination. You will combine your iconography, patterns, and illustrations with typography to create a final design for the back and front of your bill. We will make a field trip as a class to view printed currency in the WSU library special collections and we will explore custom printing and trimming to generate our final designs. Custom prints will be ordered by your instructor from VetMed printing services. Finally, you will turn in a final Illustrator campaign to showcase important steps in your design process and to give an overview of your project from start (documentation of local business) to finish (final bill design). We may have a chance to present our designs to some of the local businesses we have highlighted, inviting them to attend our final critique.

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TEST PRINTS. For Thursday, October 15, design a preliminary draft for both the front and back sides of your bill, using some of the imagery you created in Step 2. What additional visual elements are needed, if any? How do we know what your bill denomination is? What size will the bill be when printed? Set up an Illustrator file according to the guidelines discussed in class (see below) and copy the file to the class folder by the end of class on 10/15. Your instructor will get test prints made over the weekend for review next week. Guidelines include:

  1. All raster images should be embedded and type should be converted to outlines (or save the file as a package if you have the creative cloud)
  2. Group all objects for the front side of the bill design together on an artboard and put them on a layer named “front”
  3. Group all objects for the back side of the bill design together on an artboard and put them on a layer named “back”
  4. What dimensions do you want your bill to be (width x height)? Make sure both your artboards are this size.
  5. Save the AI file as “yourlastname-testprint.ai”
  6. Do not include any objects/designs other than your test print

FINAL PRINTS. Files for final prints are due Thursday, October 22nd. Test prints will be viewed in class on Tuesday, October 20th so you will have two nights to make adjustments based on the test print. Make sure you continue to experiment with drafts for your design over the weekend. You may experiment with more than one composition for the back and front designs, and doing so will likely make your final design choices much more successful. You will show your various draft ideas in your final AI campaign.

FINAL PORTFOLIO. The final portfolio for this project is due Tuesday, October 27th and will include your printed bill and an Illustrator campaign (digital and print) that showcases your design process from start to finish. Details as follows:

Printed bill design, trimmed to size, double-sided. You will adhere sides 1 and 2 and trim down in class on Tuesday, October 27th using materials provided by your instructor.

Illustrator campaign showcasing relevant steps in your design process from start to finish on a series of 8.5 x 11-inch artboards. This builds on the campaign you turned in for “Step 2. Iconography, Illustration & Pattern Development”. The file should be well-organized, easy to navigate, and should include some descriptive text about why you made the visual choices you did and what tools you used to execute your design. Save this as an AI file (convert text to outlines, embed or make sure images are included!), and as a PDF (preserve editing capabilities UNCHECKED). Save files as “yourlastname-final-campaign.ai” and “yourlastname-final-campaign.pdf”. Also, print the campaign in color, staple it, and put it in the folder with your bill.

Turn in your printed materials in a folder with your first and last name clearly printed on the front. Turn in the digital files as usual in the shared dropbox folder for our class.

Make sure your digital files and your printed campaign are ready at the beginning of class on Tuesday, October 27th. We will spend most of this class trimming our final printed bills.