Saturday, May 1, 2010

Designing a 100 Dollar Bill

Is it art? The new design is intended to make the bill harder to counterfeit, a utilitarian function of design. It nevertheless has aesthetic qualities - of course. These pros and cons of the new design are critiqued in the New York Times article "Anatomy of a Benjamin," where I found this image.

I find myself in agreement with their analysis. Among other things, they say that there are aspects of the old bill that work better, such as the size of the border elements and relationship of the numerals to the border. There are also improvements made, such as the removal of the oval and overall balance of the design.

As a teacher of graphic design, I have used the design as a problem for my students. We don't redesign the bill using Ben Franklin, however. I encourage them to be creative and to use someone meaningful to them. They then add other features on both sides of the bill that relate to their subject. Here is an example I made as a demonstration piece for my classes, using Andy Warhol.

I can't claim credit for this idea, however. There is a wonderful program called "Make a Fundred" that has school children all over the US drawing designs for "fundred dollar bills." It isn’t merely a clever design problem, either. It’s an even cleverer way to raise money to “eliminate the devastating effects of lead-contaminated soil that currently places children at risk for severe learning disabilities and behavioral problems.” It was begun years ago, after hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans to help with relief efforts there.

Art that makes a difference. Try designing your own 100 dollar bill. It’s fun. And then send it off to to make a contribution. It won’t even cost you a real $100. (It’s all explained on their website.)

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