Over the next few years, it is likely that many countries will be redesigning their travel passports. The purpose isn’t to make them more attractive, which certainly they can use, but to deter increasingly more sophisticated and dangerous counterfeiters.
Along with hi-res micro images, encrypted biometric information, hidden data chips and other security devices, passports are being issued with different full-color images on every page. They aren’t just any kind of image, but ones using microprinting, holograms, fluorescent dyes, thermochromatic inks, ornamental patterns made with a geometric lathe, intaglio, watermarks, and magnetic inks, among other techniques. All this is for public safety, but since nations are investing millions of dollars anyway, it would be nice if they gave some thought to the aesthetic quality of the new design while they are at it. Like currency and postage stamps, passports can be used to communicate the beauty, style and uniqueness of the issuing country.
Compare the different approaches of the UK and Switzerland. The new UK passport, for instance, presents pictures of British landscapes – the white cliffs of Dover, the Gower Peninsula in Wales, Scotland’s Ben Nevis, the Giant’s Causeway of Northern Ireland, along with fishing villages, dry stone walls, etc. The Swiss cross, geometric patterns, and architectural landmarks for each canton grace Swiss passports. Both express national pride, but don’t come across as arrogant or nationalistic – important qualities when traveling abroad. Today the image that travelers present to the world has to be nuanced and sensitive, beginning with what’s shown on the passport.