Coin Check

There is an architecture and design podcast that I have been listening to recently (yes, they also have full transcripts posted on their website) called 99% Invisible that I highly recommend everyone to listen to and check out.  This podcast out of San Francisco is produced by a man named Roman Mars, with the help of various NPR associates and reporters.  Roman’s background and education is in Architecture, making him a suitable host for a podcast such as this.  What I like about this podcast is that it is not explicitly architectural.  Every podcast relates back to architecture or design in general, but maybe in a less conventionally way.  The show has really pushed me to see design in literally everything around us, and has put me in a state of awe in regards to how the world is organized around us, whether that be specific works of architecture, or music, or other parts of design.  Is that not what design is about?  Organizing, making sense of, improving, and beautifying the world around us?

The podcast that I listened to this week, or rather one out of the many that I have been binge listening to, is titled Coin Check.  It discusses the use of Challenge Coins within the military.  These exist throughout all branches of the military, but are used in various ways and take on various aesthetic forms.  The producers remember a story of when they attended a conference, and ended up getting into a long in-depth conversation with a high-ranking officer.  As they parted ways, the officer handed them a coin.  This led to the birth of this story.

Apparently, these coins serve a variety of purposes.  They are used to show gratitude or affection in an environment where emotion or displays of affection are counter-cultural.  Often-times they will be received and given as a form of friendship and well-being, or as thanks for a job well done.  They are also commonly used in a drinking game.  This drinking game occurs when someone takes his challenge coin, and taps it on the bar or table, loudly calling out coin check.  Everyone who knows what is going on will then take out their coin and do the exact same thing.  The hope is that someone does not have their coin on them, and then has to buy a round of drinks for everyone involved.  If everyone does have their coin, the initiator has to pay for a round of drinks.  The rules vary from place to place and branch to branch as well.

The interesting part about these coins is, though they are prevalent throughout all branches of the military, they are not official.  There is no budget for them, no rules, no regulations, which for a culture that is used to rules and regulations, and control, this is a nice breath of freedom and identity.  There are literally hundreds of different types of coins and looks, each individualized to a specific group, branch, unit, etc.  They also vary by rank, further allowing for identity and ownership to be built into the coin.  Coins are usually designed in powerpoint, then sent off to the people who produce them, where the design submitted by the soldiers is put into more complex software, such as Adobe Photoshop, and then produced and delivered to it’s owners, to be circulated throughout more ranks, branches, and units.

Mars, R. (2015, March 10). Coin Check. Retrieved March 24, 2015, from http://99percentinvisible.org/episode/coin-check/

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4 thoughts on “Coin Check

  1. I’m so glad that you found this podcast Maddie! My dad showed it to me a year or two ago. It is very interesting with such a wide variety of topics. NPR is a great source of inspiration.

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  2. Maddie, you could not have said it any better, design is everywhere, even places we may not think of. This coin culture that has been cultivated within the military is very unique and I think it is awesome that it gives members a chance to be creative and design their own coins. These little opportunities to design in the lives of people who aren’t in design school always bring a smile to my face, especially seeing the joy it brings… if only they knew how much more there is to design, am I right?

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  3. Great reflection! Almost all of the NPR podcasts are very thought provoking and it is always nice to listen to someone take a look at something and bring it back home to design/architecture. I have really enjoyed hearing you and many of your peers discuss how design is all around us and influenced by internal and external factors. I think you really hit the nail on the head with your following statement: “Is that not what design is about? Organizing, making sense of, improving, and beautifying the world around us?” I encourage you to keep this mindset and to continue working through your process of organizing, making sense if, improving, and beautifying any project you encounter no matter how obvious the design solution may seem to be!

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