Monday, April 6, 2009

What Could Make Me Ashamed To Be An American?

My old passport was nearing its expiration date, so I sent off for a new one. Mindful of last year's processing bottlenecks, I paid the extra $60 for expedited handling. And that's what I got; the new passport arrived exactly 1 week after I sent in the paperwork.

That's the good part.

What I actually received is a nightmare. Have you seen the design of the new passports? I'll be embarrassed to flash that thing on any foreign border. It used to be that passport pages were demure backgrounds for the visas and stamps you'd get while travelling. Now, the passport has been turned into a gaudy picturebook, complete with quotations from historical Americans, the national anthem, and the constitution. How those poor border guards are supposed to find a place to put their stamps, or how anyone is supposed to be able to read them against the dark, intense background colors, is beyond me.

Reportedly, the design was approved by Secretary of State Colin Powell. All I can think is that he signed off on this travesty only after he had already decided to resign. It must have been his way of getting even with the administration that he felt had mistreated him.

Apparently, I'm not the first to have this low opinion of the new design. It's been called "the ugly khaki shorts of passports," "like being given a coloring book that your brother already colored in," and "a tangled mess," Here are a few other choice quotes:

  • The new passport comes with its own name: “American Icon.” It’s hard to think of one that was left out. (NY Times)
  • “There is also something a little coercive about a functional object serving as a civics lesson, even a fairly low-grade civics lesson.” (NY Times)
  • Apparently, someone forgot that passports are mainly meant to be read by, you know, foreigners. Plastered like a NASCAR vehicle with cheeseball patriotic clip-art that might have been swiped from the Colbert Report's opening credits, the new books spill jingoism the way traveling Americans once spilled hard currency.Fair enough, given the administration that introduced the new passports. Unfortunately, where the Bushies once excelled at logos and backdrops, the redesign is also hideously, hideously ugly. (Design Cultures Blog)
  • The passport's subsequent pages--the ones that are supposed to be used for foreign visas and entry stamps--follow along with illustrations as predictable as a junior-high American-history project. Cacti! Mountains! Independence Hall! A gargantuan rendering of the Liberty Bell! The whole romantic panoply, from coast to coast. (Design Cultures Blog)

Where did the designer go after this project? Apparently, he moved on to the Acura TL redesign.


  1. Scott Marshall06 April, 2009 13:34

    Wow, that's really ugly. Worse, it reinforces ugly stereotypes.

    The Design Cultures link is very cool. Thanks!

  2. I agree Arnold. I just got my new one a couple of weeks ago too. It's so bad.