Not long after moving to the United States, I started hearing people speak of a dimly lit, forsaken place — one with curmudgeonly staff and lines with no end in sight.
They called this tragic place the “D. M. V.”
It took me a while to realize what the acronym stood for, since the Canadian equivalent — run by the provincial-level government — does not maintain the equivalent reputation.
This disparity of reputation speaks just as much to the comparative structures of the organization as to how they are run. Many Canadian DMV Services are government-run insurance companies, which have the benefit of covering, in some cases, all bodily injuries. Under this arrangement, there are no insurance-chasers as it’s a no-fault system. This approach reflects a style of management and service focused on values of efficiency and ease, something typically not associated with government (at least in the U.S.).
This long prologue is a way to talk about the Driver’s license document, itself. New York State recently unveiled a new design for its cards, and the New York Times had a great overview of the evolution of that all-important instrument. It is interesting to look at the design of the document, given the expansive ownership rates, 57% of the population of the State (Source: NYS DMV), and its use as a de facto identification in daily life.
The new license showcases an entirely new array of visual elements, including a word mark with diamonds befitting the word ‘State,’ the new Santiago Calatrava-designed (but as of yet unfinished) Transit Hub at the World Trade Center, and Lady Liberty. Most of the press coverage has focused on the switch to black and white photography for the image.
All of this, beyond the curiosity of using a mass transit building as the key graphic for a car-centered document, begs the question: who designs the Driver’s License? How does the State Government communicate a sense of identity by switching its color scheme, typefaces and graphic elements at each new evolution? As something that’s carried everyday, shouldn’t beauty be a consideration alongside utility?
As the Times’ piece explains, security features were key in guiding the new design. But these so-called ‘security features’ offer a great opportunity for gorgeous renditions of aspects of the State.