Good design can be stimulating. With that premise in mind, the London-based design consultant Richard Smith proposes "a thorough, in-depth, rebranding scheme" for America's paper currency. After all, consumer and lender confidence is partly a psychological phenomenon. Could a monetary makeover provide the boost -- the stimulus -- we need? (The basic look of our currency, Smith notes, dates to the 1930s.)
Smith himself gets his "Dollar Rede$ign Contest" off to a start with bills that trade portraiture and beaux arts filigrees for crisp fonts and swirling geometric patterns. Each bill would have a dominant color, the dollar a vibrant green, for example, the five-dollar bill a rich blue.
Michael Tyznik stays a bit more conservative, keeping the presidents and the "greenback" green but adding a splash of rectilinear color and, on the back, quotations from the Bill of Rights.
Other entrants have presented designs featuring the Great Lakes and, less seriously, Jack Nicholson and Michele Obama. Smith is posting his favorites on Flickr, and will announce a winner sometime after July 4, the (apt) deadline for entering. The prize will be a t-shirt designed by Smith.
The contest may seem whimsical, but the Swiss government -- which maintains its own currency in the face of the Euro -- did something quite similar a few years ago, holding a national, official, currency-design contest. The winning artist's work can be seen here (check out the fetus motif!), though officials, it appears, decided to move ahead with some notions from the second-place finisher instead. The first of the new Swiss bills is on schedule to appear next year. The existing Swiss bills are pretty cool as it is, featuring the visages of such figures as Le Corbusier and the composer Arthur Honegger. Swiss bureaucrats even use interesting fonts in their memos discussing the contest. Would that our own Fed were so hip.
Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Ann Arbor, Michigan. His last article for Ideas was about choosing Congress by lottery.
Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.
Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.
Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.
Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."
Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.
Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.