Age has, alas, withered me a little, and my 8-year old daughter’s eyesight vastly outshines mine. The other day, she pointed out a tiny detail below the Queen’s head on a pound coin: there, writ very small indeed, are two letters, ‘JC’. It turns out that these are the initials of artist Jody Clark, whose bas-relief portrait of the Queen has featured on the obverse of all British coins since 2015. As such, this piece of design has been reproduced well over five billion times, and has passed through all of our hands on countless occasions.
I will concede that, not only had I not noticed it, but I had failed to spot similar initials on previous generations of coins: one can find ‘IRB’ on coins from 1998 to 2014, where the portrait is the work of Ian Rank-Broadley; in turn, almost subliminally on the base of the Queen’s neck, one can find the more ornately-written and discreetly-concealed initials RDM on Raphael Maklouf’s prior design. They have been there since 1985, which means I have allowed three and a half unobservant decades to pass without clocking them whatsoever.
Whilst the age of digital money is undoubtedly upon us, these pictures are about as ubiquitous as pieces of art get. Such is their commonality that we could be forgiven for not acknowledging them at all. This is in spite of the fact that almost everything around us has been designed, either by individuals or committee. Great design is, perhaps, more often unnoticed than it is admired: we tend to notice when things don’t work more than when they do, complaining in bafflement as our word-processed document reformats itself unexpectedly, or when we are unable to book a much-needed medical test. We marvel at classic, clear-sighted designs – Harry Beck’s widely-emulated London Underground map, for example, which famously favoured topology over exact geography, or the Post-it or the ballpoint pen – but, all too often, fail to spot the everyday triumphs that surround us.
My daughter’s sharp eyes have reminded me to pay more attention to the world around me, and to appreciate the endeavours, both subtle and grand, that enable us to live the lives that we do. It is a key habit that I hope all of our students at AKS will continue to foster and develop. These may manifest in literature or in our lunch; on the screen or on the street. In turn, I believe it is essential that they are always mindful of the difference they might make to the world: whether seen five billion times or just the once, those differences add up to the collective achievements and impact of humanity and, taken together, make up the change to which we all aspire.
D A Harrow