Credit Card As Art
Date: 31 May 2007 | | Views: 3891
Source: The New York Times (www.nytimes.com), by By ROB WALKER
The most recent figures from the Federal Reserve noted an uptick of more than 9 percent in “revolving credit” — that is, the debt carried by the millions of American consumers who don’t pay off their cards every month — putting the total at $888.2 billion as of March. Still, some consumers have come to see the credit card as an emblem of something other than an albatross of monies owed. A few months ago, a company called CreditCovers started selling “skins,” with special designs that consumers can stick over the fronts of their cards, theoretically transforming them from mere financial tools to emblems of identity and potential conversation starters.
The CreditCovers back story is almost comically straightforward. Anthony David Adams, who had recently obtained a graduate degree in urban planning from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, wanted to think up a business that would involve selling something that wouldn’t cost much to produce and could be sold on a mass scale. He had noticed the growing popularity of “skins” — slipcovers with clever designs — for laptops, cellphones and iPods. Why not a skin for the cards that we all carry? “It just kind of hit me,” he says.
He took his idea to an acquaintance, Bowen Dwelle, the C.E.O. of Admonsters, an association in San Francisco for advertising tech professionals, and they brainstormed designs and other details; the prototype card slip featured a skull with heart-shaped eyes. “I actually drew that myself,” Adams says. He picked up a book called “I Am 8-Bit,” featuring art inspired by 1980s video games, and contacted as many of the 80 or so artists listed in the back as he could. This led to a design from a Los Angeles comic-book artist called Food One, among others. The first line of CreditCovers ($5 each) also included designs called Louis the XIV and Burs & Berries — one resembles the famous pattern Takashi Murakami created for Louis Vuitton handbags, and the other has a Burberry plaid look — attributed to a designer called The Truth (who is actually Adams). Dwelle, under the nom de art O-B-Nyce, contributed a Mexican flag design and an all-white version that makes “your credit card look like your cool, glowing white iPod.”
Adams’s girlfriend is the eponymous owner of a Madison boutique called Sukara Sterling, which was the first purveyor of CreditCovers. Sterling and Adams each posted the products to StyleFeeder, an online social network built around shopping, and in a matter of weeks the skins were hyped on a variety of product and techie blogs. A site called Charles & Marie, billed as “the quintessential lifestyle navigator” (a mission that involves frequent invocation of the phrase “BUY NOW”), made CreditCovers its pick of the day, twice. Adams says that he has already sold “several thousand” of them. He figures it makes sense that the aesthetically demanding consumer would want to snazzy up the “bland, kind of corporate” look of a plain credit card. Sure, you can get an “affinity” credit card advertising anything from World of Warcraft to the Rotary International, but his skins are easier to obtain — and to replace when you get tired of one. He even sees a “subversive” appeal: “Taking this icon of capitalist consumerism, putting some edgy artwork on it and kind of retaking that canvas.”
The idea of a rebellious credit-card design is a little hard to fathom. (Imagine angry colonists deciding that rather than flinging unfairly taxed tea into Boston Harbor, they would empower themselves as consumers by “customizing” it with cool new blends of their own devising.) But Adams says that his fledgling business is guided by progressive values that demanding consumers care about: The skins are made at a Wisconsin factory that treats its workers well, he says, and he has been buying offsets that make his business “carbon neutral”; he’s planning a “Save Darfur” card skin, with proceeds going to charities. And maybe there’s something inevitable about converting the credit card from a tool for acquiring expressive objects into one of those objects. So Adams has commissioned a second round of designs, which he says will include contributions from Todd Francis, the skateboard artist, among others, and is lining up more boutique retailers. In the meantime, he is making the most of his sales through the CreditCovers Web site — where, needless to say, all major cards are accepted.