New U.K. passport celebrates 500 years of British creativity with a bland, sexist design.

U.K. Celebrates 500 Years of British Creativity by Releasing a Bland, Sexist New Passport Design

U.K. Celebrates 500 Years of British Creativity by Releasing a Bland, Sexist New Passport Design

The Eye
Slate’s design blog.
Nov. 5 2015 12:53 PM

U.K. Celebrates 500 Years of British Creativity by Releasing a Bland, Sexist New Passport Design

Page10-11_FINAL_resize John Constable
The new U.K. passport’s theme is “Creative United Kingdom.” Here, a page spread devoted to British landscape painter John Constable. The background shows his 1821 painting The Hay Wain.

Courtesy of the Home Office

The notion that government documents should get a pass when it comes to clean, functional, or aesthetically pleasing design is outdated in an era where design consciousness has permeated every aspect of modern life.

Some countries have shown the world that there’s no reason passports have to be ugly: Norway introduced a minimalist passport redesign last year that included a surprise feature on the inside (with Canada at least partially following suit).

So when the U.K. released a new passport design on Wednesday with a theme of celebrating 500 years of British creativity, it was all the more disappointing to find that the design was a missed opportunity, as bland as the new U.S. Web Design Standards that were unveiled to little fanfare in September. The fact that Britain could only manage to come up with two women—mathematician Ada Lovelace and architect Elisabeth Scott—worthy of honoring in 500 years has caused its own sexist uproar.

Page18-19_FINAL_resize London Underground
The London Underground.

Courtesy of the Home Office

Page16-17_FINAL_resize Giles Gilbert Scott
Architect Giles Gilbert Scott and his designs for Liverpool Cathedral, Battersea Power Station, and a K2 red telephone box.

Courtesy of the Home Office

Page30-31_FINAL_resize Babbage & Lovelace
Computer pioneer Charles Babbage and mathematician Ada Lovelace, often regarded as the first computer programmer, alongside Babbage’s Analytical Engine, a representation of the code Ada Lovelace wrote, a URL, and modern computers.

Courtesy of the Home Office

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The U.K. issues new passport designs every five years for security reasons, and the new design is said to be the most foolproof to date, including some impressive invisible features embedded in the design to protect against fraud and forgery (and a haunting Shakespeare portrait watermark on every page).

Page28-29_FINAL_resize Festival culture
A spread devoted to the culture and diversity of U.K. performance festivals.

Courtesy of the Home Office

Page22-23_FINAL_resize Anthony Gormley
Contemporary artist Antony Gormley’s public art sculptures center on the human body. Pictured here are his works Quantum Cloud, Angel of the North, and Another Place.

Courtesy of the Home Office

Page14-15_FINAL_resize Stephensons Rocket
A spread devoted to steam transportation innovations features Stephenson’s Rocket traveling across the Sankey Viaduct, a map of Rainhill, and the SS Great Britain.

Courtesy of the Home Office

But the 34 pages designed around the theme of “Creative United Kingdom” look like something a Photoshop newbie might have dreamed up for a book report, with a fussy, overly intricate montage of portraits of notable figures alongside mediocre mashups of their greatest hits, with page spreads devoted to British innovations like the London Underground and a cursory nod to performance art in between. While the intentions are noble, the new passport does nothing to further the cause of art and design, let alone promote the underlying purpose of highlighting hundreds of years of innovation or the U.K. as the vibrant design hub that it currently is.

Page20-21_FINAL_resize Elisabeth Scott
Architect Elisabeth Scott is known for designing Bournemouth’s Royal Shakespeare Theatre and the Bournemouth Pier Theatre.

Courtesy of the Home Office

Page12-13_FINAL_resize Penny Black stamp
A spread devoted to British innovations includes the Penny Black stamp, a Victorian Post Box, a Perkins D cylinder, the old Birmingham General Post Office, a stamped postcard, and a map of London.

Courtesy of the Home Office

Page26-27_FINAL_resize Shakespeares Globe
London’s Shakespeare’s Globe Theater is a reconstruction of the original Elizabethan Globe Theatre that burned down in 1613 but was rebuilt by the American actor and director Sam Wanamaker in 1997.

Courtesy of the Home Office

The passport was designed and produced in partnership with the HM Passport Office by De La Rue, which bills itself as “the world's largest commercial passport producer and designer.”

Page8-9_FINAL_resize John Harrison
Self-taught clockmaker John Harrison, born in Yorkshire in 1693, invented a marine timekeeper that was regarded as a long-sought-after solution to provide the longitude of a ship at sea.

Courtesy of the Home Office

Page24-25_FINAL_resize Anish Kapoor
London-based British-Indian contemporary artist Anish Kapoor’s works Marsyas, Temenos, and Orbit.

Courtesy of the Home Office

The new passports will be rolled out starting next month. Read and see more here.

Kristin Hohenadel's writing on design has appeared in publications including the New York Times, Fast Company, Vogue, Elle Decor, Lonny, and Apartment Therapy.