Behind the design: Representation of the People Act 1918

Before and during the First World War very little of the general public had the opportunity to have their political voices heard. After decades of struggling to be heard a 100 years ago their voices were finally listened to and the 1918 Representation of the People Act was passed through Parliament with an overwhelming majority. A century later the act’s legacy lives on and democracy remains to be a crucial part of the lives of the general public of the UK. We mark this political milestone on a 50p coin designed by Royal Mint designer, Stephen Taylor. We recently caught up with Stephen to discover more about the story and inspiration behind the design of the Representation of the People Act 1918 50p coin.

Hi Stephen, tell us a bit about yourself…

My name is Stephen Taylor and I am a Senior Design at The Royal Mint. I have been working here for 7 years.

As a Dad with a young family I’m very busy and often find myself running to and from various clubs and activities. Both of my children are members of the lifeguard club and are part of different swimming clubs so we rarely have any free time. Any free time I do have I use to swim and surf as well as being a member of Rest Bay Lifeguard club. As a designer I’m often finding ways to be creative, I manage by designing for friends, sketching design work and airbrushing surfboards.

How did your journey with The Royal Mint begin?

I started off my journey by completing a foundation course in Swansea where I found out that I had a keen interest in three-dimensional aspects of design as well as graphics. This led to me completing a degree in graphics and packaging design, which I really enjoyed. I was working for an education company where I had been for 10 years designing Interactive software and posters for schools and wanted a new challenge. This led to me discovering a job vacancy at The Royal Mint – I started in 2012 and worked as a graphic designer after a couple of years I was promoted to Senior Designer and now progressed to the Concept Design Manager.

How does coin design differ from your other work?

Designing coins is not something I do regularly. My day-to-day job involves working on the packaging and campaign work for products as well as exhibition and web design work. When designing a coin we are given a brief, which is sent to the coin designers and the graphic design team, as well as external artists who all submit their designs to the RMAC (Royal Mint Advisory Committee). These submissions form part of a design competition, which is then anonymously selected by the committee – so we don’t get the opportunity every time.

So far, I have been really lucky to have a couple of successes, I’ve had a number of shortlisted designs but this is my third coin design to be selected. This is however the first time for one of my designs to feature on a 50p coin as well as it entering into circulation. This is very special to me since I first began collecting 50p coins from circulation which triggered my interest in coinage.

The first coin I designed was when Her Majesty The Queen became the Longest Reigning Monarch in British history. The coin design featured all five of The Queen’s portraits presented as a timeline throughout her reign and it gained a lot of attraction in national and international newspapers. The second design of mine to be featured on a coin was to commemorate Remembrance Day, which was also a real honour to be selected for.

How did you find it designing a coin that would enter circulation? What did you have to do that was perhaps different to normal?

I didn’t specifically design this coin to be suitable for circulation, I focused on the design to be a good representation of the theme. I did however look at the previous coin design that was produced in 2003 and looked at the way that represented the theme. This certainly influenced the way the design was considered and in term for striking in circulation.

Did you use anything in particular for your inspiration? Do you have a personal connection to this particular anniversary?

The inspiration behind the coin design came from a couple of areas. I started looking at posters from that period and was struck by the simplicity of illustration and the cleanness of typography. I also looked at photographs of the suffragettes and the typography on their placards, which was slightly crude as they were hand made as well as the various font sizes used to fit their message in. This proved to be a challenge when trying to get the design to fit on the coin.

Using these two design elements I started to look at the idea of a queue of people, something that is considered to be very British. It made me realise how this must have been a very important milestone that people from all social classes and for the first time different sexes. A special occasion where people would have queued to submit their first ever vote. I started to think about the order of individuals within the queue and although many instantly associate the act with woman gaining the right to vote men who had fought in the war and also was given the opportunity to vote, therefore I also wanted to emphasise this in the design.

At the front of the design, I placed a female character with her hand up to celebrate the achievement echoing posters from the period. This then flows through the various social classes starting with the military man in uniform. I paid particular attention to the fashion of the period and typography which I had support from Philip Baines one of the RMAC and Typographical experts.

Did you use anything in particular for your inspiration? Do you have a personal connection to this particular anniversary?

I have a young son and daughter, this triggered me to think of how I would have felt if I was in that period of time. This was a significant step in democracy and journey to the beginning of equality. It is hard not to imagine what this would have meant to those people affected.

What was the most challenging aspect of the design?

The design features five figures, each one representing the different classes brought together to cast their first vote. I wanted the figures to be noticeable but not have too much detail. There was also a need to get the clothing period correct but not to have too much detail to take away from the overall design. A coin produced in 2003 to mark the anniversary of women gaining the right to vote also played a role when designing the coin, since both anniversaries are closely related I wanted the design to have a similar feel to show the relationship.

However, the most difficult aspect was incorporating the title within the design. It was challenging to get the inscription to fit within the space. The words were moved around to form several options before the current position of the text was finally chosen,  forming a good balance between the figures and copy above.

Tell us something we don’t already know about the design…

The figures within the coin design represent pictures of my wife, children and colleagues from work.

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 wanted the design to intrigue people into finding out more about the subject and appreciating this milestone event.

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

I would love to design a £1 coin. The new £1 coin is a really interesting shape and being bi-metallic I think this would create some really interesting elements to design within.

How did you feel when you found out you were designing a circulating coin?

My fascination with coins began from collecting 50p coins that were in circulation as a child. Knowing that my design has been selected to feature on a 50p coin that will enter into circulation is exciting. This could be a coin that may get other people interested in collecting as well as to notice the various designs featured on coins that can be found in their pockets.

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?

My family were extremely excited to hear that my design was selected to feature on a 50p coin entering into circulation. It is particularly nice to know that they have been involved in the composition and that the figures are based on their profiles. It is a really proud feeling to have designed a coin to mark such an important milestone in British history as well as have a coin design that will be in circulation and collected.

The 1918 Representation of the People Act is available to buy now, in Brilliant UncirculatedSilver ProofSilver Proof Piedfort and Gold Proof – it will also be released into circulation late this year, look out for it in your #CoinHunt, if you find one, share your pictures with us on our FacebookTwitter or Instagram!

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