The New Benjamin? Not So Money

new 100 billIt may be more legend than fact but when it was time to choose a symbol for our new nation it is said that Benjamin Franklin preferred the turkey to the bald eagle.

Wish granted.

The new $100 note that the Treasury introduced on Wednesday is a missed design opportunity. It was created with the criminal mind in mind and it looks it. It is a kitchen sink of high-tech security features including a 3-D ribbon, color shifting images, watermarks, raised intaglio, security threads, and micro printing. Very bling bling. The final result looks like "design by committee" with each technical device vying for a prominent position on the bill. Every element seems randomly placed and begs for some sense of structure. Couldn't the blue 3-D security ribbon at least be centered on the bill? Does its odd position make it more secure?

Even Franklin's pursed lips seem to express frustration.

To be fair, I'm certain that the creative brief for this assignment was daunting. I've never designed currency but have created credit cards and understand the design rigor that is demanded in such assignments. In these cases, it's best to be as diligent about the design features as the security requirements.

It is interesting to see how other nations deal with these issues. The Swiss Franc for example, has very deep security features, yet it is stunning currency. Some of these bills feature cultural icon like Alberto Giocometti and Le Corbusier.

The U.S. $100 note is a tempting target for counterfeiters and the enormous effort the Bureau of Engraving and Printing undertook to protect our currency should be appreciated. It is for this effort that I don't give them a lower grade.

Besides, maybe I shouldn't be so harsh on Ben when a real "design crime" is in the possession of any American who travels abroad—The U.S. Passport!

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Ken Carbone is among America's Most respected graphic designers, whose work is renowned for its clarity and intelligence. He has built an international reputation creating outstanding programs for world-class clients, including Tiffany & Co., W.L Gore, Herman Miller, PBS, Christie's, Nonesuch Records, the W Hotel Group, and The Taubman Company. His clients also include celebrated cultural institutions such as the Museé du Louvre, The Museum of Modern Art, The Pierpont Morgan Library, The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and the High Museum of Art.

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8 Comments

  • Bill Sodeman

    Folding may cause damage... that's why it's a bad idea to put security features or portraits in the center of the bill.

  • Riot Nrrd

    Ugh, this new $100 bill looks like a trainwreck.

    We have the ugliest money on the planet. One sad byproduct of the conversion to the Euro was the loss of beautiful paper currency like Holland's. Just look at the comparison of their old 10 and 50 Gulden notes (complete with holograms, and images that were split in half on each side, only viewable as complete if held up to the Sun, etc.) with our drab, boring crap:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/g...

  • Pak-Kei Mak

    I was pleased with the new 5, 10 and 20 (somewhat) dollar designs, and a lot of designers I know liked them, too, so I am quite surprised by the backlash the 100 dollar bill got this time around. I think the Internet is being too harsh on this.

    For most who doesn't have any design skills, I would think that it's Franklin's green head that troubles them.

    For the rest of us designers, the most problematic part is the blue stripe right in the middle, and the misalignment of the golden feather - and these two elements made you think everything is "randomly placed". However, I find the rest of the design pretty good. They are based on classical ornaments, but they are arranged asymmetrically. The portrait breaks the round frame of the old note, and creates a much more dynamic composition. There is not a single trace of modern fonts being used, which probably a lot of designers would hate, but the decision consciously enforces a certain old world look to the bill which is fine with me.

    Last of all, come on, the "other nations" link you posted above had no designs that are good at all, except the Swiss franc! At least show us some Euros, or the amazing new British coins? I am particularly shameful of the $10 Hong Kong dollar bill designed by my own government. In Hong Kong, the design is so atrocious we call it a "lottery ticket". The Hong Kong dollar notes designed by HSBC and Bank of China are so much better.

  • Thom Mitchell

    I disagree with this assessment. I think the new bill looks great and besides Benjamin Franklin is no less a cultural icon than Le Corbusier is. I've seen and used multiple curriences around the word and the new $100 incorporate many of those of other currencies best features while maintaining a certain presence that many other currencies like the Brazilian Real or Chinese Renmimbi lack. I think the missed opportunity with this bill was to provide more tactile features to allow visually impaired people the chance to reliably identify the currency by touch alone.

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    Thom Mitchell
    http://www.ThomMitchell.com

  • Richard Geller

    Indeed, another Washington camel-chicken. That said, compared with the other challenges and disappointments we face, this particular one will slip by noticed only by those with wallets containing them. Come to think of it, and purely as a public service, feel free to send any examples of this unpalatable design to me.

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    Richard Geller
    http://www.aSiteAboutSomething...

  • Michael Cronan

    The new US $100 is a train wreck of fear for security, as Ken suggests. Why couldn't we look to the designs from other countries? Most everyone else on the planet carries prettier fungible slips of paper in their pockets than do we. Is there an actual graphic designer with any authority at the big T?
    Damn you guys, get an eye and mind about this stuff!