by Justin Kerr on in culture, design

bank notesI’ve always thought US bank notes featured some of the most unimaginative design in the world. The uniformity of size and color makes our paper currency undistinguished and even difficult to use; especially at a glance or in low-light conditions. The portraits of founding fathers and former presidents (quick! which two were not US presidents?) are one of the few visually compelling elements of our money. The changes implemented by the US Treasury over the past several years were aimed more at improving security and thwarting counterfeiters rather than improving aesthetics. Shouldn’t one of the most circulated currencies in the world have the most distinctive design?

US currency looks like the result of exactly what it is: design by bureaucratic committee. The US Postal Service has a long tradition of commissioning individual artists (not committees) to provide artwork for postage stamps. The US Mint’s production of the 50 State Quarters and the Westward Journey Nickel series commemorating the Lewis and Clark expedition are great examples of what could be done with our paper currency.

The mission statement of The Dollar ReDe$ign Project is to “rebrand the US Dollar, rebuild financial confidence and revive our failing economy.” Some of the 2010 entries are more political statements than design, but most of them would be a welcomed change from the uninspiring pieces of green paper that occupy our wallets now.

Personally, I like John Koenig’s entry. His designs retain some of the recognizable elements of the currency such as the portraits and the denomination numbers, but each bill sports a unique color scheme, a segment of the Bill of Rights, and a view from one of our national parks.

US paper currency is a great design project: it’s practical, symbolic, historic and highly visible. I hope someone at the Department of the Treasury is listening.


  • http://Website Heather

    Bring on the color! Great idea to pull from the Bill of Rights and images of our national parks. And to think our money could be a vehicle to instill national pride! Love it.

  • Mike Logan

    Uniform size was- and still- is the biggest error ever. Never mind low light conditions, ask any totally blind person. The last U.S. note I laid hands on had no Braille or even slightly raised lettering.

    The vertical designs (top row) look more like Postage Stamps or the covers to IRS information / instructions leaflets and have far too much of a single colour. The $100 Dove effort resembles those vouchers you send back to Readers Digest to enter their Prize Draws, and $2 atrocity looks like it could be a clipping from a magazine advert for cooking oil.

    Koenig’s designs, well the pictorials at least, are quite impressive, despite it being rather obvious that a certain well-know Adobe Software product was involved. However, the sudden hard-edged graphics and large swathes of white really cheapen the overall designs. To me, they give off an immediate air of ostentation. Their photographic realism does not make them immediately recognizable as a bona-fide Bank Note. This alone renders them all too pretentious – and embarrassingly so.


By Justin Kerr

I spent 10 years working in print design before being lured to Newfangled in 2000. I didn't have any prior experience with the web (other than sending e-mail) but I eventually learned to be as …

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