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Could an Obama Dollar Bill Help Rebrand the U.S.?

Dowling Duncan wants to renovate America's image abroad, by redesigning our money.

Could an Obama Dollar Bill Help Rebrand the U.S.?

It took George Washington 72 years to get on the front of the dollar bill. SF-UK design firm Dowling Duncan wants to put Barack Obama on it now. In blue.

The Obama bill anchors their sweeping concept for redesigning U.S. banknotes, which also includes plastering a tepee on the five, the Bill of Rights on the 10, and FDR on the 100 — each in its own technicolor hue. The impetus: The greenback has an image problem. It has come to represent everything that's wrong with the American economy, and worse, with its cartoonish graphics and vaguely sinister styling, it actually looks the part. Dowling Duncan's scheme, though purely hypothetical (it's an entry in the The Dollar ReDe$ign Project competition) is about imbuing U.S. currency with sunny new meaning. Their bills are designed to be educational, intuitive, and, to put it plainly, make America feel like it sucks a little bit less.

Part of their idea is just making U.S. banknotes easier to handle. To that end, each bill has its own color for simple identification. They also come in different lengths — the dollar's the shortest and the hundred's the longest (see up top) — so that when you stack your bills, you can instantly eyeball how much you've got. Varying the size is especially useful to help blind people distinguish between notes.

Perhaps most dramatically, the bills are arranged lengthwise. Dowling Duncan say they conducted extensive research on how people deal money and discovered that transactions are almost always carried out vertically. It's true: How often do you hand someone a bill clutching the center widthwise? How many money machines accept cash horizontally? The new orientation would obviously take some getting used to, but in Dowling Duncan's view, it's ultimately more instinctual.

That brings us to the imagery, and here Dowling Duncan hatched a curious concept: Images directly relate to the value of each note — and offer insight into America's heritage, to boot. So since Obama is the nation's first black president, he's the face of the one-dollar bill.

The tepee on the five symbolizes the nation's first five tribes.

The Bill of Rights, which make up the first 10 amendments of the U.S. Constitution, front the ten.

The 20 has a mashup of 20th-century U.S. history: cars, drugs, and astronauts. Sounds about right.

On the 50, the 50 states:

And on the 100, a recap of FDR's busy first 100 days in office, in which he did everything but bat cleanup for the Yankees:

The images were clearly chosen to reflect some of the cheerier aspects of American culture, though the selection comes off as tad arbitrary — and faintly ahistorical — when you consider the full breadth of U.S. history. That might have something to do with the concept itself: Hitching a bill's graphics to its value poses serious constraints. What do you do with the two-dollar bill? Design an ode to state militias and Charlton Heston? No, thanks.

See more entries in The Dollar ReDe$ign Project here.

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