Designs on your money

The work of “communists” or “tea-drinking fancy pants Limeys”? The reaction to studio Dowling Duncan’s submission to the Dollar ReDe$ign Project proves that even speculative work on currency design is guaranteed to provoke strong opinion

banknotes388_0.jpg - Designs on your money - 2662

The work of “communists” or “tea-drinking fancy pants Limeys”? The reaction to studio Dowling Duncan‘s submission to the Dollar ReDe$ign Project proves that even speculative work on currency design is guaranteed to provoke strong opinion…

The studio’s designs for the $1, $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 bills were submitted earlier this month to the Dollar ReDe$ign Project, the ongoing open submissions scheme organised by New York designer Richard Smith to rebrand the US dollar.

But Dowling Duncan’s designs, where each image directly relates to the value of each note, have put a fair few Republican noses out of joint – see here and here, for example – with some bloggers annoyed at British interference (despite the fact that the company is a bipartite studio with offices in Newark, England and San Francisco).

Aside from featuring the five biggest native American tribes ($5); the first 10 amendments (aka the Bill of Rights) to the US Constitution ($10); the 50 States ($50); and highlights from 20th Century America ($20); the designs proving the most controversial are, understandably, those with a more political bent.

Dowling Duncan’s proposal for the $1 bill features President Obama (the link to the note’s denomination is through Obama being the “first” African American president). And the $100 note acknowledges President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first 100 days in office, where his passing of unprecedented legislation attempted to combat the effects of the Great Depression during the first half of 1933.

Did the studio expect the designs to generate such a reaction? “No, not really,” the designers maintain. “We wanted to challenge people’s perceptions about what the dollar should be or could be, but putting Obama on the $1 bill seems to be the major talking point.

“The general feedback about the design and content has been great, but there have been some who have reacted badly to it all. We appreciate people being extremely passionate about this and to change something which has been around for a such a long period of time takes some getting used to… We’ve had direct emails from people voicing their dismay and disappointment and messages left on our studio answer machine from people saying they would rather leave the States if our notes ever saw the light of day. The reaction personally towards Obama has taken us a bit by surprise.”

The set of six notes is unashamedly celebratory: the $20 bill celebrates 20th century America and features Buzz Aldrin, the grille of an old Ford, an early radio, for example. But, while speculative, clearly the other ‘achievements’ aren’t to everyone’s taste.

“When we researched how notes are used we realised people tend to handle and deal with money vertically rather than horizontally,” Dowling Duncan explain. “You tend to hold a wallet or purse vertically when searching for notes. The majority of people hand over notes vertically when making purchases. All machines accept notes vertically. Therefore a vertical note makes more sense.”

Dowling Duncan’s notes are also sized more like the Euro (the bigger the note the higher its value) and while the Greenback also currently sports that big purple digit (as reproached here by designer Michael Bierut) the studio’s redesigns are brightly coloured, decidely modernist and, perhaps of particular annoyance to some US bloggers, rather European looking.

“I think people appreciate our concept, like the design, format and general look of the bills,” say the designers. “But it’s our choice of two democratic Presidents, whom some believe have not helped the US economy enough in it’s time of greatest need that has got people’s backs up – unintentionally we might add. Also some aren’t happy that a couple of ‘tea drinking fancy pants Limeys’* (as we were described) have had a go at redesigning their currency.”

*The eloquent Southern Beale blog nicely (and ironically) summed up the kind of reaction such designs might receive from more conservative bloggers, as being the product of “tea-drinking fancy pants Limeys”.

But has there been any feedback from Obama himself as yet?

“No, we’ve tried desperately to get to him but as you can imagine he is a hard man to reach,” say the studio. “We’ve been told by some good sources that he would have seen it, but for him to comment on it would really ignite the debate and bring Richard’s project to the forefront and into the mainstream. Also, he’s on holiday at the moment!”

You can submit your redesigns of the US dollar bills at Richard Smith’s website for the Dollar ReDe$ign Project. The submissions form is here. Deadline is 6 September.

More of Dowling Duncan’s work is at

  • I wish this was my money.

  • venkman


  • Not easy to make something like this educational. Hats off!

  • Eddie

    Apparently 5% of Americans think Obama is a Muslim so maybe he should have been on the 5 dollar bill instead.

  • Perhaps they should have redesign the one dollar coin instead, seeing as no-one in America wants to use it.

  • Megarichman

    Where are the security features? No watermarking/foiling/UV? If the design is so considered why have they not considered one of the most important features of a bank note?

    I wish these were real as Id be printing a load out.

  • Vincent Kettering

    actually it’s 1 in 5 american’s which is 20% – which is basically every family member thinks he’s a muslim, which means 20% of americans are a few planks short of a cruise ship – but what about DD redesigning the UK pound next ? or england adopting the Euro ? i wonder when that will happen … but nice work lads keep the south london flag flying for design and democracy … jolly good ! PS: Dowling for D&AD President I say

  • philippe

    Any chance of getting a hi-res image of all the bills lined up? I’d love this as a desktop wallpaper!

  • Phil

    Just what the world needs, another Aicher / Muller-Brockmanneque pastiche.

  • Ike

    you can see why some find the choice of Obama abrasive. i’m sure there are others who would have greater merit for inclusion. Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Franklin anyone?

  • You can follow the latest Dollar ReDe$ign news on Facebook

  • Eddie

    Sorry Vincent, you are quite right.
    Never was any good at maths.

  • its just a phone

    looking at these i feel as though i’m at the pittsburgh airport…and my hot dog is NOT continuing its journey downwards

  • mark

    I love the idea of portrait money – makes you wonder why it wasn’t designed that way in the first place.

    Not a big fan of the style but will support anything that pisses off right-wing America.

  • pEDant

    “…where each image directly relates to the value of each note”

    This had me confused, as initially I thought the brouhaha was because Obama was deemed less valuable than Native Americans, Native American less valuable than Hawaii, etc.

    As I don’t think that was meant to be the idea, may I suggest “reflects the face value” or “is inspired by the monetary sum” as alternatives.

    I like them though!

  • soon as i say the vertical layout of the money it looked right- I find it quite amazing that nobody has done this before- it makes perfect sense to have the portrait format

  • Sorry, doesn’t look “designed by committee” enough for us Americans. Try again.

  • Barry

    In spite of all the kind comments, I think they look like a series of brochures for the Federal Reserve rather than minted money from it. Sorry, but I think he missed the solution on this one.

  • Thomas Jefferson

    Yes, the kind of brochure you give out to walking tours of the building, that are tossed into the nearest trash can as you exit.

  • I’m not sure about these… first, I liked the look of them, whilst glancing over them. Then when I look at them more closely, they make me feel like I miss the greenback already. I like the modern feel, they remind me of Euro notes with their vivid bold designs and I like the way American history has been referenced. I have no problem with Barack Obama on the $1 bill (although I don’t like the circular lines over his face – they definitely feel like a communist reference, even if they’re not). There’s no getting away from the fact that he’s part of the countrys history now. BUT…..I think they’re *too* modern for the American people as a whole. That’s just my opinion, and at the end of the day, its all money…its not going to stop people spending!

  • john

    This is bad! …so bad. on almost every aspect.

  • Paul

    I don’t think Americans will go with this concept. Its not racist enough and there are no images of war!!!

  • In 2005 Switzerland had a competition to design their new bank notes. There was so much public outcry over the winner’s designs (Manuel Kerbs) the they gave it to the second place. They’ve also been using a design that works vertically since 1995.

  • John


  • Agree with Megarichman – no security features. As a concept to challenge the status quo, a bit superficial but still nice.

  • zuko

    Visually I like them, and the numbers thing is nice, but the style is so slavishly 1950s/60s Swiss design that they look wrong.

    @Victoria – The ‘circular lines over his face’ is his campaign logo

  • Saul

    i think they may have missed the brief somewhat. rubbish in every way.

  • nice designs, but as zuko mentions, they really don’t suit an American dollar bill.

    It does seem like they are the only contenders in the poll/competition(?), as the rest of the designs appear to have been done in MS Paint.

  • tarun

    It is nice but ignores reality too much. Picking any modern president is just an impossibility. Also, this set of currency is too focused on the last 100 years instead of the span of American history. The design is too European (and even a bit dated at that), and there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of anti-counterfeit measures built in.

    The pluses are (1) the different sized bills (although Braille imprints would have been nice for the blind and for counting by feel), (2) the use of different colors, although they are too far removed and too fanciful (not that the current peach and other colors are at all nice, but they certainly show the restrictions on color that exist), and (3) the vertical design is really nice, although it is unidirectional.

  • Andy

    As nice as they are I like my money to actually look like money.

  • alex

    [deleted by moderator]

    But agree with many points above: swiss typeface, european stylings and colour choices don’t reflect the values of america. The educational content seems a great idea compared with the undermining themes on the current bills of the ‘land of the free’ eurgh

  • Striking though these may be – they look like museum tickets. Money currently looks like nothing else, and this identity has been lost. Where are the security marks? Personally I would have repeated the note values upside down at the bottom as seen on playing cards, then at least the note makes sense whichever way up it is. Feeling the portrait composition though…

  • seba

    these are amazing. a completely fresh and modern look on what money should be. the vertical design is spectacular, and the fact that it doesn’t look like real money makes it even better.

  • Matt

    HELVETICA!? On US currency? In 2010?


  • Love these unashamedly. Although, I don’t think the American psyche or indeed the collective (inter)national naivety of the star spangled States are ready for such intelligently refined and functional graphic design. Even the different sizes and colours of notes is a vast improvement to what the Yanks spend currently. Honestly, the last time I was over there, it was so easy to get the notes mixed up at the bar.

    I also can’t see the infamously sinister words of ‘In God we Trust’, incorporated into these designs (though I could be wrong at first glance). But that is one huge bonus. Might not go down too well in the deep South though lol! Mama might shoaw choawke awn huh pohmkahn paah!

    Wonderful visuals folks, cheers! 😉

  • Snow Sun

    ° Dudes made the bills in a happy rainbow of colors. And different lengths. teh funny.
    Oh, and made room for me to write my grocery list… But why is Henry Paulson signing these things anymore? Is this who TurboTax told you to put on there?
    ° Obama and half of his creepy icon is on the dollar bill. I want to know who he is scolding? And where is his halo?
    ° There’s a tipi on the “fin”… and it’s longer than the OneBama. That’s teh funny too.
    ° The simplified Bill of Rights on the 10 is significant for what it leaves out to keep it “simple”… even though there is extra room to be just a little more “wordy”. (hint: where’s freedom of the press? religion? assemble? petition? and that’s just #1! Can we keep the arms we bear? Where are soldiers quartered? I could go on… but wikipedia does a more accurate job of shortening the rights… look it up… and that’s saying something!)
    ° The $20… uhm… I thought there was a blue pill and a red pill… wassup with all the green pills? This one is just weird though… No Madonna, MLK Jr, or Apple Computer. Has the lunar landing been verified?/sarc
    ° I wonder which president grew up in Hawaii? I wonder if Puerto Rico or DC ever became a state, if we’d have to change it to a $51 or a $52 bill? That eagle has laser-like focus, though.
    ° Who is that on the $100? The OneBama shows his information, but there isn’t any name or title on the $100, just a list of things. Not even an icon. It must be Joe Biden! Stand up…!
    Biden to Obama: “Mine is longer than yours, champ! This is a big F’n deal!”

    So yeah, this is pretty educational. But I really love the space for my grocery list… or “to do” list… depending.

  • Snow Sun

    PS – the 8th amendment on the $10 should read:

    8th Excessive bailouts


  • cajun carrot

    I actually like it… except for the dollar and hundred dollar bill… that shit head has not nor will he ever earn the privilege. Stick with founding fathers. FDR definitely does not need to be the new Benjamin.

  • Kapil Kachru

    Why not go paperless? It’s 20-bloddy-10. At this point, 97% of the US economy runs on electronic money,
    anyway, it has for a while. True, that’s why it’s practically worthless. Having a note in your bum pocket only marginally disguises that fact. Get rid of it, I say. Save a few trees for a change. And first expose, then tear down, the Federal Reserve. Because while they’re around the words “free” and “American” can hardly be taken in the same sentence, now, can they?
    Kashmiri Dissident

  • Dont get me started on the fraud that is the banking system.

  • WhatisAmerican

    Personally, I find it pretty ironic that Helvetica is rejected as ‘the Swiss typeface.’ In many respects, it is plausible to suggest the Helvetica is THE American typeface. After all, the name was changed to Helvetica for the American market from Neue Hass Grotesk. It’s success began by rebranding the face of corporate America from the 60s on. It is the face that symbolizes almost everything that is American Capitalism: Jeep, GM, Motorola, Greyhound, JCPenny, Hanes, Mattel, MetLife, Staples, Sears, AmericanAirlines, 3M, Target, Macy’s, Crate and Barrel, Exxon Mobil… Surely it should be on the bank notes for this very reason.

    And in any case it is on the greenback already…

  • rob

    Is this going to be US currencies here after??? when will they release in Market??

  • Sam


    Why is in God we trust “infamously sinister”?

    If you’re gonna say something like that, have an intelligent argument behind it – instead of ripping into peoples religeous beliefs for no good reason.

  • Charlie

    Sam, I think Jolt’s suggesting they’re infamously sinister because the constitution of America states that the government should act free from religion and should not be bound by any religion. So in fact it is absurd that “In God We Trust” should be on money. What about the atheists? They don’t trust in God. Why not have “In Allah we trust”.

    Religion should have no place on money. It’s absolutely diabolical that religious beliefs hold such presence in modern society.

  • NA

    with no in God We Trust??? That’s crazy will never happen

  • Pretty pieces of graphic design but a forger’s delight.

  • Pretty pieces of graphic design but a forger’s delight.

  • Nevets

    I know I’m very late on this discussion but . . .

    The issue I have with the inclusion of Obama on US currency has nothing to do with politics. I’m surprised no one mentioned this but there is a Federal law that prohibits the use of any living person on official bill or coinage. In fact they have to have been dead for two years to even be eligible for consideration.

    There are plenty of firsts in America that could have been used beside the current sitting president. That was just asking for trouble.