Jun 09 2010

Can I See Your ID Please?

Posted by: Paul Kelley

During my last trip to the local liquor store I had an interesting conversation with the cashier to helped me and my wife. We placed our beer and wine on the counter and the cashier promptly asked us for our IDs. The cashier told us we didn’t have to take them out of our wallets but as it turns out the design of the new license doesn’t lend itself to being easily read while sitting in a wallet’s clear plastic window.

Because the new design has the DOB so close to the edge of the license it was covered by the fabric on the edge of the clear plastic window. The cashier says, “Why don’t they make the window in the wallet big enough to see the whole license?” I responded, “Why do the MA licenses always look like shit?” We laughed and then the light bulb went off. Bad design doesn’t just stop with boarding passes, it’s everywhere and it follows us around everyday.

The redesigned license

My attempt at redesigning the Massachusetts License.


Have you ever looked at your license? It’s extremely flat. All the text is practically the same size, small. One thing and one thing only stands out, your picture. That’s great for you when you want to compare bad license photos with your friends, but what about the people who use your license. That’s right, I said use. People use your license all the time. At the liquor store, at the bank, at the airport, while you’re pulled over because you were driving 25mph over the speed limit. Your license should pass a simple usability test just like any website; the most important being the scan test. Can you easily scan the license and determine the most important information? What is it that people usually look for? Is it your name, your date of birth, the expiration date of your license? All of that information is clear and obvious the second you look at it.

Simplify man, simplify

You might also notice some things missing, like the registrar’s name and signature as well as the second and third date of birth instances. Get that shit out of there. Why is the registrar on the license, to stroke their ego? No one cares and it does nothing to help the usability of your license. Having the registrar’s signature on your license doesn’t help prove that you are you. If it’s absolutely necessary put it on the back, out of the way. Also, what is with the SECOND and THIRD date of birth locations? You can’t even read them. Is it to prevent fake IDs? If that’s the case I can’t see why putting it on there 3 times could help prevent that except for maybe weeding out the really stupid people who might forget to add it.

Those weren’t the only things that could be removed. Those crazy wavy grid lines, gone! What are those about other than making the tiny text more difficult to read? How about that over sized image of the state of Massachusetts. There’s no reason it has to be that big. I didn’t remove that completely, I just made it smaller.

Your thoughts

Do you agree with me that the current license sucks? Do you agree with me that it couldn’t hurt to have nicely designed licenses? Do you know way more about it than I do? I admit I’m doing this completely blind to restrictions and requirements for MA licenses. All I did was look at the license, figure out what was important and refresh it. If anyone out there knows for sure, not just assuming, why our licenses look like they do I’d love to hear from you.

Tagged under: Design Fun

This post currently has 3 comments.


You live on Pixar Drive? That place sounds magical!

Anyway, if it were me, I would make your birthdate 1.5x the size and shrink the license number and expiration date down to be the size of your first name. When most people are looking at your license, this is all they care about.

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Said Fred,
on June 09, 2010 at 12:34:44 PM

I like it. Nice work, Paul.

After looking at my own license for an example, it’s clear to me that the state’s priorities are the photo and the anti-counterfeiting measures. I think your design organizes the information better, but I think those priorities are lost a bit (though I’m sure you’re not aiming for a counterfeit-proof design at the moment).

I wonder if the signature & state seal are still necessary. Also, in my opinion, the “MASSACHUSETTS DRIVER’S LICENSE” bar across the top is probably not important enough for the size you’ve given.

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Said TJ Kelly,
on June 09, 2010 at 1:16:11 PM

Wow, you’ve successfully designed the EASIEST to counterfit state identification EVER.

You have raised some good points, but come on man, really? The reasons that there is all these additional security features is to keep the dishonest people honest. This design may work for you but you have obviously not experienced the first hand effects of making it too easy for someone to bend or break the rules. Short story is that if it is too easy to be dishonest, or at least it is easier to be dishonest than honest, chances are they will take the easy route.

Throw a nice swirly (impossible to print on a sub $2000 printer) background in there and you might be onto something with your design.

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Said anonymous,
on February 04, 2012 at 1:39:20 PM

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