Design for a Dollar

Epic video announcement for 2010 (still-unreleased?) redesign of US $100 note:

All US currency redesigns must perpetuate certain “legacy features” that are on all the currency that’s ever been issued — because the US will accept all currency ever issued as legal tender, the notes have to have a certain amount of consistency. Or so the party line goes.

Currency redesign is tricky because a redesign shows commitment to safe currency, but the best time to pass fake currency is during times when people aren’t sure what’s real or not.

Most contemporary designers think the US “greenback” is really ugly. It’s been compared to “a cake that has decorated within an inch of its life,” probably because of its very very busy graphic sensibility. The design had been the same (until this recent redesign) since 1938, and the color since the Civil War.

See here for a look at the development of the designs of US currency, as well as some commentary and comparison to other nations’ currency.

There’s also this Dollar ReDe$ign blog that runs contests for hypothetical redesigns of US (and other) currency.

Design could also be the means to rejuvenate our economy and rebuild our global influence. It worked for Apple, so why wouldn’t it work for America too?

Here are five areas for improvement:

1. Size It’s novel that each bill is the same size, but really it’s such a simplistic idea it makes our currency look like it was created by a group of Luddites.
2. Color You could argue the term “greenback” is part of American culture, but that’s not significant enough when you consider using one color not only impairs recognition for the sighted, but also paints a single-minded picture of America’s philosophy.
3. Functionality It’s absolutely imperative that our currency includes the latest security features. That’s a given. But why not also include additional features to make it easier for the visually impaired to distinguish each note?
4. Composition America is one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world, so why aren’t we using a material that’s as technologically advanced as we are, something synthetic like plastic?
5. Symbolism We should use the design of our currency as a means to celebrate multiple aspects of what makes the U.S. great. We live in a culturally rich and vibrant country that is idolized all over the world for what it represents, so we should use our currency as a vehicle to “advertise” all that we are. Not just a few dead presidents.

The uniformity of size puts the visually impaired at a disadvantage. Which is what the big colorful numbers have been trying to make up for in recent redesigns.

For a video report from the April 2010 announcement of the release of  a new $100 (this is the one with the microarray technology), see here


Smith, Richard. “New Bills, and a New Brand.” NYT Room for Debate. 4 April 2012.

Wolman, David. The End of Money: Counterfeiters, Preachers, Techies, Dreamers – and the Coming Cashless Society. (Boston: Da Capo, 2012).

2 Responses to “Design for a Dollar”
  1. KJ Sanchez says:

    Was wondering what happened to the new $100 bill design. Oops:

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