Thursday, April 11

And the new Rhode Island license plate is: Waves! Again! – The Boston Globe

Van Lancker, accompanied by wife Betsy and 4-month-old son Arsene, was given a citation by Governor Dan McKee at a news conference Wednesday in a Department of Administration conference room.

His winning design, one of several he submitted, uses a slightly brighter blue-gray pallet than the current plate, a small anchor in the top-left corner, and five waves – one for each county of the state. Van Lancker was born in Providence and now lives in South Kingstown, and in his 34 years he’s lived in every county except Kent.

His plate was selected via a two-week public vote that concluded in late March. The five finalists had been whittled down by Division of Motor Vehicles and McKee administration officials from more than 900 submissions.

The plate will replace the standard “Wave” license plate that’s been on Rhode Island cars for two and a half decades. People will pay an extra $8 when they renew their registration to help cover some of the costs of the replacement. Rhode Islanders should expect to see the first ones to start appearing on Rhode Island roadways sometime around late summer, the state said.

The change won’t affect the various charity plates in Rhode Island, and people will still be able to get the original “Wave” in green form if they have a hybrid or electric vehicle.

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There’s no federal requirement that states change the design of their plates, but supporters of the move in Rhode Island say swapping out the design every so often will help law enforcement better track whose car is unregistered, uninsured, or uninspected. Rhode Island has a two-year registration cycle, so within two years, no blue “Wave” plate should be on the road, which will make it obvious which cars aren’t up to snuff. Cracking down on unregistered cars will make people safer and help bring in revenue, supporters say.

Some graphic designers, however, have taken issue with the way the state picked the new plate, which didn’t involve hiring any professional designers. The resulting finalists, some experts said, were a bit bland; the guy who designed the original “Wave” plate, Tyler Smith, said some of them made him think of clip art.

But Walter “Bud” Craddock, the state’s Division of Motor Vehicles administrator, said the process helped get everyday Rhode Islanders involved in the process, without a cost to the state. The state received some 300,000 votes, and Van Lancker will command something of a mandate: 52 percent voted for his plate.

Van Lancker, for his part, said he wouldn’t have been able to participate if it was limited to professional designers.

“The public got to participate here,” Van Lancker said, “and that’s always a net positive.”

And as for the critics of the design, Van Lancker tried to put things in the proper context. Homage or not, it is clearly different from the old “Wave” plate if you put them side by side, he said.

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Also, he said: “If people are upset about it, it’s a small thing to be upset about. I’d like to see that energy toward a lot of other problems we can fix in the state.”

Van Lancker now works for Thrive Capital, a technology investment firm. A company he founded called Oyster, like Netflix for ebooks, was acquired by Google.

He does have a background in graphic design, although he does not do it professionally. He studied the subject at the Rhode Island School of Design. And you may be familiar with his work: He helped illustrate some of the early iOS emojis during an internship for Apple about a decade ago, including a smiling cat emoji. His work has since been updated, he said.

He also helped design the user experience Google Maps for iOS and the web.

The most Rhode Island thing you might know him from is Yacht Club Soda: He refreshed the company’s century-old brand around 2010. It’s still on the bottles now. Like his license plate design, it has an anchor.

But the plate will likely become his crowning design achievement, or at least the most ubiquitous: More than 750,000 cars now have Tyler Smith’s “Wave” plate, and within two years, they’ll have switched over to Willem Van Lancker’s “Waves” plate. That’s what was going through his mind as he left a Department of Administration building where he was announced as the winner. Soon, those cars he saw parked outside would have his own design on them.

Van Lancker hopes the state keep the plate for 16 or 17 years – at least long enough for Arsene to start driving.

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“That would be fun,” Van Lancker said. “Maybe he’ll design the next one.”

Brian Amaral can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @bamaral44.

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