One designer with a penchant for the past took on a monumental design project that involved 50 designers, 50 days, and all 50 states. After he got fed up with poorly designed license plates, Jonathan Lawrence, lead designer at Matchstic in Atlanta, Georgia, started the State Plates Project and actually did something about it.
When did you start this, and why?
As a designer, I’m really inspired by old things. I spend a lot of time researching old type, and in doing so, I started noticing how drastically license plates have changed. Over the last 50 years the design has gotten progressively worse, and we’re at a point now where plates are no longer functional (almost anything goes behind your tag number). Old license plates have so much character and attention to detail, and combine good design and functionality, but somewhere over the last 50 years that good design part got lost. Today’s plates don’t have half the character the old ones do. I was personally inspired to do this project when I received my own Georgia license plate. I got it in the mail, and of course, it was awful—some crazy four-color process print of a peach farm and sunset in the background.
I thought, “Why aren’t these things actually considered? What if we really tried to design them? What if I got other designers involved and we really tried to do something about it?” I figured 50 plates was too much to do on my own, and that I should get designers from all over the country involved. Once we got our 50 locked in, we released a new redesigned state plate every day for 50 days, from October through December 2014.
Did you have any trouble getting designers to sign on for this or were they enthusiastic to contribute?
Once I found designers who were from, or at the very least passionate, about the state they were working on, the list filled up pretty quickly. I think the most challenging part was coordinating and curating 49 really talented designers, and for all of us to find the time to do the job right. I had to curate or direct on a few, but only to push things like functionality or hierarchy. This project was more of a challenge in design restraint than artistic expression.
Have any states accepted your redesign?
Not at the moment, but it’s next on our to-do list. That’s the whole point of this project really—we want to impact and change the way America thinks about license plates. We’ve received some good press from different states but no official change yet. Although all 50 designs have been released, the project is far from over in our minds. We want to make these plates a reality.
Do you have any favorites?
I love how much thought David Sizemore put into his New Jersey plate, or Drew Roper’s registration stickers for Missouri. Those two guys really went above and beyond what I was looking for, and really rethought the plate as a whole.
I’m also a fan of Zach Graham’s Arkansas plate and Anthony Lane’s South Dakota plate. I think they’re a perfect example of form and function coming together to make something better. There’s absolutely no way those states’ current plates are better.