Redesigning the Dollar Bill

  • Would Rebranding the Greenback Boost Our Economy?

    Since its introduction during the Civil War in 1862, American greenbacks have changed very little. As consumers, we’re accustomed to handling the crisp green papers, but graphic designer Richard Smith feels the humdrum currency could use some rebranding. Smith, the brains behind the Dollar Rede$ign Project, a bill reinvention contest that closes Sept. 30, has decidedly lofty ambitions. “We want to rebrand the U.S. dollar, rebuild financial confidence and revive our failing economy,” he writes on his website. This year’s contest features 61 eye-popping entries that span a variety of themes. History, sports, music and (of course) politics are all represented. You’ll see bills that feature the likeness of Elvis, Barack Obama and even Sarah Palin. Smith invites the public to vote on their favorites, and the winner, to be announced Oct. 1 on Richard Smith’s site, receives an iPad. Currently, a set featuring Obama on the dollar bill is in the lead. Photo Credit: iChaz
    Move Over, George Washington: Dowling Duncan
  • Move Over, George Washington: Dowling Duncan

    John Dowling and his partner Rob Duncan, the creative director at U.K. design firm Dowling Duncan, didn’t intend to make a political statement by placing President Obama on the dollar bill. However that’s exactly what they did, though the left-leaning Brit was quick to refute it. “Maybe I’m looking at it like I’m new to this country,” Duncan recently told MainStreet. “But what Obama achieved is absolutely amazing. What I think he’s instilled in America is that if you really believe you can do something, and you work hard enough, and you want it badly enough, anything is achievable … We can take the backlash. They always say there’s no such thing as bad press.” Photo Credit: Dowling Duncan
    Looking Abroad: Mark Gartland
  • Looking Abroad: Mark Gartland

    “The theme for my redesign is famous Americans and their inspirational quotes,” says Mark Gartland, an Oakland, Calif.-based graphic designer. Working in Europe and Asia, the co-founder of MiniMash, a Web movie startup, began “collecting and studying [currencies]. The dollar started looking drab by comparison,” he says, and Gartland “thought the most powerful currency on the planet should appear more inspiring.” An extra dose of creativity emerged while Gartland was helping his son with a history assignment. “I chose Sitting Bull for the dollar bill,” he says, and put “Sacagawea on the $50 bill because of her quote, ‘What I did, I did for my people.’” Though Gartland doesn’t feel the current dollar symbolizes greed, he feels it could use a makeover. “I love the paper,” he says, “but not the monochromatic tone.” Photo Credit: Mark Gartland
    For the Love of Money: Tobias Treppmann
  • For the Love of Money: Tobias Treppmann

    “When I thought about the world financial crisis and the role money plays in our lives,” explains German-born designer Tobias Treppmann, “I was reminded of how much power money has over us and how much damage greed can do.” To encourage Americans to use money more responsibly, Treppmann conceived a simple design that “mirrors the concept of capitalism” while employing a “love metaphor” with fanciful hearts and butterfly shapes. “The black heart is a warning and reminder to us to be careful in how we use money,” Treppmann says. “The butterfly-like shape is a metaphor for how money helped invent and reinvent the American dream.” Photo Credit: Tobias Treppmann
    The “Us” Dollar: Clavin, Haryono, Moore, Schroeder
  • The “Us” Dollar: Clavin, Haryono, Moore, Schroeder

    A great deal of brainstorming, research and testing went into design collective Clavin, Haryon, Moore and Schroeder’s creation, which would be America’s first do-it-yourself currency. “The freedom of the individual to control his or her own life within the context of a community is a core American value,” explains Heather Moore. “Our design gives people freedom to produce, customize and track their money on an individual basis.” The money, which is designed to be printed at home using a special paper, ink and data cartridge, features embedded bar codes so that consumers can track their usage and spending habits. Additionally, the DIY bills enable “communities to create currencies that support and strengthen their local values, making the ‘U.S.’ dollar the ‘us’ dollar,” says Moore. The point was to help people regain their trust in money after having that “trust destroyed by the financial crisis,” Moore says. “We see U.S. citizens facing a weak economy, huge personal debt and a system run by those who broke it … We propose to give the dollar back to the U.S. citizens to fix.” Photo Credit: Heather Moore
    Monopoly Money: John Daniello
  • Monopoly Money: John Daniello

    To designer John Daniello, the dollar signifies nothing more than “an individual’s desire to have more.” But the greenback’s representations of America’s historic “figures, monuments and symbols” make our currency unique. Perhaps as a nod to pop culture, Daniello looked to the classic board game Monopoly for inspiration. “The challenge was figuring the colors that worked well enough,” he says. “Play money” was not the desired look, and neither was “America’s euro.” Daniello realized “changing the bills too much would prevent acceptance of them as a currency,” so he kept America’s rich history in mind, crafting “each bill to tell a story so that future generations wouldn’t have to Google these important figures names.” The result: a “creative mixture of both old and new” that Daniello hopes will remind millennials “what made this country what it is today.” Photo Credit: John Daniello
    Double Take: Jon Stefaniak
  • Double Take: Jon Stefaniak

    “You wouldn’t blame a car for the actions of a drunk driver,” says Jon Stefaniak, the creative director at Dedo Inc., a multi-touch software/hardware company based in Dallas, so why blame the dollar for Wall Street’s malfeasance? Propaganda posters, with their “strong sense of nationalism,” inspired the designer’s vertical bank note design, while the vibrant playing card concept materialized during a round of cell phone solitaire. “Playing cards have strikingly efficient usability,” notes Stefaniak. “They have easily recognizable numeric denominations, sized to fit in your hand, and a moveable orientation, etc. The complexity of the Bicycle and Hoyle cover designs remind me of our current greenback. I instantly correlated that ornate style with the works of Hydro 74 (Joshua M. Smith), and attempted to emulate his clean, vector-based precision.” Photo Credit: Jon Stefaniak
    Flashy Cash: Flashpoint/Artomatic
  • Flashy Cash: Flashpoint/Artomatic

    There’s plenty to love about the American greenback: It’s recognizable, functional and mesmerizing in action. But to Susan and Tim Milne, the husband and wife team behind Flashpoint/Artomatic studios in Richmond, Va., and London, cash has become archaic in an increasingly digital age. “Our design is all about how people handle money and what it feels like in their hands,” says Tim. “We intimately know what cash feels like, so we wanted it to have tactile qualities, not just visual ones. Plus, we wanted to create something that didn't look like a mini museum poster.” They want people to “feel the dollar in your pocket, while it’s still in your pocket.” The bills, explains Tim, would be made from a synthetic, embossed material. The graphics could be felt with the consumers’ fingertips, creating “the illusion of value and depth to the actual currency.” And similar to Australia’s currency, the notes would vary in thickness—meaning the higher the denomination, the heavier the bill—so the visually impaired could better determine what they’re handling and the “careless” would be inclined to spend more sensibly. “What Susan likes about America is that you can determine your own destiny, be it the penthouse or the gutter,” says Tim. “What worries me is that you can determine your own destiny, be it the penthouse or the gutter.” Photo Credit: Tim Milne
    American Idol: Rafael Hannemann
  • American Idol: Rafael Hannemann

    Based in Germany, designer Rafael Hannemann believes that in the U.S. anything is possible. “Americans reinvent themselves, and the best technology comes from America,” he says. It’s no surprise then that Steve Job’s visage appears on Hannemann’s $100 bill. The CEO of Apple is a modern day entrepreneurial and cultural icon, and Hannemann strived to use “icons from the current time period.” Other celebrities featured in the designs include Michael Jackson and Whoopi Goldberg. “Choose your own idol,” Hannemann advises. “Stop looking backwards and live in the future. There’s no need not to follow your heart.” Photo Credit: Rafael Hannemann
    Rock This Way: Fabiano Pinel
  • Rock This Way: Fabiano Pinel

    Why does Brazilian-born Fabiano Pinel dislike the dollar? “That’s easy — its absence in my wallet!” The culturally savvy designer regards the greenback “as a tool for me to reach what I really want.” But nothing more—the greenback’s not about greed. For design inspiration, the self-professed music lover looked no further than his iPod. “For me the only thing more influential than the U.S. economy is American culture, especially the music,” he says. “Nothing is more American than the blues, jazz, or rock 'n’ roll.” Pinel’s bills, which were painstakingly illustrated in ink to resemble concert tickets, feature “the most charismatic figures to better translate the style.” American luminaries like Frank Sinatra and Michael Jackson grace the intricate designs. While choosing the musicians was tough — after all, there are so many legends — Pinel’s $1 bill decision was easy: “Who better to represent rock than the King himself, Elvis?” Photo Credit: Fabiano Pinel
    True Pioneers: Matus Benza
  • True Pioneers: Matus Benza

    “The American dollar looks really out of place in the 21st century,” says Matus Benza, “especially when we are talking about currency of a country that prides itself on innovation.” Innovation, therefore, was the theme of Benza’s design, which replaces political relics with recognizable cultural icons. One side of his $1 bill features portraits, often of civil rights leaders, while the other side exhibits a famous architectural landmark, including the Washington Monument and New York’s Statue of Liberty. “America has given much more to the world in terms of arts, science, inventions, human rights,” says Benza. “I tried to include the less ‘obvious’ personalities, those who still made a big impact on the world.” Photo Credit: Matus Benza
    Your Ad Here: Lee Willett
  • Your Ad Here: Lee Willett

    “Our currency isn't the personal domain of the rich and powerful, or the greedy and gluttonous,” says Lee Willett. “It's used by plumbers, cabbies, bartenders and even us graphic designers. It's not a symbol of greed but a cup of coffee, a lunch check, or the rent payment.” With more than 25 years of graphic design experience under his belt, Willett approached the Rede$ign contest with the intention to revamp our image and help the Federal Government make a little cash on the side—for a good cause, of course. With a nod to the future, Willet included a small ad space on his bills for print and Internet sponsorships. “For many, this would be deemed heresy,” the part-time college professor explains, “but it also could allow for nonprofit and public service messaging. Imagine if another Katrina disaster occurred. The government could print a special message in that area with a URL where you could learn more about how to help. Or the space could be used for messaging to aid long-term benefits to society like reducing carbon emissions or living a healthier lifestyle.” Photo Credit: Lee Willett
    Paying Dues: Neil Swanson
  • Paying Dues: Neil Swanson

    No offense Mr. President, but you just haven’t earned your place on the dollar bill—yet. At least not according to designer Neil Swanson, whose conservative Rede$ign concept was helmed at Swing State Media studio. “We wanted to broaden the faces seen on our currency, to expand beyond just the presidency and make the bills representative of the men and women who have helped shape this nation,” Swanson says. “Whether that’s Ronald Reagan, who we included on our one dollar bill, or First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, we sought to place individuals who at this moment in time are recognizable iconic representatives and are noteworthy for their accomplishments in office.” Swanson finds today’s greenback boring, an American standby that has remained relatively unchanged. Still, Swanson says, “there is strength, and also familiarity, to the current design, and we sought to maintain some semblance of that by maintaining a similar feel.” Photo Credit: Neil Swanson
    Wild and Free: Mark Pimentel
  • Wild and Free: Mark Pimentel

    “I tried designing something simple,” explains Mark Pimentel in an e-mail, “but it just didn’t seem right. I love the intricate details featured on today’s dollar bills.” When Pimentel sees cash, he says he can’t help but think of a crooked CEO. However, that doesn’t mean he feels the greenback itself symbolizes greed. Cash and corruption both just happen to go hand in hand. Using word association with American history and icons, Pimentel devised a concept imbued with historical action and figures. Apparently Ice Cube fits the bill, though the criteria is a bit hard to pin down. “Triumph, freedom, resiliency, strength, pioneers, spirit. I used those words to base my design on.” Perhaps that is reason enough. Photo Credit: Mark Pimentel
    A Strong Statement: Daniel Carr
  • A Strong Statement: Daniel Carr

    “Classical money designs” gave Daniel Carr his inspiration. However, when asked how he feels about America’s currency, Carr’s response is far less reserved. “I dislike that it is debt-based (interest-burdening) and issued by the corporate-owned Federal Reserve,” says the designer in an e-mail. “It should be issued as a non-interest-bearing United States Note via the U.S. Treasury, like JFK wanted.” America’s infamous debt aside, Carr embraced a unique methodology for creating his money notes. “I sculpted the entire design digitally, as a 3-D relief surface, like a giant rectangular coin,” he explains. Carr hopes his striking art deco notes will encourage Americans to spend more responsibly, or at least think twice about loans. “Think about taking back the power that corporate and private bankers have over us all,” he warns. “Don't borrow money - don't pay interest.” Photo Credit: Daniel Carr
    Past Meets Present: Carlos Carrilo
  • Past Meets Present: Carlos Carrilo

    For Carlos Carrilo, putting a pop art spin on the customary greenback was an opportunity to stretch his creativity.  “I was thinking about merging the past and the future,” the Las Vegas-based designer, and owner of Pandemic Brand Studio, explains. “I didn’t want to veer too far away from the way the dollar looks. It has a rich heritage, and it’s something we should embrace.” The quirky shape features a round and square edge on either end of the bill so it both eschews and embraces tradition. It’s designed so that feed machines and exchanges could still accept it, but the curve lends a fresh, fun look.“The round shape was to give it new interest,” Carrilo says. “We’ve had such a set format for so long that a new approach would generate a little excitement.” Carrilo said he was excited to enter the contest and “bring a fresh approach” to America’s past. Photo Credit: Carlos Carrilo
    Rough Trade: Jack Rugile
  • Rough Trade: Jack Rugile

    Recycled paper and “a simple and bold look” gave the Denver-based web designer Jack Rugile the inspiration for his bill’s country western look. While he envisions his final bills with “a semi-rough texture” and colors “that stay true to our flag,” he also harkened to our current president’s personal brand, and he hopes it resonates with his supporters as well. Photo Credit: Jack Rugile
    Tea Time: Vincent Kettering
  • Tea Time: Vincent Kettering

    Vincent Kettering, a Texan, bottle cap collector and municipal trash collection supervisor, said it all on Richard Smith’s website “my idea is based on the reality that is about to come,” he says. “My dollar redesign proposal is a window into our future; a future led my three of today’s most noted ‘tea’ drinkers: Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh.” “Each bill also includes one line from our new constitution,” Kettering continues, “a simplified mantra that will be easy to understand. And an image of our new flag, the tea flag, which represents the endless fight our country has endured … in pursuit of greed, selfishness and fried chicken.” Because Kettering flunked math, he jokes that he couldn’t calculate the value of the dollar. “But I think in most cases our currency will be worthless, so I figured it didn’t matter,” he says. Photo Credit: Vincent Kettering
    Making the Brand: Mark Scott
  • Making the Brand: Mark Scott

    Graphic design student Mark Scott entered the Rede$ign contest with a mission: “My rationale was to put iconic American brands which every American citizen deals with every day on to the very currency used to pay for these iconic brands,” he says on Richard Smith’s website. Judging by the brands he chose to grace each dollar bill, the Wales-based illustrator has a specific idea of what American consumers value: football, Coca-Cola, discount shopping, travel and (for the hipsters among us) anything produced by Apple (Stock Quote: AAPL) Photo Credit: Mark Scott
    Big Time: Riccardo Cerrone
  • Big Time: Riccardo Cerrone

    “The U.S. dollar design is one of the most famous in the world,” says Italian designer Riccardo Cerrone, who exchanged the traditional green for a white-washed, airy look. “What I’ve created is a new and more modern graphic interpretation mixed with the main aspects of American life,” says Cerrone. “There is government ($100 bill), economy ($50 bill), entertainment ($20 bill), history ($10 bill) and cinema ($1).” Photo Credit: Riccardo Cerrone
    Planes, Trains and Automobiles: Clair Tinajero
  • Planes, Trains and Automobiles: Clair Tinajero

    Texas State University grad student Clair Tinajero based her design on the “backbones of this country—transportation,” she says. “The front of the bills represents a timeline from covered wagons to airplanes. The back of the bills follow a similar thread, however they are based on the modern equivalents of the front’s mode of transportation.” The freelance designer saw two purposes to her redesign. “One, use the Dollar bill to symbolize the ideals of American society and two, to try and make the use of cash easier or improved.” Photo Credit: Clair Tinajero
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