Design firm Frog proposes a smarter, stronger, more secure Social Security card

The Troika Card


(FORBES)   In the U.S., a Social Security card serves as a key to existence. Without those nine digits assigned by the government and printed on a flimsy piece of bank note paper, it’s difficult to obtain a job, collect a tax refund or get a driver’s license. If you’re out of work and in need of medical assistance, there’s no way to receive Medicaid without one.

Yet as the Social Security card’s significance has grown, its design remains basic. It conveys no information aside from name and number. It’s highly vulnerable to wear and tear. The current version of the card, which debuted in 2007, uses watermarks and color shifting ink, but lacks the security features common in even the most basic consumer ID and credit cards–no electronic tracking chip, no holographic image to combat counterfeiting, no photo to confirm the bearer’s identity.

The U.S. government maintains that the card is not to be used for identification purposes. But it often is in practice, and as such, needs to be secure enough to resist identity theft, counterfeiting and fraud.

“Of the three forms of identification we have in the states–the other two being the passport and driver’s license–it’s the one that unlocks your life,” says Laura Richardson, a principle designer for industrial design firm Frog. As such, it should look and feel more important to its owner.

“The user should be able to pick it up and instinctively feel the value the card represents,” says Pontus Wahlgren, design lead at industrial design firm IDEO in London. Wahlgren led a team of designers on 2001’s Identity Card Project, which resulted in a group of conceptual cards that used blood, hair and other human factors as identifiers. “If I had a chance to redesign it, I would consider the context of use, graphic treatments, storytelling, materiality, advanced security features and brand U.S.A.”

Richardson and her design team created this conceptual social security card, called the “Troika,” for Made of lightweight aluminum, it’s durable enough to reflect the importance of the information it carries. Thumbprint identification helps protect against identity theft. And a multi-functional screen allows it to switch between a driver’s license, passport and Social Security card.

“By combining the familiarity and proportions of a standard ID card with the durability of a water-resistant, flexible screen and the security of biometrics, [a card like this] could revolutionize the future of identification,” says Richardson.

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