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Friday, March 6, 2015  |   Madison, WI: 26.0° F  
CITIZEN DAVE: Thoughts and ideas about city building from Madison's former mayor
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Citizen Dave: Wisconsin should serve up a new license plate
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It's long past time to retire the flying barn. For the past few decades, Wisconsin has had the nation's most confusing license plate. In an attempt to get it all in there, we designed a plate so jumbled that it looks like the barn is attached to the sailboat. More to the point, the graphics are so small and compressed that from any safe following distance it just looks like a blurry mess.

The best plates -- and the best logos of any kind -- are strong and simple. Take, for example, Vermont's plate: dark green with a white box. I think of Vermont and I think of pine trees. I've been there this summer, and it really is pretty much just pine trees. Without using anything but color the plate conveys this idea.

If it were up to me, I'd just have a simple white plate with red letters and numbers and the iconic "America's Dairyland" stamped at the bottom. Classic. Readable. All you need.

Yeah, yeah, I know. We're a lot more than America's Dairyland. But what else do you want to get in there? America's Brandy Land? True, we consume more of the stuff than any state, but it's actually made mostly in California. America's Packer Land? I like it, but there's no need to state the obvious. America's Schizoid Political Land? True enough. We've recently elected Scott Walker and Tammy Baldwin to statewide office. But do we really want to dwell on this?

And who doesn't love cows? Frankly, since we're in some competition here with California (where they also produce that useful product mentioned above and widely consumed here) for the title, proclaiming that we are America's Dairyland helps reinforce an idea that isn't necessarily absolutely true. So, in other words, it's good marketing.

The state just announced that it's finally retiring the sesquicentennial plates something like 17 years after the anniversary. Kids who grew up with that plate are almost out of high school. Before they get out of college, we should get a new plate.

Does any of this really matter? Well, no, not a heck of a lot. But when we drive around the country people do notice the plates. Right now they think our barns sail around the countryside on windy days. Seems dangerous. They stay away. We lose tourism business. But, hey, who doesn't love cows?

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