The Currency Concept that Empowers A Sustainable Future

Project Brief

Individual Project Sponsored by K&B Banknote Solution

01.2022 - 04.2022

User Research
User Experience
Creative Concept
Product Design
User Interface

After Effects
Physical Prototype

Koenig & Bauer Banknote Solutions is involved in 90% of banknote production solutions across the globe.

In the spring of 2022, they sponsored a class that challenges ArtCenter students to imagine the future of print currency in 10 to 15 years with their new eco-friendly transparent substrate.

Why Banknote Matters?

Even during the Pandemic, the value of cash in circulation has risen sharply, as it provides unparalleled protection for individual independence and freedom.

Close to one-third of adults – 1.7 billion – were still unbanked in the world.

— The World Bank, 2017

My Role

We were challenged to design a print currency using existing printing technologies and define the role of the banknote in the increasingly digital future.

Since there was no constraints on designing for any specific region, I wanted to explore the potential of currency as a social medium and pose the question:

What if cash could be used to raise awareness about sustainability issues and inspire people to create a better world?


LIGHT is the new specimen note that conveys to society its eco-friendly nature through the physical banknote to its digital wallet app, representing the hope for a bright future for humans. It involves people offsetting their carbon footprint with Central Bank Digital Currency(CBDC).

The solution combines the physical and the digital

As more countries introduce Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC), it's important to have banknotes that can be used for daily transactions both online and offline.

The LIGHT specimen note offers a digital wallet app that works with physical money, enabling full money circulation support.


How might we make money more accessible for the 1.1 billion people worldwide who have vision loss?

01  Accessible

How might we use money to unite people and promote a sustainable future in a society that is becoming more isolated with digitalization?

02  Empowering

How might we make using physical banknotes more enjoyable as fewer people carry cash?

03  Engaging

01 Accessible

Enter Circulation:
How to Authenticate

Digital Authentication

Usability test

I conducted a usability test to check if the authentication feature is accessible. The test involved a first-time user who used an audio-only prototype.

The user was able to complete the authentication process successfully with the LIGHT banknote prototype.

LIGHT digital wallet app allows you to authenticate your physical banknote with tactile and audio feedback.

Physical Authentication

Each banknote has a unique audio pattern of a specific animal, which makes it identifiable and difficult to counterfeit.

LIGHT Security Features

100 Dollar Currency Security Features Example

02 Empowering

Start Circulation:
How to make transactions

Physical Transaction

Design Process For Physical Banknote

The thumb zone for cash users

The banknote can only be rectangular due to current printing technology limitations. To conserve materials, I kept the banknote as small as a Federal Reserve Banknote.

To create an accessible physical banknote for the visually impaired, the natural thumb zones need to be identified on a banknote of this size and shape.


 I observed customers from a cashier’s perspective at a convenience store in China to capture their gestures. I noticed that people tend to touch the middle and ends of the banknote. However, this observation may be biased due to existing visual cues on the banknote itself.

On-site workshop

To remove any bias in the results from the observation, I conducted reachability usability tests. I asked people to use transparent sheets, cut into the size of a banknote, as cash, with invisible UV ink-tinted gloves for the following scenarios:

1. putting cash into their wallets or pockets
2. using cash for payment

31 user tests was conducted with people age from 18 to 29.

16 samples of people who don't fold their cash

15 samples of people who fold their cash

Samples under UV light

The "natural zone" of the banknote is in the middle, highlighted in green, where people usually hold the banknote. The "stretching zone" is marked in yellow and is located above and below the natural zone, which is less likely to be touched. The "hard zone" is on the top and bottom edges, marked in red, which is least likely to be reached.

Most participants tend to hold the banknote vertically, and some like to fold their cash.

The tactile braille numbers indicating the face value are located along the center at the top and bottom edges in the stretching zone where they are both easy to reach with the thumb and also avoid the folding zone. The distinguishable tactile pattern for each different face value is located at the bottom.

Design Application



Design iteration and prototypes

LIGHT is the hope you can hold.

As people exchange banknotes, it becomes the medium for sustainable storytelling for society.

Habitat Environment Indicator
Sunflowers are the logo of this new banknote material because they follow light
Humpback Whale
Endangered animal that was saved from extinction
Digital Transaction

Design Iterations

Usability tests and interviews

I refined the app through multiple rounds of usability testing and user interviews, incorporating feedback to make iterative improvements, mainly by:

1) Making information clearer
2) Encouraging user to take actions
3) Creating a reward system

Key Revision


Confusing Layout:
The information on the carbon footprint of their daily activities, as well as the comparison between their personal carbon footprint, the local average, and the global average, was found to be confusing by users.


➊ Improve the text hierarchy to make the information more organized and easier to understand.

➋ Add a button for customization inputs for cash transactions.

➌ Add relevant text labels and numbers to the pie chart to increase its clarity.

➍ Show the user's profile photo to compare their carbon footprint against local and global averages, and visually represent the comparison with color-coded scales to motivate users to take action to offset their carbon footprint.


Unclear action:
Some users are unsure about the distinction between challenges and projects, and they do not understand how offsetting carbon footprint relates to donating to projects.


➊  In order to distinguish between actions and projects, first-time only instructions with more distinct and clear names are displayed.

➋ Providing an offset pricing rate and using the verb “Donate" instead of “Join” can help users understand the purpose and goal of taking the next action.


Lack of motivation:
Users may lack motivation to complete offsets and they don't feel rewarded after completing the offset.


➊ Providing detailed information about the impact of offsetting actions, so they can see the positive effects they're having on the environment.

➋ Gamification: rewarding user with collectible items every time they complete an offset action.


Lack of feedback:
Users feel a lack of feedback and progress after making a donation to a project.


Adding animation to the interface to visualize user's progress after making their offset.

LIGHT is empowering.

You are not only using plant-based banknotes, but also tracking and offsetting your carbon footprint with CBDC.

LIGHT digital wallet app supports central bank digital currency(CBDC) and allows users to track and offset their carbon footprint.

03 Engaging

During Circulation:
Store and carry the banknote

End of Circulation:
Damaged banknote

The ordinary act of folding the banknote to put in your pocket, can be extraordinary.

The distinctive gradient color of LIGHT banknotes ensures that they remain identifiable even with minor damages from usage.

LIGHT is accessible, empowering, and engaging.
It inspires a sustainable future for society.

Closure ✨

The final presentation of LIGHT received an overwhelmingly positive response from the sponsor team. I had a lot of fun learning and designing a complete product from scratch, which includes both physical and digital components. This project was truly one of my favorites during my time at ArtCenter.

Thanks to:
Instructors: Todd and Monica
Sponsor: Koenig & Bauer Banknote solution
ArtCenter sponsorship team

I am grateful to my mentor, professors, peers, friends, and family who provided support throughout the design process.

Thank you for viewing :]
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© 2023 Ruiying Xu