Have you ever wondered why things could change so easily, but don’t? So has one man, who has set out with a very specific mission to change the way things are. Travis Purrington is on a mission to re-design the dollar as part of his master’s degree. Purrington wrote his 2011 master’s thesis for the Basel School of Design, presenting the proposal therein. Gizmodo called the design superior to the current banknotes. Mashable argued the nation should make the change. Slate wrote that the new designs are a hit. They are all over Tumblr.
Purrington is thinking ambitiously when it comes to his currency design. He says the change will never happen. He points out how American banknotes have barely evolved during the past two centuries. Nonetheless, he marched on with the project. The design, he says, is partly about “being able to look at ourselves as human beings outside of ourselves on a very large scale.” It’s a kind of humanistic, secular, highly scientific outlook on the world that believes in progress based on human reason.
The notes are a familiar mix of images tied to the past and the future. The front of the $5 banknote is a human neural network. Like the other bills, a braille numeral is printed in raised dots on the bottom right corner. A Treasury Department logo serves as a focal point. In wide lettering, the note reads: “This currency is upheld by the integrity of its people.”
The idea is to move away from the the current money, even if there are certain cultural obstacles to doing so. One major difference between these notes and America’s current notes is the absence of dead presidents. “Putting people on money deifies them,” Purrington says. “You can’t take the presidents off the money because they’re gods.” But he’s proposed doing it anyway. You see below on the $5 bill not Abraham Lincoln, but an ode to agricultural technological progress, an important aspect of any civilization since the Fertile Crescent. Also on the $5 is the human neural network. As on all of the notes, one of the sides reads “This currency is upheld by the integrity of its people.”
The $10 bill is an ode not to Alexander Hamilton but to US engineering history and advancement. Featured on the bill is the Sears Tower in Chicago.
“Thinking big by thinking small and what that could mean in the future,” Purrington says. The gold lettering on the bill reads: “Self-evident.”
The $20 highlights not Andrew Jackson, but the “preciousness of our natural resources,” according to Purrington, who paired blood cells with the ocean, a building block of where life began. A starry universe is overlaid on a crashing wave, with gold lettering reading: “The pursuit of.” Purrington is a big fan of space, and the $50 is a homage not to Ulysses S Grant, but to the space program. The circuit board and the astronaut represent two symbols of the post-war space age. A small image left of the Braille is an image of the Wright brother’s first flight. The gold lettering reads: “Home of the brave.” The image of the astronaut on the $50 is the handsdown online favorite, he adds.
Ansel Adams’ photograph of the Grand Tetons and the Snake River wins definitive image of the American West on this series of currency, with the universe on the other side. These two images adorn the $100 bill, not Ben Franklin.
Why has Purrington designed these notes, despite the fact it is unlikely they will be of any avail? “I would like to think that it’s been generating questions in people’s minds as to why things could easily change but don’t,” Purrington said. The small circular logo at the bottom right of each note bears the Latin phrase uires alit, or “strength feeds.” As Purrington puts it: “That the truly strong help the weak. Strength really refers to that inner quality that makes something strong, the idea that there is a responsibility or a stewardship.” Another interesting aspect of the notes is that they adorn not “Federal Reserve Note,” as do the banknotes of today, but instead “National Bank.” There is a big difference between a public bank (as would be a national bank) and a “public-private” bank, as is the Federal Reserve. Regardless, a truly public bank and public-private banks (as comprise the Federal Reserve System) have historically been at odds. So, though this aspect of Purrington’s currency design has gone little noticed, the currency proposal is apparently colored with a bit of dissent against the status quo.
Purrington is not the first man to have the idea to redesign the US currency. Others have dreamed of doing similar. Bernard von Nothaus, the creator of the Liberty Dollar, was convicted of counterfeiting in 2011 for the purpose of domestic terrorism. His true crime? Creating some silver coins with the dollar sign on it. The FBI claimed that von Nothaus wished to mix the Liberty Dollar with the current money of the United States and to use it as the current money in order to limit reliance on, and to compete with, the United States currency. Von NotHaus was ultimately charged under counterfeiting laws. As the Associated Press wrote: 
Federal prosecutors successfully argued that von NotHaus was, in fact, trying to pass off the silver coins as U.S. currency. Coming in denominations of 5, 10, 20, and 50, the Liberty Dollars also featured a dollar sign, the word “dollar” and the motto “Trust in God,” similar to the “In God We Trust” that appears on U.S. coins.
Some might be so inclined to include Satoshi Nakamoto on the list of individuals who have tried to re-design the dollar. While Nakamoto’s example is more a rethinking of what currency is – and more of a redesign from a structural/engineering perspective – it has nonetheless done much to change the people’s relationship to the dollar and the reality of which they are a part, much like Purrington set out to do. Either way, the idea of changing the dollar is a popular idea in the collective imagination, and perhaps one our society should talk more openly about.