Gene Lu's Portfolio

Alphabills Y’all

As a part of Jason Santa Maria’s Designing Communication class at SVA’s MFA in Interaction Design program, we were to design local currency for neighborhoods in Manhattan.

Project Description
Create local currency for neighborhood in Manhattan. Research societal and political concerns for currency. What similar issues will you face for designing a local currency for just one neighborhood? Is something traditional called for, or something more modern? What’s important about your neighborhood? What’s important to its residents? How does color work as a system and affect the psychology of actually using money? Should it even be paper or coins? How could you convince a local community to use it instead of US Dollars? How does the form factor of the money affect usability?

Neighborhood Overview
According to Wikipedia, Alphabet City “is bordered by Houston Street to the south and by 14th Street to the north, along the traditional northern border of the East Village and south of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village.” The four main arteries that branch through the neighborhood are avenues A (to the west), B, C, and D (to the east).

Alphabet City has always been know for it’s struggling artists and working class. Despite the neighborhood’s recent gentrification, most believe that this image will never be erased. This is due to the fact that there “are simply too many rent-regulated apartments scattered throughout the area to permit mass displacements or demolitions. In addition, a number of moderate-income and low-income buildings have been put up recently, are under construction or are in the planning stages.” (New York Times)

Concept
During my brief neighborhood visit, I discovered many buildings covered in graffiti that were either commissioned or were a result of vandalism. For me, these public artworks were characteristics that represented the neighborhood’s “look and feel” (I hate this phrase) and hence decided to focus the design of the currency on it’s graffiti subculture.

Losaida - a Spanglish adaption for 'Lower East Side'

Losaida - a Spanglish adaption for 'Lower East Side'

Sculptures and other forms of artwork found throughout the neighborhood

Sculptures and other forms of artwork found throughout the neighborhood

Commissioned Artwork on a building - inspiration for colors

Commissioned Artwork on a building - inspiration for colors

Function Sketches

Function Sketches

Form Sketches

Form Sketches

Five denominations were required by the project brief. Each denomination is mapped to an avenue, e.g. one dollar to Avenue A and twenty dollars to Avenue D. A 5th denomination, the 40oz Pass, was included as a tribute to many of the first graffiti writers, b-boys, rappers, and DJs during the 1980s.

When placed side by side, the bills form Alphabet City’s low profile skyline. This skyline consists of all the letters in the alphabet minus A, B, C, and D.

Alphabills Currency (front)

Alphabills Currency (front)

Inspiration for Alphabet City's skyline

Inspiration for Alphabet City's skyline

Alphabills Currency (back)

Alphabills Currency (back)

In order to promote local artists, each bill is commissioned to a graffiti artist. Their tags (names) can be found on the back side of the bills. The bills also have a limited run so that other artists are able to contribute.

1 Dollar - Ave A (front)

1 Dollar - Ave A (front)

1 Dollar - Ave A (back)

1 Dollar - Ave A (back)

Type Inspiration - Rockwell

Type Inspiration - Rockwell

40oz Pass (front)

40oz Pass (front)

40oz Pass (back)

40oz Pass (back)

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  • 26 Nov 2009

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