Norway has apparently discovered an untapped public realm that is a perfect subject for design. Not monuments, memorials, or parks, but civic documents.
First, the Norwegian architecture firm Snøhetta and the design group The Metric System gave Norway's currency, the kroner, a bold and glitchy new look. The Norges Bank even overruled the jury it had empaneled to choose the design for the nation's money in order to pick the more innovative options.
Following suit, Norway's National Police Directorate has announced that it's selected a new design for the nation's passports. Courtesy of Oslo-based Neue Design Studio, Norway now boasts the world's best passports, to go along with the world's best money.
When the world's best-equipped travelers take to the road, they will be carrying Neue-designed passports that bear a graphic, sharp, reductive depiction of a Norwegian landscape. It would be a shame to stamp over the scene of fjords with visas.
Neue's best design characteristics couple as design features, or vice versa. Under UV light, the landscape scene glows with the Northern Lights. In translation, the jury's statement reads, "The concept is the competition's most faded and stylish solution, and it stands out positively." ("Faded" probably isn't the meaning in the original Norwegian, but it fits.)
On the face of the passport, the covers are simple, emblazoned with the national crest and some simple text. The passports come in three colors, according to the privileges that they bestow: red for citizen, blue for diplomatic, and white for immigrant.
For the contest, Neue also submitted landscape designs for the nation's national ID cards.
There's no reason why only Norway should see design involved in every part of its citizens' lives. But design seems a long ways off in the official bureaucratic culture of the United States. Remember the Lincoln Penny? The 50 States Quarters?