You can’t make this stuff up: In the summer of 2008, the Ohio BMV unveiled the state’s new license plate, a “bucolic, pastel-hued” landscape designed partly by the governor’s wife (the windmill was her idea, she says). It’s “Beautiful Ohio”–the sun rising in the east over a cartoon barn and the Wright Brothers’ plane–can’t you just smell the amber waves of grain? Then in May, they decided the plates would be too expensive (too beautiful?), at $2.50 each, to require all drivers to buy. So they put the 1.5 million plates they printed (which cost the state $2.3 million) up for sale as specialty plates that drivers can choose if they want. Well, the people have spoken: The new plates are outselling the old ones by 3 to 1. It’s, somehow, a “Cinderella success story,” according to the Dayton Daily News:
Like Cinderella, word of the new plate’s beauty reached the public, along with the fact that 1.5 million of them were lingering unused in a Columbus warehouse. … The rest is a license plate’s dream come true. After decades of plain two- and three-colored Ohio plates, Beautiful Ohio burst on the scene like a fairy tale rainbow. “Ohioans just like having a completely unique and different option that they have never had before,” [Department of Public Safety spokesman Tom] Hunter said.
Seriously, Ohio? The last two plates have been bad enough (beige gradient, anyone?) but this new plate takes the ugly cake. The aesthetically inconsistent illustrations, the faux-grass border, the script motto, the utter absence of non-gradiented colors: It’s so ’90s, it might as well have the state’s Web site on it. If we learned anything from Josh Parsons’s brilliant world flag ranking system, it’s that simple is good, cartoony clip art is Northern-Mariana-Islands bad. License-plate designers–first ladies included–would do well to remember this.
Some have. Montana’s new plate goes back to the classic 1970s version: A simple outline and subtle cow skull are the only references to the state. New York’s latest goes simple too, scrapping the old plate’s panorama but keeping its state-map hyphen. Get with the program, Ohio, or you’ll wind up like every Buckeye’s nightmare: Kentucky.