“It’s almost like a country that has no flag”: Designers propose the first glyph for the Icelandic króna
With a recent open call, the Icelandic Graphic Design Association and Central Bank of Iceland try to solve a taxing design challenge: inventing a country’s first monetary symbol.
- Liz Gorny
- 24 May 2022
Printed across every keyboard and piece of money, jotted down millions of times a day by hand; it’s hard to think of symbols as ubiquitous as currency glyphs (i.e. the pound sign, euro sign, yen sign). As if that wasn’t enough pressure, designing one from scratch comes with endless considerations to take into account. “You’re almost not designing a single glyph but more a concept that multiple designers can adapt into their fonts,” Anton Jónas Illugason, Icelandic Graphic Design Association (FÍT) designer, explains. This is the challenge more than 70 designers have recently faced in a new open call set by FÍT and supported by the Central Bank of Iceland. The brief was to come up with proposals for the first dedicated mark for the Icelandic króna, a currency which, until now, has remained glyph-less.
So why does the króna not have its own glyph? Anton explains that the lack of a glyph comes from the country’s history, just like the origins of most countries’ monetary glyphs. “The British pound evolved from the letter L standing for libra — a Roman pound of silver,” Anton offers as an example. “The Icelandic króna shares the same history as the other nordic kronas (Danish, Swedish and Norwegian). They don’t have their designated glyph and are all abbreviated kr in their own countries.”
While the open call does not guarantee the winning design will be adopted by Iceland as its official króna glyph – a lengthy process involving approval by the central bank, parliament and application to Unicode (the standards database for glyphs and emojis) – Anton states that having the support of Central Bank of Iceland on the open call gives the proposal more weight. To give you an idea of the challenge involved, the newest currency glyphs additions to the Unicode database were the Bitcoin and Kyrgyzstani Som in 2017.
As for what a designer has to bear in mind when designing a currency glyph, it’s a long list. But legibility is high on the factors to consider. Despite an increasingly digital monetary landscape, “the handwriting test is a great determinator for the success of a glyph like this,” says Anton. “But," the designer adds, “the currency glyph also has to be unique. It can’t be mistaken for another currency.” Finally, scalability is crucial. In fact, one of the problems the design competition sets out to solve is that the Icelandic Króna is abbreviated with ISK or KR in Iceland, taking up a lot of space on mobile devices, unlike a single glyph alternative. From adaptations to different styles like serif and monospace, submissions to the open call had to contend with all these problems and more.
From the 70 submissions to the FÍT open call, prizes were awarded to the three most outstanding proposals; the jury was composed of representatives from FÍT, VAH, Central Bank of Iceland and Gagarín. In a turn up for the books, and perhaps testament to the design’s relevance, first place was awarded to four separate designers who all shared exactly the same submission idea. Sigurður Oddsson, Elísabet Rún, Sunneva Snorradóttir and Viktor Weisshappel all submitted designs based on Nordic runic script. Among other reasons, the jury opted for the winning proposal (featured above) for its connection to the history of Iceland; it combines the old Norse rune ‘Fé’ (ᚠ), which means profit, prosperity, money, and power with an uppercase K, referencing Króna. The proposed glyph can also adapt to the same spacing rules and kerning of an uppercase K.
In second place, Úlfur Kolka drew reference from currencies such as the dollar, the euro, the pound sterling and the yen, which feature one or two lines passing through the symbol. However, for clarity, Úlfur removed the part of the character that lands between the two lines. Meanwhile, Jón Ari Helgason turned an ‘I’ and ‘K’ on their side to mimic a crown; utilising existing characters meant adaptability across type and handwritten applications.
While the competition aimed simply to start a conversation, Anton states that FÍT will certainly be pushing to get a glyph for the Icelandic króna into circulation. Since the open call, the association has already received attention from the public and parliament members about the proposal. The designer adds: “The winning proposal is really valid as a currency glyph, so we at FÍT might ask the question, why not start the process of adopting it? It’s almost like a country that has no flag. Why would you not consider going through the process of designing one?”
GalleryFÍT: FÍT, Glyph for the Icelandic króna (Copyright © FÍT, 2022)
Sigurður Oddsson / Elísabet Rún / Sunneva Snorradóttir / Viktor Weisshappel: FÍT, Glyph for the Icelandic króna (Copyright © FÍT, 2022)
About the Author
Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. After graduating in Film from The University of Bristol, they worked freelance, writing for independent publications such as Little White Lies, INDIE magazine and design studio Evermade.