The New Benjamin? Not So Money

The new $100 bill is a missed design opportunity. Wouldn’t Franklin be disappointed?

new 100 bill

It 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.


About the author

Ken Carbone is a designer, artist, musician, author and teacher. He is the Co-Founder and Chief Creative Director of the Carbone Smolan Agency, a design and branding company in New York City


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