Border Game

Posted inID Mag

NEW YORK—What are the qualities that truly identify us? Must prejudice be the first thing that greets us when we cross borders? How can the information we present about ourselves improve the way we conduct business or diplomacy? Last fall, I.D. launched a Global I.D. Card Competition—our investigation through design of what it means to be a citizen of the world. We asked participants to concoct a global identification card for themselves based on existing materials and technology, and to specify not only the information the card would convey, but also the means by which data would be stored and transmitted.

Open to anyone who stumbled across the call-for-entries in our November 2003 issue and posted on, the competition drew dozens of submissions from as far away as Melbourne and Jakarta. The prize was a trip to Cape Town, South Africa, to attend the 7th International Design Indaba, an annual conference held in February that attracts the world’s leading product and graphic designers, including Terence Conran, Petra Blaisse, Karim Rashid, and Neville Brody. I.D.’s editors judged the entries in late December according to the originality of concepts and quality of execution.

The submissions ranged from straightforward PDA-style devices encoding fingerprint scans and blood types to meditations on the relationship between identity and geography. The “iD-EntiChip” proposed by David Miessler-Kubanek of Iowa City, Iowa—a rice-grain-size microchip encased in nontoxic plastic for implantation under the skin, with a companion card allowing selective access to the data—was judged the most creative among the purely technological examples and named first runner up. A card by Elizabeth Gibbs of Prince George, British Columbia, that encapsulated personal history, retinal scans, and a writing sample in the form of an oath of allegiance to global citizenry, was named second runner up. Honorable mention went to Seth Labenz, a graphic design student at New York’s Cooper Union, for a passport containing the designer’s own genetic matter (actual fingernail clippings and hair samples) and photos of grass—as in “greener on the other side,” or places desirable and coveted simply for being foreign. I.D.’s editors also were charmed by the proposal of another Cooper Union student, Ashleigh Caffey, for a card featuring only the bearer’s lip-print. Everyone’s lips are shaped differently, the designer noted. And nothing could be more distinctive than the way people kiss.

And the winner is Bryan Boyer of Providence, Rhode Island, for a card that probes the complex nature of identity with devastating minimalism. A small, oblong slip of paper represents the modest resources of most people on earth. “What does an I.D. card mean for those without enough money to buy a car or have a credit card?” Boyer explained. “Do you really exist in this world if you don’t participate in the great global finance machine?” Divided into sections, the card is labeled with airport-code-like abbreviations representing the questions, Where have you been? Where are you now? Where are you going? Where did you begin? Where do you wish you were? One’s true self can be gleaned from the matrix of these responses, Boyer insisted, as much as anyone’s identity can be pinned down in an age when facial features, names, and addresses are equally fluid. “Answering the five questions on the card tells us who you are now, and who you may be tomorrow,” he said.

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