Look & Feel

The California DMV today announced a redesigned driver license and ID card with improved security features and a brand-new look — the first makeover in almost nine years.

Like the ongoing update of our currency, the new design was driven mainly by anti-counterfeiting concerns. Also like the new currency, the agency has mainly taken a more-is-better approach — adding as many new features as possible onto the card. The cardholder’s signature and birthday, for example, are now raised allowing them to be felt by touch. The new cards also include images created with invisible ink and laser perforation which can be seen with the aid of ultraviolet and standard flashlights, respectively. Apparently there are additional features which the DVM is not making public.

In one clever move, licenses for drivers under age drivers are now vertical, making them more immediately identifiable.

The new cards aren’t especially bad looking (by DMV standards) but they do take a typically American approach to design — long on function and short on form. The design originates from a position of mistrust, with each feature and element included primarily as a security measure to thwart would-be counterfeiters. By that standard it succeeds. But the overwhelming majority of users of these new cards are law-abiding citizens, and on that level I think it fails. Yes, we need our identity safeguarded, but we also need it nourished. Passports, identity cards, currency and stamps are all part of an ephemeral tapestry that depicts our national identity. Switzerland and other nations manage protect the authenticity of their official documents and still make them beautiful. The US on the other hand is slowly crafting a visual identity based on paranoia, fear and suspicion. The artifacts of our society need to be beautiful as well as functional. They need to optimistic as well as practical. They need to make us proud to be affiliated with each other and a shared national identity, not prove our eligibility to be included in society at every turn.

  • chatch

    wow. i never thought of this in this way. of course we need our government documentation to simultaneously make us feel safe, actually protect us and affirm or allegiance by being pleasing to look at. How different would we feel about getting carded if our “card” was stupendously attractive?