From his office atop Museum Hill, David Rohr, the creative director for the Museum Resources Division of the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs, spends his days designing everything from magazine articles to websites. But recently, a different project came along: creating a new license plate for the state. In April, Rohr’s design, the now-iconic turquoise centennial plate, was named the best 2010 plate in North America by the Automobile License Plate Collectors Association.

SFR: How’d you come by this assignment?
DR: The license plate thing was one of those things that come along through our office that they ask me to do. I knew it was an unusual project; you don’t get asked to do that very often here, and it’s certainly not a museum-related project. I expected it to be, hopefully, well-accepted, but I had no idea it would be as popular or award-winning as it turned out to be.

Have you ever done it before?
I have never designed a license plate before, but I learned a lot about license plates. You can’t have the colors bleeding…You can’t emboss certain things. [The production company] did say that this plate was one of the hardest they’ve ever had to produce.

But it’s so simple.
They said this was extremely hard because of the fact that there’s that red dot in the middle; and not only that, but the Zia itself is embossed. That combination is just extremely difficult for them, and it took them a long time to get it right. I was surprised about that.

Where did you go for inspiration?
I looked through a lot of [historic] plates, and the thing that struck me was, over the years, the New Mexico plate’s always been simple. It’s always been an exercise in simplicity. I think the plates really took their cue from the state flag. That’s what this plate is now: You can trace its lineage back to what they were trying to do with the license plate and the state flag.

Was there one element you knew from the get-go had to be on there?
Definitely the Zia. I think that that was one of those things that’s very iconic for New Mexico; I couldn’t imagine the plate without it.

Which cars look best with turquoise plates?
I’ve seen some really deep blues and purples [that look] really striking—red, burgundy cars. What I think is particularly nice is I’ve seen some old vintage pickup trucks that were turquoise. It’s almost as if this were made for it, in retrospect.

If you had to design a license plate specifically for Santa Fe, what would it look like?
Hmm. To me, the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Santa Fe is the Palace of the Governors because it’s so iconic. That would be one thing I’d probably experiment with…an illustration of it.

Any particular colors you’d use?
I wouldn’t want to repeat myself. I’d say using the illustration with the adobe colors, probably a little hint of blue for the clear blue sky…maybe some oranges in there for a little accent, to keep it from being too earth tone-y.

What do you think of New Mexico’s classic yellow plate?
The yellow plate, to me, was iconic and a really great plate. And I was asked to do—not the yellow plate. I feel like this is still in that same family. People love the yellow plate; yeah, why not? It’s a beautiful plate. But hopefully this adds something to the conversation.