Minimal license plates

More states should offer a minimalist ‘blackout’ option


Last summer, my family and I played a summer-long version of the license plate game. It took a while, but we found all 50 states — plus some Canadian provinces and a few other odd plates. We’ve seen many license plates, and while some are classic designs, honestly, most of them are ugly. There are technical challenges to designing a license plate and many of the designs were selected from design contests and saddled with colors, slogans and imagery.

South Carolina tag from 1975

South Carolina tag from 1975

My father loves visiting antique stores and a while back, he gave me an old South Carolina license plate that he’d found. It’s from 1975 and is a simple, minimal design. Garnet background, white letters. I’ve always liked this vintage look and wished that South Carolina had a license plate that was more refined.

This week, I saw an article that Iowa has released “blackout” plates. Any Iowa resident can request a new plate with a simple black field with white letters. Iowa’s standard plates were voted on by people who attended the State Fair, but from news accounts, a large number of people weren’t happy with any of the designs and the legislature approved the blackout tag as an additional option.

It’s not surprising these blackout plates are popular. No one really wants an overly graphic and colorful license plate laden with tourism marketing slogans. Some people will always prefer a minimalist option and if South Carolina offered a similar “blackout” option, I know I’d order one for my car.

Bob Wertz writes about design, technology and pop culture at Sketchbook B. Bob is a Columbia, South Carolina-based designer, researcher, college instructor, husband and dad. He’s particularly obsessed with typography, the creative process and the tools we use to create. Follow Bob on Instagram.