The American dollar notes have long taken a life of its own, making its mark in pop culture, on clothing, in other countries, and as symbols of excess, among other things. People from the farthest flung corners of the world can easily identify its signature green, and the various American presidents' faces that the dollar made familiar to the world. But one American artist made a complete overhaul of the notes — Travis Purrington redesigned the dollar for his Master's thesis in Visual Communication at the Basel School of Design, and they are incredible.
Purrington's dollar designs are sleek, airy and beautiful, decked in a sophisticated color palette. He replaced the presidents with motifs representing science and human innovation — a bucky ball and a skyscraper respectively on either side of the $10 note; a circuit board on one side of the $50 and an astronaut on the other. Instead of "In God We Trust," the banknotes instead bear the words "This Currency Is Upheld By The Integrity Of Its People" — something that peaked my personal interest. In an email, Purrington explained his decision to include the sentence:
"This currency is upheld by the integrity of it's people" was established as the pre-eminent phrase on the front side of this particular series because of its claim to authorship on behalf of the population, both individually and collectively. It attaches a much higher value to the ideas, people, [and] effort behind the money than depending on the money itself (and the deeds of past generations) as a saving grace. It allows for the population to be immersed in theme rather than end-all ideology, and it doesn't have a chance to build the nostalgic equity that leans itself to religious alchemy through legend.
The notes are designed in portrait, instead of landscape view, and not only are Purrington's designs aesthetically graceful, the artist said his objective was:
To create a discussion about contemporary monetary value, its future, and develop questions regarding the role currency plays in human communication, sociology and/or evolution.
Although created back in 2011 when he was still in school, it has strangely been all over the Internet in recent weeks — partially due a slew of media outlets reporting on it, from The Verge, to Gizmodo, to Wired — and naturally, blowing up on Tumblr. Purrington said he found its recent Internet acclamation "pretty remarkable." Purrington currently lives in Zürich as the Senior Campaign Designer for EF, an International Language Education company.
Purrington also had bigger ideas in mind, in terms of currency design:
The importance visual development plays within currency design is that it triggers a placeholder for something that actually does not exist. It creates a branding or mental file for energy, time and weight. It is a stabilizing agent for the psychology of cultural exchange and economic stockpile. I wanted to create something that could effect, even at an infinitesimal level, the idea that unlocking the door to a transitional redesign could lay a path for positive circulation patterns and spending habits more in tune with tackling large scale challenges such as sustainable power conversion and next generation transportation infrastructure.
While a vast overhaul of the dollar probably won't happen in the foreseeable future, Purrington said that his redesigns weren't quite meant to replace American currency. He told Slate:
I’m not declaring that this proposal is a suitable replacement for the USD as much as I’m suggesting that one could exist. But we simply don’t know because those gates are closed pretty tightly. I’ve taken great liberties with terminology and design elements that wouldn't survive the bureaucracy or banking structure. It is more relevant to say that this is a conceptual system.
Images: Travis Purrington/2014 USD Proposal (8)