Sunday, May 18, 2008

Ugly US Money

I think United States money is the ugliest in the world. You can check out money from other countries at Compare this sample from Papua New Guinea with the new five dollar bill from the US. Honestly, can you think of anything more idiotic looking that those yellow 05s pasted randomly. Oh wait, there is the huge purple numeral five. I am sure these "features" serve a purpose. I am also sure the purpose could be served in an artistic fashion.

When the treasury department announced a redesign of US bills I had great hopes. The US public was extremely resistant to change and it was the threat/actuality of massive counterfeiting that forced redesign. Before that, it seemed that George Washington had produced the designs after 40 days on Mount Sinai.

My hopes have been dashed. As it turns out, the new designs were solely concerned with protecting the currency. Check the Bureau of Engraving and Printing at There is no indication that the engraving bureau thinks AT ALL about the appearance of the money. It is obvious that artists had little influence and no control. In other countries they realize that protection mechanisms can be implemented to create bills that are both beautiful and functional.

I highly doubt that this post will ever be seen by anyone in the Bureau of Engraving and Printing but, just in case, here is a concrete suggestion.

Currency should be designed by artists. A single artist should control the design of a single bill. It may be best if the same artist designs a whole series. The controlling artist should be aware of security and usability constraints. Security and usability people should be able to veto a design, but they should never be able to pick up a pen and modify a design.

If there are artists involved in the design of US currency, they are either not very good, or they have no real control of the design. For a case study on how currency should be designed see the lecture by Oootije Oxenaar at

At the Engraving Bureau, clearly the wrong people are doing graphic design. Even Antarctica,, gets better looking money than the United States.


sf said...

I really appreciated reading the Oootije Oxenaar article.
Thanks for pointing to it - though the link is not clickable as you included the period. . .

Dante said...

I never really thought about but you are right.

Silver Gerety said...

I'm very partial of Canadian currency. It's subtle, elegant, even inspiring. Just looking at it sometimes makes me want to move North, and even though I know the Canadian state is far from perfect (and can name specifics) I can't help but find something so redeemable in a government that can produce such lovely bank notes.

The design of our currency reflects the worst aspects of our government and society - naked obsession with security, bureaucracy, and over the top symbolism that has lost any real or meaningful reference point.

On the other hand, Heather got a new passport a couple of months ago and I think it's very beautiful, much better than the old ones.