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All About The Jacksons (Not Those Jacksons)

It’s finally here. The U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing announces “The first newly redesigned Series 2004 $20 notes, featuring background colors and improved security features”—due for release on October 9. See a preview here.

The Bureau of Engravng and Printing, by the way, is great. Here’s a history of U.S. currency and here’s an interactive view of the new $20.

+ See also: Got Change for a Twenty?

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PUBLISHED ON Sep.10.2003 BY Sam
griff’s comment is:

I still have not gotten over the last change. That big head still creeps me out. Color is a welcome change. No longer can I say "show me the green", it will now be "show me the pink". Hmmmm, that doesn't sound right.

On Sep.10.2003 at 08:33 AM
Armin’s comment is:

Yay! Sam's alive.

On Sep.10.2003 at 08:54 AM
Sam’s comment is:

I been busy making the Jacksons. Er, earning them, I mean.

That "Got Change for a Twenty" thread does not contain the word "currency"--I did search for the topic before posting. Alas.

On Sep.10.2003 at 09:02 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

I still say our money is pretty ugly compared to the rest of the world.

And I have no idea how blind people deal with our poorly thought out same-size-for-every-bill design.

On Sep.10.2003 at 09:03 AM
Brent’s comment is:

I could've sworn I saw an earlier version that had more orange in it, and less type. That sweeping "twentyUSA" thing is icky, although I'm glad that the big giant head isn't in a circle anymore. We've got such ugly money compared to other countries anyway. Oh well...

On Sep.10.2003 at 09:09 AM
Michael B.’s comment is:

My least favorite aspect of the new (and "old new") currency design is that big fat Helvetica number in the lower right hand corner, supposedly for the benefit of the sight-impaired. Butt ugly.

I get invited to do commentaries on graphic design on Studio 360, a culture show that our public radio station WNYC puts together. They asked me to comment on the previous redesign and I really went off. You can download it here.

Studio 360 has a lot of other interesting things, particularly in their "Design for the Real World" segment. Steve Heller, Ken Carbone, David Kelley, Veronique Vienne and Tinker Hatfield have all done bits, all available in their archive.

On Sep.10.2003 at 10:34 AM
Bradley’s comment is:

But "Michael B.," I LIKE the honkin' Helvetica!

No, I'm serious. I really kinda do...

Anyway, that aside, the difficulty of designing currency (think about it--your audience is HUGE, ranging from very rich to very poor, literate and illiterate, sometimes blind as Darrel mentioned, native of this country, tourist, immigrant, may not speak the language, patriotic, not patriotic; its gotta be cheaply produced yet impossible to counterfeit) makes it an ultimate challenge of sorts.

And this being America, I find it very strange that this commonly circulated, frequently seen space, is FREE FROM ADVERTISING.

Think its possible that the U.S. Mint starts selling ad space on their bills? I sure do.

On Sep.10.2003 at 11:17 AM
Lea’s comment is:

Hahaha! Soon all American money will be multicolored. Welcome to Canada! :D

On Sep.10.2003 at 11:56 AM
amy’s comment is:

You know... I don't like the added color. I guess I like the concept of color bills in general, but I don't like the one they picked, or how they used it. The multihued bills of other countries are practically cornucopias of color, works of art. They don't look like they're monochrome with a big splat of color in the middle, like some crappy Photoshop "reflection" gradient. My first impression of those bills is always going to be the thought that some bleach or other chemical hit the paper they were printing on, hence the weirdass color splotch. My boyfriend has an old pair of maroon boxers that have almost the same color splotches on them; he got splashed with chlorine while wearing them (under shorts, even). There is more than a passing resemblance between those boxers and the new bills... which I suppose is frightening enough in and of itself.

I do so love the color green.

But I guess it's been a long time comin'. "They" say the new "color of money" (in terms of design->mental association) is blue, anyway. Where the heck'd THAT come from? That's the real question!

On Sep.10.2003 at 12:01 PM
Brent’s comment is:

>Welcome to Canada!

Next stop, better beer and more hockey. Or is it the other way around?

On Sep.10.2003 at 12:13 PM
rebecca’s comment is:

I'm put off by the lack of symmetry OR a fully realized asymmetrical design. But not so put off that I don't want some in my wallet. Many even.

On Sep.10.2003 at 01:26 PM
marian’s comment is:

Compared to bills from the rest of the world (have fun with that link), yer money sucks.

I'm with Michael on that Helvetica number. It's just completely out of place. There's nothing wrong with providing accessibility to various people, but fer chrissakes, if you're going to redesign go all the way.

The US has this weird relationship with their money (doh!). It's become an icon ... at least the old bills were, and despite being outdated y'all are afraid to fuck with it. So instead of just really going at it and creating something new AND useful AND accessible AND secure, ya fuck around with adding little bits here and there as though maybe you can achieve all of the above without anyone actually noticing. That's what that bigass 20 is all about. You needed it, but were afraid to change it too much, so you just did one. !!!???????!!?!?

Now we Canadians just love changing our currency. We issue new bills with a completely new design every 10 years or so. In my lifetime there have been 4 (we're just going into the 4th, now), with a couple of additional minor changes, like the centennial bill, and the reissue of the 20 about 20 years ago (it was too green, and got confused with the $1, so they added more colour to the same design).

The situation with our coins has become ludicrous. We have more versions of the quarter than I even know of. Basically if it's silver (nickel) and the size of a quarter, it's a quarter. It's kindof fun (though our best coins were still the centennial coins designed by Alex Colville).

So Americans, get over it! Your money is not an icon. Redesign for real this time ... or better yet, let me do it for you ...

On Sep.10.2003 at 01:44 PM
Tan’s comment is:

you guys chose a beaver as your nation's mascot. nuff said.

you also have a million fucking coins for every denomination, so don't be trash talkin our 20's sista.

On Sep.10.2003 at 01:58 PM
Bradley’s comment is:

I knew a guy who used a $2 bill (remember that one, with Jefferson?) specifically to snort coke...

On Sep.10.2003 at 02:07 PM
Dave P.’s comment is:

I don't have a problem with the Helvetica "20." But what's with that "TWENTY USA" on the right side? It look like a logo for a water park.

I have to laugh every time I see that image of Andrew Jackson; someone once pointed out that it looks like a huge head perched on tiny, withered shoulders.

On Sep.10.2003 at 02:10 PM
Kiran Max Weber’s comment is:

Marian, I disagree.

According to a recent issue of the Financial Review, the US is the largest economy with roughly 11 trillion dollars in GDP. Canada ranks 8th with 700 billion. And according to the link Sam provided us, the US prints 8 billion notes a year. I'm willing to bet that's more then Canada prints. Those two facts alone probably account for the reason we don't reprint our money every 10 years just to have something new. The American dollar is quite useful and very accessible. This is being done for security reasons only. Sure the CHF and the Euro is prettier, but in America's case, it just doesn't make sense to reprint our money for aesthetic reasons.

I dislike coins.

On Sep.10.2003 at 02:56 PM
David E.’s comment is:

marian hit the nail on the head. everyone is afraid to change anything too much, so they create a design with no integrity at all. The bills obviously should have been completely redesigned. It reminds me of the scene in the movie The Fountainhead where the the bad architects are adding roman pillars to a modernist building, only in reverse.

we've always had the ugliest money in the world, and it keeps getting uglier. I was really optimistic when i heard they were adding color, but of course they just barely added a little color to the already ugly bills instead of coming up with a new color scheme. low-res pics on the internet dont do justice to the bills other countries have...some are just so beautiful.

On Sep.10.2003 at 03:00 PM
Sam’s comment is:

I like coins, but I really like facts. Thanks, Kiran.

On Sep.10.2003 at 03:01 PM
surts’s comment is:

The American dollar is quite useful and very accessible.

The source may be a little shaky, but it's still interesting. Some of the tests showed that more than 95% of the cash in circulation may be cocaine-contaminated because residue from the drug remains long after the initial exposure. sniff sniff

On Sep.10.2003 at 03:09 PM
Todd W.’s comment is:

Did anyone else notice that the US Bureau of Printing and Engraving's Web site is called "moneyfactory.com"? Always glad to see someone in the US gov't with a sense of humor...

On Sep.10.2003 at 03:13 PM
Kiran Max Weber’s comment is:

OK, so why do we need beauty in money?

On Sep.10.2003 at 03:15 PM
monkeyinabox’s comment is:

Just having money in my wallet is pretty enough. It's not pretty right now. :(

On Sep.10.2003 at 03:42 PM
Brent’s comment is:

>OK, so why do we need beauty in money?

Why not? Isn't the idea of visually redesigning something to make it more visually appealing? There's no reason that all the added security featured couldn't have been implemented with a nicer design. It's the essence of what we do - visual harmony mixed with heightened functionality.

I have this sort of argument all the time with writers here when it comes to resumes. "I'm not a designer, so I don't need a fancy resume." I don't get it. It's not a point of just making things "pretty." Why in the world when given the opportunity to make something (that others deem worthy of attention, i.e. other countries money) more beautiful wouldn't we want to?

One begs the question, what's not worthy of beauty?

On Sep.10.2003 at 03:51 PM
Kiran Max Weber’s comment is:

Isn't the idea of visually redesigning something to make it more visually appealing?

I don't get it. It's not a point of just making things "pretty."

What Brent?

Point taken. I just find money practical. Yes, things that are practical can and should and are beautiful, but I resort to my first point. It's just to expensive and difficult to accomplish for a country like the US. And quite unnecessary from a practical point of view. It's like us (Armin at least) wanting a new logo for Walgreens just because he finds their current one ugly. It works for them, i.e. they make money, so why change it. Unfortunately that's the view of most governments and corporations, especially now a days when the bottom line counts more than ever.

On Sep.10.2003 at 04:15 PM
Tan’s comment is:

I was just messin w/ you Marian. I agree, our bills are nuthin special. But hey, it's cash.

I saw a PBS or TLC special about the creation of the new bill. It was fascinating how much technology was put into it. Each step of creation was a massive undertaking -- and heavily guarded by the company responsible for the technology. It was one giant assembly line process. You'd think they were building the shuttle or something. I'm sure the parts and pieces were 'designed' by craftsman, but its assembly was so intricate and complex that it was inevitable that the end result would look compromised. Its overall designed is not a result of a design team, but rather the result of the production process.

Imagine designing a logo, then releasing it to a printer to apply, design, and print the corresponding bpapers and collateral system. No offense to any prepress people out there, but the odds against something well-designed would be slim to none.

On Sep.10.2003 at 05:22 PM
David E.’s comment is:

>>>Kiran Max Weber’s comment is:

It's just to expensive and difficult to accomplish for a country like the US.

Cost has nothing to do with it. In fact, if they had the sense to let ONE designer or group handle it and trust their judgement, the cost might be less. The design of the bills we have now just reaks of "design by committee"

Also, whether or not Wallgreens logo works for them, or if they make money or not shouldn't be the first concern of designers. I think our job is to enrich the lives of the people who have to see the logo (or dollar bills) everyday.

On Sep.10.2003 at 05:47 PM
marian’s comment is:

This is being done for security reasons only. Sure the CHF and the Euro is prettier, but in America's case, it just doesn't make sense to reprint our money for aesthetic reasons.

But you're not reprinting it for aesthetic reasons. The cost is immaterial. The U.S. decided it needed to do something about the security (and accessibility, presumably) of its currency, but instead of redesigning properly it pansies about with a dash here and a sprinkle there. You still have to reprint the billions of notes.

C'mawn we're all designers here, why make anything look good? Why create balance in any design? Fuck it, it's simpler and cheaper just to slap a big ol' helvetica number in one corner and brush on some pink, right? Same goes for anything: why fuck with stamps? So expensive, and what's wrong with the american flag? It works, right? Why have a new identity or letterhead? You can read the old one, nuthin wrong with it. ... I won't go on.

The dutch guilders (before they were so sadly replaced by the stultifyingly ugly Euro) were among the most beautiful notes in the world AND the most technologically advanced. The amount of crazy counterfeiting shit they had going on in there was really something else, and they managed to marry it with beauty. The 250 Guilder note had a lighthouse on one side, some geometrified scene on the back and I never did see this, but I read that when you held it up to the light it formed a third image. They were also very easy to read and identify, and I think came in different sizes. Now that's good design.

In fact, I would go so far to say that the US, given that it prints so many bills and distributes them farther around the globe than any other currency, has a responsibility to design them properly and make some kind of statement about their commitment to professionalism and design. I mean think about it, the US is probably the most design-driven country in the world and yet you use this toilet paper for currency, and that's your #1 design export to the world? Hah! I say.

I never said you should redesign your currency every 10 years, just because we do. But given the state of conterfeiting, you'd probably have to redesign about that often to keep up: mightaswell get the maximum bang for your buck while you're at it, eh?

My favourite bill ever is the 50 guilder note (with the sunflower), but my second favourite is our own $50 from 10 or 20 years ago--the one with the mounties on the back. I loved that bill, was always thrilled to get one, always reluctant to part with it. Money can make you happy in more way than one.

On Sep.10.2003 at 07:24 PM
Brent’s comment is:

>What Brent?

Sorry Kiran, I didn't mean to confuse. I had two seperate arguments going on in my head and they ran together. It was my (unfortunately ever-present) example of people where I work not thinking design can be applied to more than the obvious to make it more appealing.

As far as the part of it being practically unnecessary, I think it's past that. With the new design we have it seems there was the resources to produce something well-designed and it tanked. Basically everything David just said.

On Sep.10.2003 at 08:24 PM
big steve’s comment is:

so - as far as a complete design being illogical because of the "change over" process - the average life of any u.s. currency bill is 18 months - these things aren't indestructable and coudl easily be phased into circulation.

and as far as the function over form argument, that too is bs - if the u.s. bank note was merely a product of utility, it wouldn't reak so badly of great grandma's design taste or be emblazened with american "icons" and yazz about god and trust. To be honest, i'm surprised there aren't cowboy spurs and SUVs on the POS but i would definately fire, and probably physically injure a designer that came to me with this mock-up. beyond the color, EVERY [large] FONT ON IT SUCKS ASS! I agree completely with the amusement park remark about teh USA TWENTY thing. why is middle-america so afraid of sans-serif???

On Sep.11.2003 at 04:00 AM
big steve’s comment is:

Oh, and the cocaine thing is definately true...

I have friends that will be dead broke, but still keep their favorite $100 bill or $2 bill or whatever for a lil party - but fyi kids, using a bank note is a terrible idea. it is one of the leading causes of hepatitis because before you stick that filthy piece of paper up your nose [and a. expose it to moise flesh and b. risk microscopic paper cuts in the nostril ] innumerable disguisting hands/ feet/ shoes/ toliets/ sewers/ republicans touched it first... something to think about.

postscript: T. Jefferson had a great quote about the idea of paper currency when it was first instated. Most stores and merchants didnt like the idea of being forced, by the government, to take a piece of paper for goods instead of gold/silver/whatever, and T. Jeff, always against big government, said something to the effect of, "What next, will they make currency of rope? If we choose not to accept it they can beat us with it. If we still choose not to accept it, they can tie a noose and hang us with it."

On Sep.11.2003 at 04:26 AM
Brent’s comment is:

>Oh, and the cocaine thing is definately true...it is one of the leading causes of hepatitis...

Gee, not like having an actual cocaine addiction would be a deterrent, damn. Where the hell is this thread going anyway?

On Sep.11.2003 at 09:03 AM
Kiran Max Weber’s comment is:

But you're not reprinting it for aesthetic reasons.

Correct, most of you want them redesigned and reprinted for aesthetic reasons. I do too, what I'm saying is they don't care that they are just blah and green. I agree, security it is.

You still have to reprint the billions of notes. get the maximum bang for your buck while you're at it, eh?

Which costs money. Research and development, new design, new plates, new ink, etc. Expensive! A smaller country like Switzerland or Holland can afford it. The US could probably afford it, but doesn't want to spend the money. The gun toting-Nascar watching-Bush voting folk would flip out like we'd be banning Apple pie and hot dogs. They're patriotic albeit ugly!

nuthin wrong with it.

Exactly. Couldn't have said it better.

has a responsibility to design them properly and make some kind of statement about their commitment to professionalism and design. I mean think about it, the US is probably the most design-driven country in the world

I think our job is to enrich the lives of the people who have to see the logo (or dollar bills) everyday.

Responsibility to design? Don't think so. The US has enough problems as it is, serious ones that need addressing; not beautification. The US is definitely not the most design driven country in the world. We're "commercial artists," no? Perhaps Rudy and First Things First underwriters don't consider themselves as such but c'mawn, we all have to pay rent and eat. Graphic Design is making marks to solve problems. It's not about making pretty pictures.

I'd like to see US currency become more colorful, practical, securer; who wouldn't? They would gain no benefit from it. We as designer would like it sure, but it's just not worth it to them i.e. the American government.

Here's some info I found out:


From: Kiran Max Weber

Sent: Thursday, September 11, 2003 10:00 AM

To: Dickens Claudia

Subject: Information request

Hello Claudia:

I'm an author at the graphic design blog URL and we are currently having a discussion about the soon to be released $20 bill.

As you may expect, many of the designers are disappointed, claiming the Bureau of Engraving and Printing fails each time they slightly alter the notes and that the US should revamp all the notes, citing European currency as "beautiful." Since the US has the largest economy and has the largest circulation of notes, they purport that it should be a true symbol of this country, primarily that means adding color and more or different imagery.

My point, and this is why I am writing and hope you can confirm this, is that A it would be just way to expensive for the US to reprint all 700 billion notes I believe are currently in circulation, and B although colored money or redesigned money would be prettier, there are other things this country should spend money on. Be that the war on terrorism or education it doesn't matter, the US note serves it's purpose in the governments eyes.

I would really appreciate some facts or numbers specifically on the design, cost, or basic reasons of NOT reissuing US currency in color and/or with a complete redesign. Why hasn't it been done? How much would it cost? Logistics? Security? Practicality?

Feel free to contact me via email or phone, or even better, you could comment directly on the thread at URL. If I contacted you by mistake, and there is someone else I may speak to about this issue, any contact information would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you very much for your time Claudia.

Kiran Max Weber


Speak Up


Subject: RE: Information request

Date Sent: Thursday, September 11, 2003 6:19 PM

From: Dickens Claudia

To: Kiran Max Weber

Dear Kiran:

Thank you for your inquiry.

The redesign beginning with the Series 1996, was the culmination of a five-year study aimed at staying ahead of the counterfeiting threat and is part of a continuing process to protect U.S. currency. The additional security features (off-center and larger portraits, watermark portraits, color-shifting ink, fine-line printing, and microprinting) are effective deterrents against copier or scanner-generated counterfeits and have enhanced the security of currency against evolving technologies. These enhancements make U.S. currency easier for the general public to authenticate and much more difficult to counterfeit. While there is no such thing as a counterfeit-proof note, the redesigned Series 1996 notes and the Series 2004 $20 notes provide multiple levels of security features that protect the integrity of this Nation's currency. The Series 2004 $20 notes which will be issued beginning October 9, 2004 do contain subtle colors. We do not redesign for aesthetic purposes but for counterfeit deterrence. Further, United States currency is a world-wide currency and it is important that it retain an American look and feel.

The best defense against counterfeiting is a well designed note with effective security features and an informed, educated, and alert public. The vast majority of counterfeit notes are obvious when compared to a genuine note and when the security features are checked.

The Department of the Treasury is committed to protecting the nation's currency and will continue to seek and test new features to maintain the security of U.S. currency as technology continues to evolve. We expect to redesign currency at least every 7-10 years and we will continue to change in order to stay ahead of evolving technologies.

I hope this information is of assistance to you.

Claudia W. Dickens


Division of External Affairs

Bureau of Engraving and Printing

On Sep.12.2003 at 03:15 PM