BELOW-THE-LINE: DESIGN CHOICE; The credit card

George Theo Creative director Marshalls Communication Group

George Theo Creative director Marshalls Communication Group



It’s just a little piece of plastic with embossed numbers. Or it’s a

passport to fantasy. It’s how you rule your life, juggle your bills, get

into debt. It’s your flexible friend, it’ll do nicely, it’ll do you

credit. It’s long phone calls with women in Worksop who patiently and

politely explain that, yes sir, your bill can be that large, sir.



It’s why so many things are the shape and size they are. Not just

because of that, but what it stands for as well. Credit, value,

membership, recognition, approval, a lot in a little.



It has influenced the design of travel tickets, telephone cards,

membership and discount cards, security systems, identity badges, even

radios. There are little tool kits, pocket pencil sets, computer memory

cards, leaflets that cunningly fold down, wallets, even special suit

pockets.



If anything is roughly that size, on a magazine cover, inside a CD,

anywhere, you know exactly what it means. Hold up your fingers with a

5cm gap and anyone, anywhere in the world, will know what you’re talking

about.



It allows for an infinite variety of surface design. From platinum glitz

to the strange collectability of phone cards. It gave rise to the first

serious commercial application of the hologram. It’s now ‘smart’, with

your whole life history in plastic if you don’t mind. Tough if you do.

Try living without it.



The credit card helped shrink the world. Not just because it transported

money, but because it helped you belong. It told people more about you

than your clothes or language, it shaped attitudes, it did really say

‘more about you than cash ever can’.



But how did it get designed? Why that shape? Why that size? Why exactly

51/2 x81/2 cm? Who did it, or did it just evolve? Was it doodled on the

back of an envelope, or did squillions of man hours get wasted comparing

6x8 cm with 5x9cm? Did anybody care - does anybody know?



Answers on a postcard. The most plausible, the silliest, or maybe the

correct answer, gets lunch. Paid for with plastic, of course.