From The Book: The New North Dakota License Plates

// This morning I woke up to my phone dinging from various designers and other North Dakotans who had read my post about the hideous new tourism logo/brand. Reading their messages, as well as a Facebook discussion in which the license plates that came out a few years ago were referenced as a similar design debacle, prompted me to share one of the short essays from my 2016 book There Are Dinosaurs In The Fields. //


North Dakota has a new license plate, and I can’t say many positive things about it.

Whoever designed it forgot the purpose of the license plate, which is to clearly indicate the state and license number of the care. Instead, they seemed to have decided that a realistic sunset and solitary bison was more important. When it comes to trying to read the word “North Dakota”, with its corny serif red font outlined in same-tone black, I cry out for better glasses.

I mourn the loss of my old license plate.

It celebrated Lewis and Clark with subdued blues and yellow-orange, a simple design that was clearly readable with a curious L and C placed vertically in such a way that people from out of state thought it was the handicap symbol.

“I tell you, it’s happened more than once,” the old fellow said at the coffee table in Hampden. I was having lunch with dad in town and my ears perked up when I realized they were discussing the Lewis and Clark license plate. “We pulled into the parking lot and all of the attendants kept waving us into handicapped parking. They insisted on it. It’s that damn L and C on the license plate that fools them every time. I didn’t intend to take the spot, but they practically forced me to. Felt kinda bad, but what’s a guy to do?”

“Don’t I know it,” another responded. “They had some folks directing parking out at Medora. Must’ve been from out of state. Put us right at the front of the lot because of the L and C.”

I’ve seen blog posts and social comments on the general loathing felt for the new license plates, as well as for the hefty price tag the state paid for someone to design the thing, and I feel warm inside knowing that the government continues to limp along inefficiently as it has in the past. At least it will be mostly covered with dust and mud, thanks to township roads.

The previous Centennial license plate was well done. Easy to read, fairly simple graphics. But now I am stuck with this new license plate in which so much space was dedicated to a scenic panorama that the license number was moved higher up the plate, nearly up to an altitude affecting airplane traffic. I suppose I should give thanks for the pretty sunset, but I’d rather forgo it in order to better see if the car in front of me has a BOLO out on it.

It’s sort of like designing an elevator that doesn’t quite go all the way to the top, but plays pretty music as far as it will go.

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