Behind the design: The 2016 Army £2

In 1914, as Britain mobilised for war, the call went out to enlist. The response to Lord Kitchener’s call to arms was astonishing, with much of the whole country swept by patriotic fervour. Team mates, friends, neighbours and colleagues were encouraged to serve side-by-side in ‘Pals Battalions’, proudly defending their country; a recruitment tactic that, while highly successful in the short-term, would have devastating consequences for the communities from which the Pals Battalions were recruited.

In 2016 we continue our First World War centenary series  by honouring the British Army, focusing on the Pals Battalions and their fate at the Battle of the Somme, 100 years ago. The 2016 Army £2 coin was created by Tim Sharp, Creative Director at design agency Uniform, and we recently caught up with him to find out a little bit more about his design.

Hi Tim, tell us a bit about yourself…

My name is Tim Sharp, I am the Creative Director at Uniform, I am responsible for all the brand and design work that we do and we designed the Army £2 coin for The Royal Mint.

Uniform is a design and innovation company, I’m responsible for all of the brand projects that run through the studio, so that could involve strategic brand positioning carrying through to a creative response; new identity, websites, brochures, it really depends on the client so it’s a real mix. 

How did your journey with The Royal Mint begin?

We’ve been working with The Royal Mint for about two, maybe three years, it started with a typographer that I’d worked with for quite a long time (before my time at Uniform I’d worked with him at other agencies) and he has a role within The Royal Mint and recommended us as an agency.

How does coin design differ from your other work? How did you find it designing a coin, what did you have to do that was perhaps different to normal?

I think the biggest difference is the economy of the design, as you’re dealing with such a small space you have to really think about every single mark, every single piece of design that you put in to it. I also think it’s about the immediacy that you’re looking for as well, so with a lot of the work that we do, we have lots of different channels, lots of different ways that we can get the message across, potentially over a longer period of time if it’s a piece of campaign work; with a coin it has to all happen in that small space, right at that very moment – so I think that’s the biggest challenge and the most exciting part of designing a coin.

I guess working with different materials, materials that we don’t use every day brings new challenges, but also new opportunities as well. That opportunity to try different textures, different techniques within the design and actually see it come to life is something very tangible, it’s quite an exciting way of looking at it. With our in-house capabilities in terms of visualisation and being able to render the coin and really experiment with different textures, different finishes, how we really wanted the coin to look, I think that was a really enjoyable process, not just for me but for the rest of the team.

How did you feel about designing the coin to mark this significant anniversary / event?

As Uniform are based in Liverpool and we are proud to be from Liverpool it’s great that the story could be something that does touch on Liverpool and has a connection to the city; to be able to bring the story of the Pals Battalion to life added something a little extra special to it.

UK16W1BU_01_white

Did you know instantly that you wanted to include the Pals Battalion in your design?

Pals Battalion leapt out for us, partly because it’s a Liverpool story and we’re a Liverpool agency but also because it’s such a powerful story, the idea of friends going to war together, standing side by side, I think that’s very emotive and really powerful and it’s something that we felt that we could capture on a coin – that leapt out as the strongest idea that we had.

How did you go about designing this coin? Talk us through the process…

The creative process for the coin isn’t really any different to how we’d approach any other project, it starts with research. We visited the Imperial War Museum in Manchester, we also did a lot of desk research. We went to the libraries and got as many books as we possibly could, we researched art movements and also read a lot of the different stories, a lot of the untold stories of that period to really find something that we thought would be a special story to be told on a coin. So I think we narrowed it down to three, maybe four potential routes that we could go down.

From there what we look at is reference, precedence, imagery from that period to make sure that we are capturing the right mood, the right feel from a typographic perspective, from an image perspective and from that we look at how that’s going to translate into a very simple graphic. So for this particular coin there was a focus on vorticism and vorticist artists because it was very popular at that period so we took that approach to design our coin.

Study for 'Returning to the Trenches'
Study for ‘Returning to the Trenches’ 1914-1915, Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson (1889-1946) © Tate, London 2016

Talk us through the different elements of the coin

In terms of the detail on the coin, I think the main focus was trying to capture that story of being in it together, so we wanted to capture that sense of friends, family, shoulder-to-shoulder, so that’s why you can see the heads and the people stood side-by-side. Stylistically we were inspired by that vorticistic approach as it’s very strong graphically, very simple graphically. So, there’s the kind of sweeping lines that appear on the coin to reflect that artistic period, that whole graphic approach and then we counterbalanced the very polished visual with a kind of texture to give it a bit of depth across the coin, and that was essentially it – it’s quite simple.

Did you use anything in particular for your inspiration?

I think that particular style just came out of the research, that stylistic approach, it’s probably not a style that I personally like as it happens, but I think that it is the right style for the coin and I think it is the right style for the time; very simple, very graphic, very gestural – it lends itself beautifully to a coin.

What was the most challenging aspect of the design?/ Tell us something we don’t already know about the design?

I think in terms of getting to a finished coin that we were happy with; it was more about the refinement of the faces, so getting those profiles right and getting the repeat to really work for that sense of depth on the coin. A lot of time was spent crafting how those forms worked together, the spacing between them and making sure that it did have a sense of depth when you look at it. Then and exploring where we wanted to put texture, making it feel more polished – so that refinement process was probably where we spent most of our time.

Army £2

 

How did you want your design to be received, what did you want it to communicate? And so far, has it been received as well as you’d hoped?

I think the design has been well received, there’s been lots of great feedback from the agency’s perspective, it’s something we show our clients and you get that immediate wow factor from showing it – you don’t always get that with other pieces of design work that you produce but I guess because it’s something that we all understand, a coin is something every person understands, we all have them, it’s a much more emotive reaction that you get from handing that over, or showing that as part of your work.

Would you like to design another coin? If so, if you could put anything on it, what would your design be?

If I could design a coin, I think I’d like to do a pound coin, just because again the challenge of the size that you’ve got to work with – there’s not much real estate there so whatever you do, it’s got to be really simple and it’s got to work really hard –so that would be great to do that.

What has been the reaction to this whole experience from your friends and family? Were they interested to know that this is how a new coin design comes about?

I think the idea that so many people are going to see the coin makes it really special, a lot of the work that I do isn’t seen by the wider public, it’s for our clients and does a great job for our clients but nobody else necessarily sees it. For me in terms of family and friends being able to understand what I do almost, what a designer does and in this instance it happens to be a coin just makes it really special and really brings it to life.

Is the U in the design for Uniform – is that intentional, was this a collaborative effort?

We understand that the designers initials goes on to the coin, but this coin and other coins that we have worked on for The Royal Mint is a team effort so it wouldn’t be appropriate to put any one individuals initials on there so we put the U for Uniform.

Why is so important for a coin like this to exist?

I think it’s really important that we capture these historic moments in time and that there’s a sense of permanence to them by putting them on to a coin, it captures that moment and it makes it real for people of all different ages – they can really quickly see and understand what happened.

In terms of what it means for Uniform I think that it’s a real privilege to work on projects like this, they feel like something that will probably live beyond the agency which is really nice, and I think because of that we worked really hard to treat them very sensitively from a design perspective and invested a lot of time and care into producing something that will stand the test of time. 


The Army £2 is the third coin in our First World War Centenary Series, this follows the 2014 Outbreak £2 coin and the 2015 Royal Navy £2. The 2016 Army £2 coin is available in Gold Proof, Silver Proof Piedfort, Silver Proof and Brilliant Uncirculated – there will also be the chance to find this in your pocket as circulating versions will be released later this year! Let us know if you find it on your #CoinHunt on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.