Who Designs These Things, Anyway?
In the land of the automobile, there are many differing ways in which our beloved vehicles sometimes stand out from one another. Of course, there are the fanatic bumper sticker stickers who blatantly show their cause and opinion on everything and also those who repaint or glue "things" on their auto - everything from army men and plastic flowers to mirrors and marble tile. There is one standard location on our mode of transport where the same item must be placed - the license plate. But, just who designs these things?
I know that we have certain, limited options in which we can "design" our own license plate number, and many states have a multitude of vanity options. I also suppose that the old story of convicts in prison who hammer-out the final products is no longer true, but, who designs the actual concept, message, and the look-and-feel of those things?
After poking around the internet, I found the obvious answer which is that individual states are responsible for designing and creating the standard, 6 X 12 inch plate. Some states contract design firms or other artists to present them with options from which to choose. Others just let the companies that make license plate sheeting, like 3M, do it. Whatever the case, I think there is an opportunity for some beautiful and dynamic license plate design out there - just as we see in U.S. Postage stamps, for example. I know that the Postal Service has quite a process and procedure for stamp design, and we all know that Michael Osborne has designed quite a few. Unfortunately, there is not a U.S. License Plate Service and I don't think the DMV could handle it - at least from what I see in California.
I also found an interesting article on the "best and worst of license plate design" on the Web by Mark Roth, of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The P-G gathered some graphic designers and art educators together to choose the best and worst of license plate design in the U.S. The best and worst plates, according to their votes, are Colorado and Kentucky, respectively. (You must go to this article to see the others on their list, like Illinois and Texas - UGH!)
I see a big campaign brewing here consisting of a national Call for Entries for state license plate design. It is a tall order, but I think we, as designers, could spruce up our vehicles a bit with some good public art and further the importance of design in our communities. Maybe this effort would stop some folks from defacing their cars who place "Dog is my Copilot" bumper stickers on them. I doubt it, but you never know.