99% Invisible: Designing a postage stamp

Jul 18, 2012

Stamps design takes, on average, a year to a year and a half, from conception to execution. Unfortunately, most of the stamps we encounter on a day-to-day basis are the rather predictable flag, bell, and love stamps, but there are some really fantastic commemorative stamps, which are supremely functional and affordable tiny works of art.

To determine what should go on a US stamp, the Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee combs through nearly 50,000 suggestions per year offered by the general public. Once the subjects are chosen and approved by the Postmaster General, they are assigned to a handful of art directors to be designed.

There are loads guidelines to help stamp subject selection, but one of the big rules recently changed. In 2012, the first living person will be commemorated on an official USPS stamp.

In this episode of 99% Invisible, Roman Mars and producer Julie Shapiro find out what it takes to get a new postage stamp designed, approved, and onto your mail. 

Audio available after 5pm.

To hear more 99% Invisible, visit the show's website or tune into KALW 91.7FM on Fridays at 7:35am and 4:44pm, Saturdays at 8:35am, and Tuesdays at 10:55pm.