Ideas: Fixing the World July/August 2009

Redesign the Dollar

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Slideshow: "Currency Exchange"

Michael Bierut analyzes the world’s best and worst banknote designs

The quickest fix for a brand in trouble, some say, is nothing more than a cosmetic makeover. That may be a cliché, but with our financial system in crisis, the time is right to redesign the currency of the United States. Anyone trying to understand our national values would be baffled by the rococo Victoriana and Masonic mumbo jumbo that festoon a dollar bill. Are they an apt metaphor for the labyrinthine workings of the world of credit-default swaps and collateralized debt obligations? Perhaps. But the result is anachronistic and illegible, as are the $5, $10, and $20 bills, which have hardly been redeemed by the addition of those giant, grimly functional Helvetica numerals intended to simply (in the ugliest possible way) make the bills easier to tell apart. A piece of currency is the ultimate symbol. A more transparent, rational financial system deserves money that looks the part. With the economy bottoming out, it’s time to start from scratch.

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Michael Bierut is a partner at Pentagram Design.

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