The fourth coin in our Innovation in Science series was designed by Nigel Tudman and Jas Bhamra. We caught up with one half of the duo – Nigel Tudman – to find out more about the inspiration behind their design celebrating the life and legacy of Charles Babbage.
Could you tell us a bit more about your background and career to date?
“I am a London-based graphic designer. I grew up in Norfolk and studied at Great Yarmouth, at one of the last remaining provincial Colleges of Art and Design, where creativity and practical application were encouraged.
“In my first design job in 1986, I had the opportunity to work on the 1,100 years of The Royal Mint exhibition with Jas Bhamra, who is now a colleague at Tuch Design. Since then, Jas and I have designed publications, exhibitions and packaging for The Royal Mint and The Royal Mint Museum, as well as submitting designs for coinage.
“Our work with Tuch Design encompasses a wide range of projects, from design for museums and exhibitions to branding, print and websites for clients in a variety of sectors.
“I began my career before the computer became ubiquitous, and design was done by hand. I think this has led to my appreciation of each new technology as another tool. I usually pick up a pencil before I turn to the mouse.”
What other coins have you designed?
“Jas and I have been involved in other design competitions, including the Kew Gardens 50p, Red Cross £2 and […] Britannia. We’ve reached the shortlist before but the Babbage 50p is our first successful submission. I’m really looking forward to holding the final product in my hand.”
How does this coin differ from the others you have designed?
“The 50p has to be my favourite coin – the shape is classic, and reading about the engineering behind its development in the 1960s has helped me to appreciate it even more. The Babbage coin brief has been my favourite so far as it involved expressing the development of an idea, allowing for an abstract, symbolic design.”
What was your inspiration for this coin?
“Typographic simplicity in low relief; taking a complex subject and stripping it back to the essentials to create an attractive design that also contains a subtle message or brain teaser.”
How did you go about designing this coin? What did you do to research it?
“As usual I started with research – back to the computer. Where would we be without Babbage? Probably in a library! I was aware of Babbage and his work – I remembered seeing his Difference Engines displayed at the Science Museum – so I hopped on a bus to South Kensington to study them. They are impressive pieces of Victorian engineering but also rather impractical to use, and there is something rather ‘steampunk’ about them. I think Babbage’s ideas were more important than his machines and they went on to inspire other key figures in the history of computing such as Ada Lovelace and Alan Turing.
“Recalling my introduction to the concept of computing – lessons at primary school that involved pushing knitting needles through cardboard cereal boxes to make simple punch cards – my aim was to represent Babbage’s complex mechanical technology in a way which was easy to grasp and also suggested its modern digital progeny.
“On a drive to Cornwall for a family holiday I started to think of ways in which some form of code or computation could be incorporated into the design, and realised that the ‘a’, ‘b’, ‘g’ and ‘e’ in Babbage might be represented by single numerals – something easy to decode – which could be incorporated into a typographic design.”
Talk us through the different elements of the coin.
“I wanted to keep the design of the coin as simple and clean as possible. The starting point was the name ‘Babbage’, which in lowercase lent itself to simple typography, extending the ascenders and descenders on the letters ‘b’ and ‘g’ and using a geometric modernist typeface started to suggest the levers and cogs seen in the Difference Engines. I wanted to avoid a Victorian feel and make the design timeless.
“Helpfully, his first name ‘Charles’ also has seven characters, so the design started to solve itself. The trick was to avoid adding any unnecessary elements, just horizontal and vertical bars to suggest the mechanical nature of the Difference Engines and the arrangement of type and numbers to suggest movement and flow of the calculations in motion; all these elements could work well in low relief on the surface of a coin. The numbers reference those on the cogs of the Difference Engines, in addition to encoding Babbage’s name.”